Some of the best athletes in the region annually tread the flawless artificial turf and composite track at Santa Rosa High?s Ernie Nevers Field. And it?s no slap in the face to state that none of them has a chance of matching the sporting exploits of the man whose name graces the scoreboard.
Ernie Nevers lived in Santa Rosa less than a year, not long as legacies go. Then again, Nevers was not your typical Golden Age sports star. His exploits read like tall tales spun around campfires and cold beers.
Imagine a man who:
Outgained all ?Four Horsemen? of Notre Dame while playing on two broken ankles.
Played 1,714 out of a possible 1,740 minutes of football with the NFL?s barnstorming Duluth Eskimos in 1926.
Owns the oldest mark still standing in the NFL record book.
Surrendered two home runs to Babe Ruth the year the Babe hit 60.
Brought down a Japanese Zero during World War II by hitting the plane with a football.
That last one isn?t real, or at least not verified. But that?s the thing about Ernie Nevers. The more you learn about his life, the more you are willing to believe. In a different era, people were awestruck just to make his acquaintance.
?I said to my brother, ?I met the nicest man last night. His name is Ernie Nevers,? remembers Ernie?s widow, Margery. ?He said, ?Ernie Nevers?!? I said, ?What, has he been in jail?? Remember, I went to a boarding school (in Chicago). I never saw a football game. We were in school on Saturdays, too.?
Margery, whose home in Tiburon looks across the water to the ferry landing on Angel Island, doesn?t care to state her age. But let?s just say the FDR presidency is more than an American history study topic to her.
During Ernie Nevers? junior year of high school, he and his parents left Superior, Wis., for Santa Rosa. George Nevers, Ernie?s father, bought a prune ranch opposite the brass foundry near the current intersection of Mission Boulevard and Highway 12.
It was the spring of 1919, and Ernie?s arrival was good news for the Santa Rosa High football team, which had formed the previous fall and stumbled through a winless season.
Nevers helped design plays, and carried or passed the ball on nearly every snap from the fullback position. He anchored the defense and kicked field goals and extra points, too.
?This lad seems to have an educated toe, for when he kicks his goals he never fails to make them,? The Press Democrat reported on Oct. 17, 1920.
A former Santa Rosa classmate, Raymond Clar, once wrote of trying to tackle the 187-pound Nevers in a scrimmage.
?I remember no particular pain,? Clar wrote. ?I did exhibit, with some pride I must confess, a bit of flexiblity in my nose which healed itself about the time Ernie began to appear bigger than lifesize on huge roadside billboards as ?America?s Greatest Athlete.?
Riding Nevers? broad shoulders ? he scored 108 of 170 points, not including his touchdown passes ? Santa Rosa finished 7-3 and won the Northwest Section of the California Interscholastic Federation before getting drubbed by a much deeper and stronger Berkeley High team in a playoff game.