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They were the golden years of Golden Bear football. Wins were plentiful, trips to the Rose Bowl regular and school spirit sky high. No wonder guys still gather to celebrate Pappy Waldorf, the architect of all of that greatness.

“Pappy’s Boys” are a group of former football guys, mostly octogenarians at this point, who remain in touch, gather together and root on the Bears in the name of their legendary coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf.

Guys who played under Waldorf have been doing this for decades and insist they are the only such group in the country. Sure, other teams have alumni gatherings, other schools have class reunions. But to gather with people solely because they had the experience of playing under a particular coach? And to have created a fully endowed scholarship in Waldforf’s name that has been given to 25 players over the years? It’s a testament more to Waldorf the man than Waldorf the coach, they said.

“It’s just to pay tribute to Pappy,” said Ira Tunik of Santa Rosa, who played under Waldorf in ’50 and ’51.

“He was really a marvelous guy,” said Santa Rosan Dick Verling, class of 1953, who was a senior manager for the team.

Waldorf and his tenure with the Bears, which spanned from 1947-1956, will be further celebrated with an exhibit at Memorial Stadium. A handful of locals traveled down to Berkeley last week for the unveiling.

“Football really was the glue to this very diverse university after World War II,” said Hans “Lefty” Stern of Santa Rosa, class of 1951 who worked in the athletic department’s sports information office and now helps organize the boys.

But make the no mistake, the Bears were pretty bad pre-Pappy.

“The last game of the 1946 season, students were so upset they tore down some of the seats in the rooting section,” Stern said. “We were awful before Pappy came to Cal.”

His impact was immediate.

“When Pappy came out here he brought a big staff, was well organized and the Pacific Coast wasn’t ready for that,” said Santa Rosan Tom Keough, a halfback and kicker for a Bears team that played in the Rose Bowl.

“He just really had an organization that was way ahead,” he said.

And Waldorf was known to take all comers. More than 250 people showed up to try out for the Bears his first year.

Waldorf would have “Rambler” or essentially JV games before the varsity games and sometimes guys would play in both. And the locker room was a mix of 17-year-old freshmen and 26-year-old World War II vets.

“It didn’t make any difference. You were just guys out trying to do a job,” Tunik said.

“He wasn’t a disciplinarian but he wanted you to do it right,” he said. “He’d criticize an All-American as he would a rookie. And if you did something well he complimented you.”

Waldorf’s legend was not limited to Berkeley, according to Keough. His brand of football and coaching was mimicked for years — Keough saw it plenty when he went into high school coaching after Cal.

“Everybody wanted somebody who came from his system,” he said. “When we practiced he had us doing it like the pros do now. All of the coaches were doing the same thing.”

There are reports that Waldorf required his team to carry notebooks — which were then checked by assistant coaches to make sure the fifth string QB wasn’t doodling.

Something about his system worked.

In his first season in Berkeley, Waldorf took a Bears squad that had gone 2-7 the prior season and produced a 9-1 record and their first Big Game win against Stanford in seven years.

He ran up a 67-32-4 record at Cal, including three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances.

Considering that Dwight Eisenhower was president the last time the Bears went to the Rose Bowl, those years are pretty dear to Cal fans.

“We got swept up in it. It was hard work. Hard but fun,” said Bob Logan of Santa Rosa. He played defensive guard on the ’51 and ’52 Bears.

The group remains tight but their numbers are naturally dwindling.

“At one time we were up to 500 members, but attrition has hit it pretty hard,” Stern said. “Of the guys who actually were in the football program during the Waldorf years, there is somewhere between 60 and 100 left.”

And making a day of it at Memorial Stadium is not as easy as it once was for most of the group.

“The games themselves have become less important to the guys,” Stern said. “It’s hard to get to a Cal game when you are 80.”

But the guys still gather. There is talk of moving to just an annual get together rather than a twice a year. The scholarship program is going strong and conversations, according to Stern, are “tilting toward more life than football.”

But guys who played for Waldorf say that makes sense, that their coach was about more than football.

“He was such a mentor,” Tunik said. “It was kind of father-like. He took an interest in everybody.”

“We are still gathering together,” he said. “I don’t think you get that at any other campus in the country.”

For a lot of the locals who made it down to the exhibit’s unveiling, the effect of those years is profound, but a little difficult to explain to anyone who wasn’t one of “Pappy’s Boys.”

“It is a special thing and something that’s sometimes hard to talk about,” Logan said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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