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Slain 49er Missing from Hall of Fame

February 27, 1986|PAUL McLEOD | Times Staff Writer

Where's the name of Leon Burns?

That question was on the minds of many Cal State Long Beach alumni when the university Tuesday night inducted the first 17 graduates into its new Athletic Hall of Fame.

Burns, whose December, 1984, slaying in southeast Los Angeles at age 42 has remained unsolved, was an All-American tailback for the 49er football team in 1969-70. But his name was conspicuously absent at the inaugural Hall of Fame dinner Tuesday night.

To many, Burns and Hall of Fame inductee Ed Ratleff, an All-American basketball player in the early '70s, put the 49ers on the map. Burns gave important exposure to a Division II program that was attempting to move up in status. The school was then Long Beach State College.

Don Dyer, alumni chairman of the selection committee and a Long Beach lawyer, said Burns "came close" in the Hall of Fame voting. His not being inducted "has been the one that most people have asked me about," Dyer said.

Burns was shot outside a suspected "rock house," police said. They theorize he went to the fortified residence with two female friends to buy cocaine. No one has been arrested in the killing, which police believe began as a robbery attempt.

Dyer conceded that the circumstances of Burns' death "probably played a part in the decision. It wasn't discussed like that, but I'm sure it was on everyone's mind. Most of the committee members liked Leon and appreciated what he did for the university."

Burns was the Long Beach Century Club's Athlete of the Year in 1970. In just two seasons, he set career records that have stood for 16 years at Long Beach--most carries (655), most yards gained (2,809) and most points scored (304). In 1969 he was first in the nation in rushing average (150.8 yards a game) and scoring average (14.9 points a game).

Terry Metcalf, who replaced Burns at tailback in 1971, was voted into the Hall of Fame. Also an All-American, Metcalf's performance ranks second to Burns' career rushing and scoring records.

An avid weightlifter, Burns drew national attention for a 1970 publicity photo that showed the bare-chested running back hoisting a 205-pound teammate in full uniform above his head. Former Cal State Long Beach Sports Information Director Gary Wright, now the public relations director for the Seattle Seahawks, said he received a press clipping of the photo that ran in a Tokyo newspaper.

Bill Shumard, Dodger director of community services and special events, who was a student assistant under Wright when Burns played, said: "Leon gave Long Beach its notoriety. It's very sad that he didn't get into the Hall of Fame. . . . The guy had a lot to do with where Long Beach State is today."

University Athletic Director John Kasser said he is sure that Burns will make it into the Hall of Fame in the future, and noted that there were other deserving performers left off the initial list.

"Why not George Trapp?" Kasser said. The 1971 All-American basketball player was a first-round draft choice in the National Basketball Association. "I can't look into each person's mind. . . . Eddie Ratleff had much more exposure and he's so well known and still at the school" as an assistant basketball coach.

A 10-member selection committee received 220 nominations for the first Hall of Fame. Kasser said he had the right to reject any of the committee's choices for induction.

Dyer said that each of the inductees received a unanimous vote.

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