He did not have a passion for the game, and in big-time college football that is a sin not easily forgiven. Coaches couldn't understand why he wouldn't lift weights and other players couldn't understand why he wasn't mean like them. He came to Cal State Long Beach for a free education, which football got him. He wanted a little glory too, but its price--for a gentle, nonconforming, easygoing kid from Santa Barbara--was too steep.
"I just used football," Rick Trigueiro, a reserve tight end for the 49ers the last two seasons, said last week after his day's classes. He wore surfer shorts, a sweat shirt, a tan and, because football has given him permanent arthritis in his neck, a pained expression.
Trigueiro had been a promising pass receiver. His acrobatic catches made him a second-team All-American at Santa Barbara City College.
"He was a good football player," 49er Coach Mike Sheppard said. "We anticipated he would be our tight end."
But when his career seemed on the verge of blossoming, it wilted because of a lack of desire. It's over now and Trigueiro ended up, in his words and not to his surprise, a "very average, run-of-the-mill Division 1 player."
Whatever love he had for football began to dissipate, ironically, when the 49ers signed him in 1984.
"After I got my scholarship, I never thought about eventually playing pro ball," Trigueiro said. "I just wanted that scholarship. That was the big thing in my life--not to pay for school."
Still, Trigueiro, 6 feet 1 and 220 pounds, thought he was good enough to play at college football's highest level. And in his junior season he caught 17 passes for 233 yards. But his coaches thought his attitude problem had prevented him from accomplishing more.
Trigueiro and the football program were a match that never meshed. His heart wasn't in it. He never liked contact and tried to avoid it--one of the reasons, he said, was a fear of being paralyzed by a tackle. He refused to lift weights, which was tantamount to sacrilege.
"I had a big problem," Trigueiro said. "I wanted my off-season, and here there isn't any. You were supposed to lift weights (all the time). I didn't make the commitment. I never lifted weights once."
Last season was a disaster for Trigueiro. He was depressed over the end of a five-year relationship with his girlfriend. He had suffered four "burners" (pinched nerves) in his career from getting "racked" by tacklers, and feared another.
"They'd scare me," he said. "Your whole body goes numb." He contemplated not playing but changed his mind because "I just didn't want to be a quitter."
But above all, he believes it was what he called his "Santa Barbara attitude"--a surfing, beer-drinking, things-will-fall-into-place approach to life--that made him a permanent bench-warmer. "I didn't act any way I didn't want to act," Trigueiro said. "I'm a nonconformist completely."
Greg Locy won the 1985 starting tight-end position and Trigueiro caught only 3 passes for 24 yards.
"Greg wasn't much of a verbal guy," Trigueiro said. "I say what I feel and they (coaches) didn't appreciate that. I wouldn't just listen to the coaches, I'd always say something after. I'd say, 'What about this?' and they'd say, 'No, this is how it is.' In the past I'd do my own thing. But in Division 1 if you do your own thing you don't play."
'Coach, Come on'
But Trigueiro understood that coaches could not allow any disagreement.
"I'd say to Bresnahan (Steve Bresnahan, the tight-end coach), 'Coach, come on.' He'd say, 'Hey, my job's on the line; you either have to perform this way or I'm gone.' And I'd go, 'OK.' "
Bresnahan said Trigueiro "thought he could get by on ability. He wasn't in great shape because he hadn't worked out (in the off-season). At times he would loaf at practice but usually he worked hard. Any time you used any kind of mental motivation technique, he'd immediately lock you out. He's a pretty smart guy, he knew what he wanted. He accepted the consequences of not paying the price. He became strictly a 10-12 play-a-game player."
Trigueiro did not find everything about football distasteful. "I liked the team concept and the camaraderie," he said. "And the finesse part of the game. I liked running away from people. I liked touchdowns (he didn't score any as a 49er). It's fun to look up in the crowd. Like when we played UCLA (before 40,000 in the Rose Bowl in '84) . . . that was an experience I'll never forget."
A color photo of Trigueiro diving for a pass against UCLA adorned the cover of a 49er promotional brochure for the '85 season. He talked about that a lot last spring, but it still didn't inspire him to get with the program.
Trigueiro said he wasn't fond of some of the defensive players on the team.