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Guards Up : Bell-Jeff Could Beat Back 32 Years of Oppression by Defeating Harvard for Title

November 07, 1986|STEVE ELLING | Times Staff Writer

The year was 1954. Eisenhower was president, the Korean War had just ended, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, and locally, the Bell-Jeff Guards of Burbank won the Santa Fe League football title.

Most people remember Eisenhower and the war, but since 1954, almost everyone has forgotten the Guards. In the three decades after the team last won the league, Bell-Jeff was battered, embarrassed and abused.

But when Doug Woodlief took over as coach two years ago, the Guards came out of their armored shells. Bell-Jeff made the playoffs in 1985 and has a chance to finish undefeated and win the Santa Fe title this year.

"I think we had a winning record around. . . . I don't remember exactly when it was," Woodlief said. "Back in the early '70s sometime."

Woodlief's lack of total recall is understandable. Before last season, nobody really wanted to remember how the Guards played.

"From what my older brothers have told me, we had a pretty good team back around 1964," said assistant coach Sabatino Manente, who played for Bell-Jeff in the early '70s. "That was also the last time we beat St. Genevieve before this year."

Beating the Valiants two weeks ago was the final indication that this season would be very different from those of the past: Thirty-two years after its last league championship, Bell-Jeff has ended the whining by winning.

According to the team, it's funny what an 8-0 record, a No. 8 ranking in The Times' Valley Top 10 and a playoff spot will do for a school's morale.

But to win the title and finish with a perfect record, the Guards have to beat Harvard on Saturday night at Burroughs High, and the seventh-ranked Saracens are 7-1 and also unbeaten in Santa Fe play.

"We would already have the title wrapped up if they weren't in the league," quarterback Keith Fitzgerald said of Harvard, which was added to the Santa Fe League this season. "If we win, we will have definitely earned it."

The Bell-Jeff about-face is largely attributable to the team's stingy defense, which has allowed just 150 yards and six points per game. But considering Woodlief's background, the Guards' defensive statistics aren't surprising: Woodlief played linebacker for George Allen's Los Angeles Rams from 1965 to 1969.

It may take a Ram-like defensive effort for the Guards to contain Harvard running back Andy Bell, who has shredded opposing teams for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns in eight games. Bell ranks second in the Valley-area Southern Section in rushing and scoring.

But Bell-Jeff is brimming with confidence. The Guards are up.

"This team has always had a different attitude," said Sheamus Martin, the defensive captain. "We have been winning since our freshman and sophomore seasons. This is a different team than those in the past. We have never been exposed to losing."

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