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Gauchos Back in Saddle Again : UC Santa Barbara Strives to Corral Football Program Often Gone Astray

November 07, 1987|GORDON MONSON | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — UC Santa Barbara has a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't, hold-on-there-it-is-again history when it comes to college football. Hang around for the latest installment of the Gauchos' sad-sack trilogy, because it might have a happy ending.

Part I--The Pre-Protest & Hippie Years

Santa Barbara, which began playing football in 1921, was a modest college division team for nearly 50 years. Over that period, it played in four bowl games, none of which you've ever heard of. The Gauchos whipped Willamette in the Potato Bowl, 46-7, in 1948. They lost in something called the Citricado Bowl against the San Diego Marines in 1956. They dropped the '64 Aztec Bowl to Mexico Poly and, the following year, they were beaten, 18-10, by Cal State Los Angeles in the Camellia Bowl.

Stay with us, it gets worse.

With their glossy tradition behind them, the Gauchos decided in 1970 to move up to the NCAA Division I level. That idea lasted all of two years. UCSB broke into the big time with a 2-9 record, then in a masochistic move upgraded its schedule more so that the first two games of '71 were at Washington and Tennessee. The Volunteers won, 48-6, while the Huskies and quarterback Sonny Sixkiller deep-sixed the Gauchos, 63-7, and, as it turned out, the entire program. After that dreary 3-8 season, the administration dumped football as an intercollegiate sport.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 8, 1987 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 6 Metro Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Due to an editing error, an article Saturday on a dispute at UC Santa Barbara gave the wrong day on which police arrested demonstrators. The arrests were made Thursday.

The problem, however, transcended athletics. Said one UCSB coach: "This was a politically aware campus. In '69, we had a kid get shot and a bank was burned down up here. Football was seen as part of the Establishment. It was physical and violent and military-like. It was seen as something that UCSB wasn't going to be anymore. Students weren't attending games, they were out sitting on the freeway."

Even though the administration blamed high operating costs for the program's demise, some said football was merely a scapegoat. "Hell, we made a lot of money by going to Tennessee and Washington," current assistant coach Steve Retzlaff says. "We got around $40,000 per appearance to get the crap kicked out of us. It's just that football was easy for them to get rid of."

Part II--The Post-Hippie Years

For 12 years, 17,000-seat Harder Stadium became a soccer field. The all-time low point and ultimate indignity for Santa Barbara football. The sport was completely gone and hardly spoken of--until two students, Brad Tisdale and Gary Rhodes, began a grass-roots movement to bring it back.

Part III--Football Revolution

With Vietnam pushed to the back of Santa Barbara's consciousness, Tisdale and Rhodes tried to bring intercollegiate football back by getting petitions signed and putting them to a student vote in 1983 and 1984. If the students agreed to pay a couple of extra bucks per quarter, the new program would fly. But both times, the initiative failed.

From 1983-85, Santa Barbara had a club team, made up of "just a bunch of guys who wanted to play football," said Tisdale. The Gauchos played schedules that included the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo JV team, a squad from Edwards Air Force Base and semi-pro teams--the Ventura County Americans, Southeast Los Angeles Bengals and the San Fernando Valley Freelancers. A game against Marines from San Diego was canceled because the Marines were sent to Lebanon.

"We called ourselves the Dirty 30," said Retzlaff, who played defensive tackle in '83 and '84 before becoming an assistant coach. "Some of the guys we had on our team probably weren't even enrolled in the school. Looking back, some of those players now are probably in jail somewhere."

There were growing pains. In 1984, the Gauchos played Azusa Pacific, an NAIA Division II school that featured running back Christian Okoye. Okoye, a 240-pound track-and-field athlete from Nigeria now with the Kansas City Chiefs, had never played organized football before. Against Santa Barbara, on his first-ever carry, the sprinter ran 76 yards for a touchdown. His next carry was a 45-yard touchdown run. Though he played just one quarter, Okoye rolled up 176 yards.

When the club team played the San Fernando Valley Freelancers, Retzlaff said the semi-pro players got off the bus smoking cigarettes, carrying cases of beer. "They were more concerned about their beer than us," he said. "But they looked like a bunch of criminals. We were kicking an extra point in that game, when one of their linebackers walked up to our center on the line and booted him in the head. When the ref jumped in to stop him, the guy punched the ref in the mouth. It was wild."

But the Gauchos won, 83-0. It was time to get serious about football again.

In 1985, the referendum to bring back football finally was passed by the students, who agreed to pay an extra $1.50 each quarter--handing the program $68,000 annually. Mike Warren, a successful coach at Lompoc High, was hired as head coach and by the 1986 season the Gauchos, after 15 years, were playing college football again--this time in Division III.

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