The Beach Boys' "Be True to Your School" came over the public address system a little past noon last Saturday as Veterans Stadium took on its 4,600 fans a few at a time for Cal State Long Beach's final football game of the season with Nevada Las Vegas.
Basking in the sun, these early birds watched the teams warm up. Along the benches, orange Gatorade buckets were set in place as graceful receivers caught passes and linemen, sweating already as "Hot Blooded" came on, hit one another to start the adrenaline.
Punters propelled balls into a milky sky, where they would have been suspended high over the stadium rim, if the stadium had a rim. But it has seats on only one side--the vista across the way, beyond signs on a fence that advertised beer, health plans and Lotto, was that of residential homes along Clark Avenue.
Down past one of the end zones, near party tents that held boosters dressed in gold, cheerleaders warmed up too, the females among them being flung high.
This scene--tension-free and pleasant--seemed light years instead of 30 miles from the big-time college football atmosphere at the frenzied, packed Rose Bowl where USC and UCLA were getting set to play.
A Bob Seger song was next, but it had competition from the drums of a band approaching from a nearly empty expanse of parking lot, where students tossed a Frisbee.
The game itself, although not dramatic, was entertaining. Two touchdown passes by quarterback Todd Studer and two field goals by Sean Cheevers made victory imminent for Long Beach as daylight quickly faded and the chewed sod yielded its familiar smell.
The cheerleaders, jacketed against the chill of the shade, lay down their pompons and turned the dirt running track into a dance floor.
The clock ticked down and the 49ers won, 29-20, for their first winning season in four years.
In the aftermath, George Allen, the 49ers' senior-citizen rookie coach, smiled and waved to an adoring crowd as confetti drifted down and stuck to his yellow sweater.
He disappeared through a tunnel, along with his happy, shouting players, who looked as if they would not soon forget that they had just shined in college football.
The 49ers finished 6-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big West Conference. Last year they were 4-8 and 2-5.
"I think it was a remarkable season," Allen said at a news conference Tuesday. "I don't think you'll ever see another one at Long Beach, or maybe anywhere, quite like it."
The 49ers opened with a 59-0 loss at Clemson ("That seems like 10 years ago," Allen said) and two weeks later were 0-3. But they won all six of their games in Veterans Stadium.
"These players never gave up," Allen said. "They played 60 minutes and gave 110% right down to the wire. They didn't give up on the field, they didn't give up on the sidelines. I think as they walk around campus they can be so proud that they are winners."
Allen, who has a five-year contract, said he has only begun to build the football program. "This is a Division I school, but we still need so much to make it a Division I program. No. 1 is to get a new stadium. Until Long Beach gets their own stadium, they will always be fighting for their lives. When you have your own stadium you're going to have more support, loyalty and do a better job of recruiting."
Of next season, Allen said, "I want a tight end who is a real strong blocker, and we need to get a great running back and a defensive lineman who can rush the passer well. I want to bring in anyone who can help us."
Returning will be Studer, who completed 175 of 366 passes for 2,618 yards and 19 touchdowns, along with his top receivers, Mark Seay and Jeff Exum.
"On paper it looks like we should be better," Allen said, "but we still have to improve the defense. And we have only three games at home."
The average home attendance improved this season from 2,650 to 4,697.