A number of news reports have appeared in print and on the television screen about the 45 years Tiger football teams played there. Often mentioned is the first game, on Oct. 21, 1950, when Loyola of Los Angeles scored in the last 35 seconds to defeat the Tigers 35-33.
There were some 32,000 fans in the stands that day, and I was one of them. I witnessed that horrifying ending to a wild game. I still recall the heroics of Loyola quarter Don Klosterman in bringing his team from behind to edge the Tigers.
Klosterman was a big guy with a strong arm, and he was the difference between the two teams — a difference that produced a sad ending to an otherwise exciting football game that included some great runs by Tiger back Eddie Macon in the brand-new stadium.
Klosterman went on to play for the Los Angeles Rams as a backup quarterback, but he made his name in the National Football League as one of the NFL’s most-successful front-office guys with a number of teams, capped off by 10 years as general manager of the then-L.A. Rams.
But I digress; back to Stagg Stadium.
In addition to the opening game, I witnessed a year later what was billed as a titanic struggle of Northern California football: Pacific vs. the University of San Francisco Dons. It wasn’t nearly the close contest predicted, as the Dons, paced by the running of John Henry Johnson, squashed the Tigers, 42-17, before 41,607, the largest crowd in stadium history. The win helped the legendary Dons team post a 9-0 undefeated season’s record, as viewers of the recent TV documentary on the team have been reminded.
Later, in the 1980s, I returned to the earthen bowl to watch a number of Tiger football games, and I can recall two especially well. I saw a great seesaw battle between UOP and UC Davis on Oct. 4, 1986, with the underdog Aggies coming out on top 45-41. A year later, in another rip-roaring game, the Tigers prevailed over Fresno State 23-22.
But as my mind flashes back to memories of games watched at the soon-to-be-history stadium, I most clearly recall the night of Oct. 29, 1971. It wasn’t a college game, but a historic high school contest between the Tracy High Bulldogs and the Stagg High Delta Kings with the Central California Conference title on the line.
The Bulldogs were riding on a 13-game winning streak with a 7-0 record in the CCC, a powerful re-established league. They needed to beat a powerhouse Stagg team, 6-0-1, to claim the championship.
There were some 15,000 fans in the stands that evening, filling half the stadium. At least two-thirds of them were from Tracy. Bulldog football fever ran high most years in a one-high school town, but in the fall of 1971, it was red hot. That became obvious to the smaller Stagg crowd as it looked across the field to see the visitor-side stands nearly full.
The Bulldogs didn’t disappoint their supporters. Fullback McCovey Henson and halfback Greg Smith romped through Stagg defenders in an offense propelled by the triple-option veer exploits of quarterback Bruce Keplinger. Henson scored three touchdowns in the first half and Tracy led all the way to a 31-7 victory.
En route, the Tracy defense stuffed the Delta Kings offense in a number of ways. Bulldog linebacker Dave Kaiser was in on 14 tackles, and Tracy forced seven turnovers, including three interceptions by defensive back John Gay. There were many other heroes, too many to mention.
The 31-7 win gave coach Wayne Schneider his fourth league championship.
Press Sports Editor Larry Minner declared: “They are the champs! Unbeaten, untied and undeniably the finest pack of marauding Bulldogs to wear the green and gold.”
Now all the Bulldogs had to do to complete a 10-0 perfect season (no playoffs in those days) was beat Merced, which was way down the CCC standings with a 4-5 record.
But that was not to be. A week later, Merced’s Bears came into Peter B. Kyne Field on homecoming night determined to pull off an upset. That determination paid off for Merced, which got off to a quick start and held on to defeat the Bulldogs, 34-28.
The 1971 Tracy High Bulldogs’ dream of a perfect season was shattered, but still they had won the league championship with that never-to-be forgotten big win in the big stadium in Stockton.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at email@example.com.