"DIABLOS OF CAL STATE"
HELMET REFLECTIONS FOR AUGUST 2008
THE DIABLOS OF CAL STATE AT LOS ANGELES
By Dr. Ken
I first became aware of what was then called California State College At Los Angeles, and the California Athletic Association, its conference affiliate in 1960 for the most negative of reasons. Every football fan knows of the tragedy involving the football team at Marshall University with a commercial movie, widely shown documentary film, and numerous books bringing attention to the November 14, 1970 airplane crash that killed most of the team. Some are aware that the Marshall tragedy was not the first airplane disaster of that same season. Wichita State lost fourteen players, its head coach and a number of support personnel on October 2, 1970 when one of their two team planes crashed in the Rocky Mountains after departing from Denver for a game with Utah State. I can clearly recall sitting at home as a young high school student a decade prior to the 1970 tragedies, being stunned and frightened when reading a newspaper account of the October 29, 1960 crash of an airplane that was carrying the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo team as it departed from the Bowling Green, Ohio airport. The Cal Poly team, including its quarterback and future USC head coach Ted Tollner had lost to Bowling Green and its great halfback Bernie Casey in a 50-6 wipe out. When the airplane attempted to leave Ohio after the game, the fog was extremely dense and the plane crashed back onto the runway, split in half, and caught fire, killing sixteen players and a total of twenty-two of the forty-eight passengers. Assistant coach John Madden was not on board, having remained in California as coach of the freshmen team. I was so startled and scared that a team could be destroyed in this manner that it led me to find out all I could about the Cal Poly program and that of its opponents which included Cal State At Los Angeles. In the early 1960’s LA State as it was usually referred to, had started to send a number of players into the pros and I tried to keep track of those coming out of Fresno State, Long Beach State, San Diego State, and Santa Barbara as well. With the rough and tough Pittsburgh Steelers being a favorite pro team, I was aware that short, strong halfback Joe Womack had come from LA State and played well when given a chance in the 1962 season. When LA State seemed to peak with a National Championship in 1964, I was intrigued and finally read something about their head coach Homer Beatty.
Some individuals are winners and this can usually be ascribed to their ability to work hard, organize, remain focused upon a goal, and develop and perfect the skills specific to their work. Some are highly successful and gain national or regional attention while others, having accomplished as much or more than anyone in their field, remain unknown outside of a very small geographic area or beyond the boundaries of their field of specialty. Through the 1960’s when Homer Beatty was augmenting what was already a most enviable coaching record, he was certainly well known in his home area of southern California but he was far from a nationally recognized head football coach. Still he was one of the best and had the respect of his peers, the appreciation of his players, and the statistical record to rank him near the top of his profession. “Butch” Beatty was an accomplished athlete at Bakersfield, California High School but fully blossomed as a three year letterman, playing halfback for the immortal Howard Jones on the University Of Southern California teams of 1934, ’35, and ’36. After playing professionally with the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the first American Football League, Beatty entered military service and played for the Santa Ana Army Air Base. Upon his separation from the service Beatty viewed coaching as his calling and few have been more successful. He was the head coach at Porterville High School and then at Bakersfield High School where his most renowned player was do-it-all back Frank Gifford. Going up a level to Bakersfield (Junior) College, Beatty put together a powerful 53-7-3 series of teams from 1953 through ’58 and won a Junior College National Championship with a 12-0 record and Junior Rose Bowl victory. At Santa Ana College, he again demonstrated his ability to recruit and mold teams quickly and effectively. In a four year period the Dons won two Eastern Conference Championships, Beatty posted an overall 29-7-1 mark, and again won the Junior College National Championship in 1962 with an undefeated team that prevailed over Columbia Basin College of Washington in the Junior Rose Bowl.
Once more graduating to a tougher level of football, Beatty was more than up to the task at Los Angeles State College. When Coach Beatty came on board, Womack, halfback Fred Gillett who played with the AFL Chargers and Raiders and quarterback Tom Kennedy, who eventually saw service with the N.Y. Giants sandwiched between stints with numerous minor league clubs in the United, Atlantic Coast, and Continental Football Leagues had already gone off to the pros. Beatty and his staff managed to recruit so many excellent players during his tenure that it became a fixture on NFL and AFL scouts “must visit” scouting trips. In the 1960’s The California Collegiate Athletic Association was a hotbed of prime quality football with LA State, Long Beach State, Fresno State and Don Coryell’s San Diego State teams producing numerous great collegiate players, and an inordinate number of successful professionals relative to the size of the available player pool among the conference teams. To the average fan, members of the conference, like LA State, were barely visible and literally unknown beyond California. Yet, between 1963 and ’65 Beatty compiled a 25-2 record and won the 1964 NCAA College Division National Championship and the 1965 NCAA College Division West Region championship with a victory in the Camellia Bowl.
It was difficult to ignore LA State when they took the field. Their players were huge and well conditioned, and wearing their black accentuated uniforms that reflected the school colors of black and gold made them look even fiercer. The helmets stood out in gleaming black, augmented with a one-inch gold center stripe and one-half-inch white flanking stripes. Their home black jerseys, trimmed in gold and white or away white jerseys with bold black numbers and black and gold sleeve stripes made for a terrific appearance and they played better than they looked! The National Championship team of ’64 received nation-wide recognition but the 9-1 squad of 1965 featured six players who received some type of Little All American honors. Who else but Beatty could boast of having six bona fide All Americans on one team?
In addition to the Diablo players from the pre-Beatty days that had caught my attention, a group that included Howard Kindig of the Chargers, quarterback Kennedy when he played with Wheeling in the United Football League, and Womack of course, the 1964 and ’65 teams had a few very noticeable players. Walter Johnson was perhaps the best of Beatty’s LA State players. The star of the 1964 National Championship team, Johnson had gone from Taft High School in Cincinnati to New Mexico State to LA State as a two-way tackle. At 6’4” and 265 pounds he was a good-sized man for his era and extremely strong and quick. He was a second round draft choice of the Browns and became a fixture at defensive tackle for a dozen years, completing his final NFL season in his home town with the Bengals. The ’64 squad also produced fine running back Art Robinson who hung on with the Bears briefly, and quarterback Dunn Marteen who played well in the Continental Football League.
From the 1965 squad, “Jungle Jim” Weathewax at a tremendous 6’7” and 260 pounds had bounced around a bit, leaving Redlands High School first for San Bernadino Valley College (JC) and then a stab with Joe Kerbel’s West Texas State crew that later produced “Mercury Morris”, Duane Thomas, Rocky Thompson, and a host of well known pro wrestlers. He completed his eligibility at LA State and the pros snapped him up after his Honorable Mention All American 1965 season. He played three seasons for the Packers including their first two Super Bowl years. Offensive tackle Don Davis was another of the super ’65 group, an Honorable Mention All American like Weatherwax and also huge at 6’6” and 255 pounds. Davis became an infamous character in the history of New York Giants' drafts. Coming after the team’s disastrous tumble from the glorious heights of championship years to the pitiful depths of the worst team in the league after the ’64 season, the Mara Men rebounded to 7-7 in 1965 and looked forward to a draft that would help bring them back to the top of the Eastern Division. Instead, they chose offensive tackle Francis Peay of Michigan first and though he was a decent player that spent nine serviceable seasons in the NFL, his two with the Giants did not meet the expectations of the staff nor fans. The second pick was Davis, another offensive tackle that with Peay, would be the bookends to return the offense to the glory of the Conerly-Tittle years and a pair that would lead the O-line for many seasons. Davis instead reported to camp at over 335 pounds. Head Coach Allie Sherman “was nearly felled by a coronary when he caught his first glimpse of Davis waddling onto the field.” Giants owner Wellington Mara noted, “I never saw anybody eat like that, or drink so much soda pop.” Having converted his bonus money into burgers and fries, he was in no condition to play professional football. When he traveled to the College All Star Game, Giants line coach Roosevelt Brown went with him, his shadow to insure that Davis would not gain even more weight while away from the observant eyes of the Giants training staff. Davis was absolutely great at LA State under Beatty but barely made it through his one and only season of pro football. Defensive back George Youngblood was effective with the Rams, Browns, and New Orleans.
After the ’65 season, Beatty stepped down for health reasons and his record to that point in time was an enviable 164-31-2 for an incredible winning percentage of .841, definitely one of the best in the nation. He assisted the staff in 1966 with scouting and planning advice but as his health returned, he was once again ready to head a program. With minor league football popular and serving as a conduit to the AFL and NFL throughout the Sixties, Beatty took on the task of helping to form and serve as head coach of the Orange County Ramblers of the Continental Football League in 1967. In the two seasons of their existence, the Ramblers went 10-2 and 11-1, winning their division championship both seasons but lost to the Orlando Panthers in both title games. One of the highlights of their final season, at least for the players, was answering the call of Hollywood and portraying the Green Bay Packers in the film “Skidoo”. The enviable 21-3 record made Beatty a sought after head man but despite their on-field success, ownership folded the franchise with an expansion Hawaii Warriors team given first access to the Ramblers’ roster. Prior to the start of the 1969 season, Hawaii was unable to field a team and the bulk of the roster then relocated to Portland and was renamed the Loggers. Beatty, a lifelong California native, bowed out. Beatty was a great one and was inducted into the Orange County Sports Hall and no doubt deserves a place where the most successful coaches across all levels of play, earn their rightful respect. Under Don Coryell, San Diego State perhaps more than any of the other mid-level California based universities, received national attention in the 1960’s and grew into a nationally known, major conference school, as did Fresno State. Others, like Long Beach State and Los Angeles State dropped their football programs but remain excellent academic institutions that provide many other intercollegiate athletic outlets for their many students. Still, the memories of the excellent coaching and high level of football play from the mid and late 1960’s is missed by many.
[HELMET HUT would like to
thank Mr. Paul Helms, the Sports Information Director at California State
University At Los Angeles for his assistance in providing information and
photographs for this article. The LA State Diablos of the 1960's are now the