By Dr. Ken


Perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines from one of his most famous plays may not resonate with our regular HELMET HUT readers but “protest” is very much what the public is getting a sensory fill of at this time. Seemingly on a daily basis, protest is the word of the day in media outlets and in aspects of conversation. “Protest” in its literal sense, an expression or action that denotes disapproval or an objection to something, and some would say “to anything,” is a fact of life primarily due to the political activities of the day. Protest as a form or type of “bearing witness” that is more commonly called a “demonstration” is perhaps another now common aspect of life in the United States. Some are outraged, some are saddened, others angered, and many just don’t get it and have no understanding of the time and energy that an individual would invest in “protesting” while believing that the same time and energy could be utilized in a more productive and constructive manner.


No matter where one stands on the political front or their interpretation of the days’ events, those of us who were in our twenties and early thirties during the mid to late-1960s frequently view the current demonstrations as “Protest Lite.” While avoiding statements of bias on social or political matters, while clearly stating that the staff of HELMET HUT takes a public position of neutrality on all issues, and while further opposing the use of violence and lamenting any physical harm or property damage that results in the formation of protests or as a result of any specific protest, the in-street shenanigans of 2016 – 2017 are somewhat lame exercises in comparison to the all- out hell bent lunacy that marked the protests of fifty years ago. As college students became involved in the quest for Civil Rights in the southern part of the United States, there was a “spillover” into other areas, perhaps best marked by the protests in the fall of 1964 at the University of California Berkeley. By New Years Eve of 1965, it seemed as if every socially aware college student could quote portions of the December 2, 1964 “Operation of the Machine” speech Mario Savio made at Cal’s Sproul Hall. The Berkeley Free Speech Movement took off, with Savio becoming a nationally known speaker and in the eyes of authorities, rabble-rouser.



Mario Savio, a native of Queens, N.Y. became the voice and face of the early 1960’s protests


As Civil Rights and Anti War protests proliferated, Savio eventually moved onto a life of study and teaching but Cal very much remained the spearhead of the protest movement, protests that grew in the degree and frequency of violence. Having hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, numerous hospitalizations, the brandishing and use of firearms and bludgeons, and mad dog levels of zeal and passion on all sides of every issue seemed to be de rigueur for a period of perhaps six years of life in America.


Forgotten at times was the unfortunate fact that football players were usually lumped on one side of all issues, the side of conservative thought and authority. If the “long hair and social awareness movement” is given a 1962 starting point, even as late as 1969 many college football programs had grooming standards that did not allow for facial hair or hair length below a specific point on the neck or ears. College coaches were likened to military generals and seen as the symbols of “the old” and not the new, liberal, let-it-all-hang-out group think that swept the nation. Of course, reality was much different with the individual members of any team representing a diverse view on all issues although this was generally lost to stereotyping. The stereotype of a radical hot spot however, remained Cal Berkeley and somewhat ignored by the public was their participation in college football.      


Cal football was a bit less than a rallying point on campus although the 1968 season was quite successful [ see HELMET HUT  http://www.helmethut.com/College/California/CAXUCB6471.html ]

The Golden Bears secured their best record since 1952 and first winning season since the 7-4 mark of 1958. As was noted in their Blue and Gold yearbook, “California football, subdued in mediocrity for ten long years, came to life in 1968, as the Bears went 7 – 3 – 1 on the season and moved into national prominence for the first time since the 1958 Rose Bowl.”


In 1968, the Cal Bears won with their Bear Minimum Defense



They beat powerhouse non-conference teams in Michigan and Syracuse and enjoyed a terrific revenge victory over UCLA which published a Bruins’ yearbook quote after the the 1967 trouncing of their northern neighbors that very much summed up UCLA’s year to year dominance: “Playing football with the Cal Bears is like wrestling with your sister. You know who will win.” Head Coach Ray Willsey walked off with a number of Coach of the Year honors as the Bears neared a Rose Bowl berth before losing to the O.J. Simpson led USC squad and were upset in The Big Game versus rival Stanford in their season finale. The offense was adequate behind quarterback Randy Humphries and 6’7” All American end Wayne Stewart, who had begun his Cal career as a defensive back. He later graduated to a five year pro career, primarily with the New York Jets. There was just enough rushing and additional punch provided by John McGaffie, Gary Fowler, and Paul Williams who later had an eight year CFL career as a defensive back, to compete but the big deal at Cal was the defense, what became the nationally recognized Bear Minimum Defense



Ed White, best known for his accomplishments as a great offensive lineman in the NFL, was a College Football Hall Of Fame defensive lineman at Cal


The main cog was a tough front wall led by Ed “Goose” White. An impressive all-around athlete at Indio (California) High School, he distinguished himself immediately as a varsity player at Cal, being named to the All Conference team as a sophomore noseguard. White recalls that he did a lot of double duty at offensive guard but he maintained and built upon his soph standard, becoming a Consensus All American his senior season and earning entry to the College Football Hall Of Fame as a heralded defensive lineman. Of course he was immediately assigned to the offensive line as the Vikings second round draft choice in 1969 where he again excelled and for many, is deserving of a Pro Football Hall Of Fame placement. A four-time All Pro and Pro Bowl player, his distinguished career took a seventeen year journey through four Vikings Super Bowl participations, a record setting 241 game appearances for offensive linemen, and with the second half of his career played with his home area San Diego Chargers, a trunk load of awards. White left football not only with his All Pro distinction, but as a member of the Vikings 25th and 40th Anniversary teams, membership to the Chargers Hall Of Fame, and their 50th Anniversary Team. The field at Indio High School is named in his honor and his play at Cal earned him entry to the university’s Athletic Hall Of Fame.


Not atypical for Cal in White’s time period of attendance, many of the football players held to the high standard of Cal academics and White graduated as a landscape architect major. He chose Cal for both the academic climate and for the potential he believed was there to build a winning program under an outstanding coaching staff. During his heralded football career, he was one of the countries outstanding arm wrestlers, yet displayed his “other side” and talent by becoming a highly praised and successful artist. White entered the coaching profession after his playing days but has excelled as an award winning artist who has been commissioned to do bronze sculptures which include Madden’s All Pro Team, San Diego Chargers Hall Of Fame, “On The Line” Nike Award, both San Diego State and University Of San Diego Halls Of Fame, and the San Diego Entertainer Of The Year Award. He is known and respected for his work in pen and ink and acrylics which include a range of subjects from football to sailing.          


The 1968 Cal defense led the nation against scoring for most of the season and finished fourth by its conclusion. Joining White in outstanding performances were most notably linemen Mike McCaffrey and Irby Augustine, middle linebacker Dennis Pitta, and defensive back Ken Wiedemann. McCaffrey and Augustine had brief pro careers with both moving to linebacker at the next level. Wiedemann directed the secondary, an All Pac selection who also excelled on the baseball field. He still holds the Cal record for career interceptions at sixteen, picked off seven in ’68, and later became a successful psychologist. Willsey as a former NFL defensive coach had been emphasizing that side of the ball since his arrival and ’68 seemed to bring his work to fruition. The Bear Minimums yielded but five rushing touchdowns for the entire season, pitched three shutouts, and surrendered but ten points and 252 total yards per game.




Cal’s tough middle linebacker Dennis Pitta is the father of current Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta


Willsey may have stayed longer at Cal if he had not defied the NCAA and played an ineligible Isaac Curtis during the ’71 season. Curtis transferred to San Diego State where he completed his collegiate career before starring in the NFL, there was a major restructuring of the athletic department, and Willsey, who had established a winning tradition, was relieved of his head coaching position and spent the remainder of his career involved with coaching and personnel positions with the NFL and Arena Football.


A Sports Illustrated writer, noting the ascension of the 1968 Cal Bears entering their October 26 game versus tenth ranked Syracuse, emphasized that the football squad was establishing a victorious run while the virulence of the Berkeley centered protests had cooled, stating that “The Berkeley beards were on a losing streak, and the football team was on a winning one.” Cal of course has had some very good, some very poor, and many mediocre football seasons since but the 1968 team led by the Bear Minimum Defense remains one of their best ever, despite the public’s perception that Cal was little more than a rabble-rousing factory of intellectual elitism.