In 1960, a group of 35 nonscholarship UC Davis football players was getting hammered in the old Far West Conference.
They scored only one touchdown in the first three losses of the season. In the next three games, Nevada, Humboldt State and San Francisco State stuck a combined 111 points on these struggling locals.
A 6-6 tie at UC Santa Barbara offered a glimmer of hope — until Sacramento State wiped out the Aggies, 31-0, ending UCD’s campaign at 0-8-1.
Recordwise, it was the worst showing in Aggie football history.
But little did fans know that from the blood-soaked, torn jerseys of the 1960 season evolved Aggie Pride.
Over the next three seasons, many of those same UCD players went on to post consecutive winnings records — including a share of the conference title in 1963, when the Aggies went 6-2-1 and 3-1-1 in Far West play.
Fifty seasons have passed since that championship year — and this weekend more than 30 members of that team gathered to reunite and celebrate their accomplishments.
Was that really the beginning of Aggie Pride?
“We used to say that,” former UCD head coach (1989-92) and ’60 running back Bob Foster told The Enterprise. “We hear that all the time. And you have to be able to have (Aggie Pride) when you’re down and out, face in the mud.”
Foster, who became as assistant coach on the title-winning 1963 team and now lives in Oregon, continued: “It’s easy when you’re up. It’s when you’re down and losing that you have to keep going. These guys did that.”
The ol’ Aggies gathered Friday at Sudwerk. Poring over the many clippings and family photos on display, there was quarterback Dick Carriere — considered by most the driving force in 1963.
“My top memory of the championship season has to be the victory over Sac State,” the Glen resident said. “Some of us had been together for four years. (After our first year together), you can see how special it was for us.
“Because we had been together for so long, we had formed a special bond. It was more like family.”
Carriere pointed to trainer Dick Lewis, assistant coach Herb Schmalenberger and head man Will Lotter for bringing together the unusual mix of athletic talent.
Lewis (whose wife Betty was at the reunion) and Schmalenberger are gone now, but, in men like Carriere and Foster, their memory and influence live on.
“It was a time of no scholarships and a person could walk on, play and just have fun,” Carriere added. “As a result, we had quite a cross-section of personalities.”
One such character was Jim Clay. A lineman, Clay, like most of the Aggies, was undersized. After one play during that 0-8-1 campaign, Foster says Clay returned to the huddle, “his helmet turned sideways on his head, and looking through the ear hole he says, ‘Come my way. I have a pigeon.’ ”
Also in 1960, John Case was a cheerleader who seemed particularly critical of what he saw going on on the field.
Foster and his pals didn’t take kindly to the snide asides, but used friendly persuasion to silence the critic.
“So you think you can do better?” came the question to Case.
Apparently the answer was yes.
“Before the season ended he went from cheerleader to starting center,” Foster said with a chuckle. “We took the guy right off the milk can.”
In the evolution of the Aggies, the school went 5-4 in 1961 and 1962.
A watershed victory over Nevada in ’61 still pumps up this corps of ground-breaking gridders, most of whom are gliding elegantly into their 70s.
“The newspapers in Reno were calling us ‘doormats,’ ” one-time defensive back Gary Carlson remembered. “That didn’t set well with any of us.”
Lotter showed his guys one of the articles at a team meal before the game. Aggie Pride rang through loud and clear: UCD 36, Nevada 12.
As reported in the California Aggie the following week:
“The ‘doormat’ of the league, UCD … tore into the fragile Nevada line for 261 yards rushing and passing for 121 more to run the Wolfpack into the turf, off the field, and back to their slot machines.”
But it was in 1963 that the transformation was complete — thanks, in part, to five transfers from the previous year’s national junior college champs Santa Ana.
“We had a great group who helped put things over the top,” said Jon Cooper, a Dayton, Ore., resident and once-center.
Those Lotter recruits included tackle Jack DeWit, guard Tom Tullar, end Linn Wiley, tackle Terry Minor and tackle Steve Johnson. Each was in town this weekend — as was the Santa Ana group’s former coach Bill Dutton — a guest of DeWit’s and his appearance a complete surprise.
El Macero rice grower DeWit went first to Colorado, then transfered to UCD. Having to sit out that 1963 season, DeWit nonetheless worked out with the team every day.
“I loved the game, loved the guys. I worked hard to be part of it all,” DeWit said, adding: “I guess I was the original Aggie redshirt.”
Lotter, 87, attended Friday’s gathering with his wife, Jane.
The longtime Aggie coach — who also mentored tennis, soccer, junior varsity basketball and baseball during his six decades around UCD sports — was moved by the occasion.
“I enjoyed seeing a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a long, long time,” Lotter explained. “It was a great feeling, that 1963 team. Dick Carriere was a great leader and it was wonderful coaching those guys because they all seemed to enjoy playing.
“It was great to give ’em a hug and say ‘Good to see you.’ ”
At Sudwerk, there stood tackle Dan Aldrich, looking like he could still play. Aldrich, a former UCD administrator, now lives in Santa Cruz.
Longtime Davis resident and former coach Dean Ryan was on hand. Tackle Bob Nicholas, a Sonoma native, went from teammate to teammate, catching up … after all, it had been 50 years between visits for some of these men.
“Once you see them and hear their voices, days of old come back real quick,” Carlson said.
Carlson teamed up, maybe for one last time, with Bill Reische (Littleton, Colo.) and Ken Gardner (Hanford).
The trio had been inseparable in the Aggie defensive backfield. UCD played three deep in those days — a normal style of football that wouldn’t see pass-happy offenses evolve for decades into the future.
“They were a bunch of nice guys who were dedicated students and athletes,” said former halfback Ron Conway (Rancho Murieta). “One could trust that they were great role models. I don’t recall an incident or situation when a player or coach didn’t display their great character.
“How much fun I had being a part of a group of athletes that cared about each other, and UCD. We were proud to be Aggies.”
Notes: One icon of Aggie Pride — John Patella — was at the reception. Patella, who excelled in baseball at UCD, was the 1963 team’s sports information director. He promoted the Aggie gridders in the fall while hitting the diamond in the spring. The 1964 graduate, tongue-in-cheek, was taking credit for making players like Carriere all-league members. … Carlson said one of the things his teammates wanted to let this Aggie team know is that “things can turn around — and it looks like they have.” … Minor, all the way into town from Minnesota (where he worked for the IRS), had this to say: “The qualities that made the ’63 Aggies special were teamwork, camaraderie and tenacity. We certainly weren’t the biggest or fastest — nor did we have great depth at any position — but we were tenacious to the last snap.” … In a 10-10 tie with San Francisco State in 1963, the Gaters had an assistant coach on their sideline … some guy named Jim Sochor.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected]