A Visit with Two "Pappy's Boys"

There probably isn't another subject that brings more emotion, joy, and heartache to Cal football fans than the Rose Bowl. As too many of us too painfully know, it was Joe Kapp and his 1959 Bears who last played in the "Granddaddy of Them All", The Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

To add to the heartache, the Cal Bears have come oh-so-close several times since then:

  • Co-Champs in 1975: (@#$% UCLA!).
  • The 10-1 2004 Bears: (Voted out by a few sleazy Big 12 coaches).
  • And most recently the 2006 Co-Champions: (If DeSean's foot hadn't touched that darn sideline in Tucson).

It wasn't always like this.

Ten years before Kapp's team played Iowa in the '59 Rose Bowl, Coach Pappy Waldorf's Golden Bears had played not only the first of three straight Rose Bowls, but had begun their domination of college football.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with two of the original "Pappy's Boys", men who starred on a couple of those amazing football teams.

Jackie Jensen, Bob Celeri, Pappy Waldorf,
and Dick Erickson; 1948

Dick Erickson played for Coach Fritz Crissler's Michigan Wolverines for one season before starting for the Bears at quarterback for the '46, '47 and '48 seasons, then again in the 1949 Rose Bowl. Frank Brunk played fullback for Cal from 1946-1949, and played in two Rose Bowl games in '49 and '50. Brunk is probably best known for his spectacular 103 yard kick-off return against USC in a pivotal victory that sealed the conference championship for the Bears in '49.

Both men recall a Pappy Waldorf who was both a very well organized coach and one who was always positive with his players. According to Erickson, he "never lost control at any time."

Frank Brunk 103 yard TD to defeat USC in 1949

Brunk remembers Pappy as "the absolute antithesis of Woody Hayes and Bobby Knight. Even though he had many legitimate opportunities to complain about referees or bad calls, he just wouldn't do it."

Besides his extraordinary organizational skills, a secret of Pappy's success was keeping football practices as interesting as he could, never wanting the players to get bored. Erickson recalls Pappy saying, "I don't consider any practice to be a success unless there is laughter."

Pappy's soft approach might have been unorthodox but his results were downright phenomenal. From '47 to '51 (his first five seasons) Waldorf's regular season record was an astounding 46 wins, 3 losses, and 1 tie. The only real negatives were the three heartbreaking Rose Bowl losses to Northwestern ('49); Ohio State ('50); and Michigan ('51).

Although now in their early eighties, Erickson and Brunk share vivid and fond memories of the era they played in and the teammates they played with. A few of the names that came up during our conversation were the late Messrs. Rod Franz, Jim "Truck" Cullom, and of course, Jackie Jensen.

Franz, Cal's only three-time All-American (at guard) was known for his non-stop tenacity, not only during games but during practice as well. Frank Brunk said several teammates would complain to Pappy about Franz and his relentless style. Pappy's response? "I guess you'll have to play harder."

Both men agree that the best 'personality' on the team was their all-conference tackle, Jim "Truck" Cullom, who also performed the place-kicking duties.

"Jim was just a fantastic guy", Erickson recalls. "A wonderful sense of humor. Nothing ever bothered the guy. He was what every team needs. When needed he would be able to break things up. He would even kid Pappy the same way he did the players, and Pappy loved it".

In fact, during the '49 Rose Bowl when Frank Brunk came into the game to replace an injured Jackie Jensen, it was Cullom who said, "Brunk's in at fullback, I guess we better start blocking now."

Of course, no conversation about those early Waldorf teams can go without mentioning one who many believe to have been Cal's greatest athlete ever, Jackie Jensen.

Brunk, who was a fraternity brother and roommate of Jensen's said it was evident early on that Jackie was something special. "Everything he ever tried came so easy to him."

It was Brunk who got Jackie to start golfing while at Cal. "He went from scoring in the 100's to scoring in the 80's - by completely skipping the 90's. People just can't do that, but Jackie did."

Not to mention that the future American League MVP was an All-American in baseball and football while at Cal.

"It was so different then for college athletes," Erickson says. "Just about all the guys from those late forties teams had spent at least two years in the military during World War II."

Erickson also recalls that 28 players (including himself) were already married. Erickson and others would be excused from attending spring practice because they were working to provide for their families.

As quarterback, Erickson had the final say when calling plays on the field. "Even if Pappy sent in a play, I would decide which play we would run."

Erickson added, "College players weren't playing to improve their draft status. Back then, pro football just didn't pay much." Jim Cullom played one season with the New York Yankees football team, after being drafted by the Washington Redskins, but quit the pros to join the Marine Corps and fight in Korea. The reason? The Marines paid better.

Of all the positive memories these men shared with me, there is one that still irks them both, the 'phantom' Northwestern touchdown that provided the winning margin for the Wildcats in the '49 Rose Bowl where the Bears lost 20-14. No matter how vehemently the NU players claim they scored on that play, the photos show otherwise. Although it has been nearly sixty years since that happened, that blown call has never been forgotten.

Stripped FB Still Called a TD for Northwestern

"We know Murakowski fumbled the ball before he got to the goal line, and the photo clearly shows that," Brunk said. "I would just like to hear someone from Northwestern admit it."

Because of the obvious photo evidence, Erickson and some other Pappy's Boys continue to lobby the Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl Committee to add an asterisk to the final score of that game.

DBear and Dick Erickson

The great memories these men have of their time and experiences at Cal completely outweigh the few negatives. Talking with them was like going back in time - it felt like I was sitting across the table from the still-young men who were such a big part of that special time in California football history.

Though many of the original "Pappy's Boys" have passed on, their stories continue to be shared and enjoyed, not only by the men who were a part of that era but also by the generations (like ours) that follow them.


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