PART 1: IN ONE DAY, REDLANDS HAD TWO TAKEN INTO NFL

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

The NFL draft may be an inexact science.

Some evidence of that may have drifted through Redlands in 1978. On draft day that year, a couple of NFL teams snatched up a pair of ex-Redlanders, something that would probably never take place in today’s scientifically-enhanced draft.

Only a few years earlier, 1973, Redlands High School was a hard-core, smash-mouth, physically-pounding running team that usually finished on top of a Citrus Belt League that perennially included Ontario Chaffey High, plus Rialto Eisenhower, Fontana, maybe even Riverside Poly and Colton, or San Bernardino and Corona.

That season, 1973, fullback-type Bruce Gibson was the weapon used by the Terriers to tear opposing defenses apart.

Halfway through that season, wide receiver Brian De Roo finally made Varsity. Even at that late stage of making the team, the eternally-happy De Roo led the Terriers in pass receptions.

Brian DeRoo (Photo by Canadian Football League)
In the 111-year history of the University of Redlands, only one player, Brian De Roo, has ever been drafted into the National Football League.

Redlands had been knocked out of the playoffs, but Gibson had a collegiate future awaiting him at the University of Pacific, an NCAA Division 1 team in the Central California city of Stockton.

De Roo had selected his collegiate stop at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo – perhaps about as far of a drive from Redlands as Gibson’s was to Stockton.

Landscaping would be De Roo’s choice for field of study.

“I didn’t plan on playing football,” said De Roo.

Whether you’re an insider or an outsider, it seemed as if Gibson had a more-than-likely future as a professional. Over three seasons playing in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, Gibson racked up 2,856 yards (25 TDs), which included bouncing back from a severe leg injury that curtailed his 1976 junior season.

DeRoo had been contacted by Frank Serrao, head coach at the University of Redlands. Despite his lack of Varsity experience at Redlands High, De Roo was invited by Serrao into the Bulldogs’ highly successful football program.

An NAIA-based school without athletic scholarships, the local university wasn’t exactly a highly-regarded football institution by NFL standards.

In fact, only one player in the 111-year history of the school has ever been drafted into the NFL. That player would be De Roo.

“The ’78 draft was certainly not the spectacle it is today,” said De Roo.

It wasn’t televised. In those days, it took 12 rounds, not the seven rounds of today’s modern NFL.

De Roo had a small clue that he might go. Not just a former NAIA All-American, he made his mark as an NAIA All-American decathlete. Right around that time – the mid-1970s – the Dallas Cowboys’ scouting had been increased to judge overall athletic ability, not just football skills.

A prime example: Bob Hayes, a gold medal Olympic sprinter in 1964, was a lightning rod receiver for the Cowboys over many seasons.

Meanwhile, a De Roo teammate, Lee Joyce, knew famed agent Barry Axelrod who, at the time, was partners with the well-known Leigh Steinberg.

Said De Roo: “Barry did a bit of research for me prior to the draft and let me know that I had a chance to go between rounds six and nine.”

The draft, spread over two days, left De Roo and his family to schedule a party for the second day. On the first day, De Roo hung around Redlands’ dormitory, “just in case.”

That first day: Houston took Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell at No. 1. A couple of other future Hall of Famers: Green Bay took receiver James Lofton at No. 6 and Cleveland took tight end Ozzie Newsome at No. 23.

Earl Campbell
1977 Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell, with ball, whose collegiate career at Texas was simultaneous with Redlands’ Brian De Roo and Bruce Gibson, a tough-running back from University of Pacific. All three were taken in the same 1978 NFL draft. (Photo courtesy of the NFL Hall of Fame.)

Meanwhile, at the Univ. Redlands dormitories in those days, only a switchboard was available on the first floor. Beepers in each room indicated students were getting a call – one beep for one roommate and two for the other.

“Then we had to run to the end of the hall to the pay phone – technology at its finest,” said De Roo, who got tired of waiting for that first day call.

“I decided to go to the track and work on some javelin,” said De Roo, a decathlete for his school during the springtime track & field season.

An hour into his javelin workout, local area sportscaster Rich Rebenstorf came running down the hill. Yelling at De Roo. The Giants had called. Wanted De Roo to return their call.

Part 2 tomorrow – De Roo gets word from “unlikely” source.

WEATHERWAX WAS SURROUNDED BY NFL HALL OF FAME TALENT

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

The names would roll off the lips of any Green Bay Packers’ fan.

Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Dave Robinson, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, Willie Davis and, of course, Vince Lombardi.

Jim Weatherwax, an 11th-round pick (No. 150 overall) in the 1965 NFL draft that produced the likes of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, was teammates with all of them.

The Redlands High graduate, who played for Terriers’ venerable coach Frank Serrao in 1959 – one of Redlands’ best teams – played 34 games with the Pack from 1966-69.

Add another Hall of Famer from that era.

On Saturday, Feb. 2, 2018, Packers’ blocking great Jerry Kramer – author of Instant Replay – was granted that long-awaited spot in Canton after years of pondering by pro football historians on whether or not the onetime right guard deserved the honor.

Jerry Kramer
Green Bay Packers’ right guard Jerry Kramer, a teammate of Redlands product Jim Weatherwax, may well be the final player from that era that made it to the NFL Hall of Fame. (Photo credit by NFL Hall of Fame.)

Instant Replay was, in fact, a book centered around the famous block thrown by Kramer, Green Bay’s right guard, that cleared a path for Starr’s QB sneak in the Packers’ 21-17 Ice Bowl win over Dallas.

That triumph led Green Bay into the second Super Bowl against Oakland.

Imagine, playing for a Hall of Famer – Lombardi – backing up Hall of Famers like Jordan and Davis on Green Bay’s defensive line, while practicing against Hall of Fame linemen like Gregg and Kramer.

Henry Jordan
Henry Jordan (Photo courtesy of NFL Hall of Fame.)

That’s 10 Hall of Famer players on one team, plus the coach.

In the Redlands Daily Facts offices years later, Weatherwax reflected those glorious times. “I was lucky. I can’t even begin to describe it. Those were great times. Every man that played on that team was great.

“To play for the greatest coach of all time,” he said, pausing, searching for words that, perhaps, had never been used before, “was like nothing you could ever imagine. Like I said, I was lucky.”

Two of Weatherwax’s 34 career NFL games were the first two championship games – 35-10 over Kansas City in 1967, plus a 33-14 win over the Oakland Raiders in 1968.

Weatherwax started three games in 1967, even coming up with his only career fumble recovery that season. It the playoffs, Weatherwax got his share of snaps in wins over the Rams, Cowboys and, ultimately, the Raiders.

He was 23-years-old during his 1966 rookie season, well-schooled by the time that 1968 championship game against Oakland took place in Miami. The Packers’ era was slowly crumbling. Starr & Co. were aging rapidly. Whispers were rampant that Lombardi, too, was contemplating retirement.

All of which fed into the energy for Super Bowl II.

It was Kramer, said Weatherwax, who told the team in pre-game moments, “Let’s win it for the old man.”

Jim Weatherwax - Cal State L.A.
Redlands’ Jim Weatherwax, pictured during his Cal State Los Angeles days, was an eventual teammate to 10 Hall of Fame players for the Green Bay Packers, coached by Hall of Famer Vince Lombardi. Footnote: Weatherwax wore jersey No. 73 for the Packers. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Los Angeles.)

Such a statement might have been Hall of Fame-worthy.

Weatherwax seemed to bask in the glow of such prominent times. “The knee injuries that drove me out of the game (by 1969), well, kind of make it worth it. I wouldn’t trade those moments – not the games, not the guys and not the coach.”

 

PART 1 – GREG HORTON WAS A SUPERIOR REDLANDS FORCE

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

He was sitting across the table from me at lunch.

A fast-food burger joint. On Colton Ave.

In the old days, when he played for Redlands High in the 1960s, this place probably never existed.

This NFL workhorse, who blocked for some ultra-strong Redlands High Terrier teams, got recruited to play at Colorado, was drafted by the Chicago Bears, then launched a successful pro career that ended in the United States Football League after about a decade.

Greg Horton, who died in 2015 at age 65, had plenty of cherished memories on the football field. He played in some big games. Went up against high school greats. Against some collegiate All-Americans, NFL All-Pro and Hall of Fame talent. Football insight was keen, endless.

As a Terrier at Redlands High, Greg was, perhaps, one of the biggest of their long list of football studs. The coaches there were legends – Frank Serrao, Greg’s coach, Paul Womack, both having been preceded by Ralph “Buck” Weaver, perhaps considered the father of Terrier football.

At lunch that day, I knew what Greg wanted. He had invested in a business, located a couple hundred feet from where we were eating. Naturally, he wanted it to succeed. Greg needed publicity. It was some kind of workout program, if I remember correctly.

Not my job, actually. There are business owners around Redlands who would give 12 of their toes for such publicity. Greg, by virtue of his NFL notoriety, his “homegrown” status, not to mention those many times he’d sat down for one-on-one interviews, was calling in a few favors.

I was walking a fine line on this one. It would’ve been impossible to give him exactly what he wanted. I was in sports, not news, or business.

GREG HORTON
An early shot. Redlands’ Greg Horton. Photo by Tampa Bay Buccaneers

He’d have preferred, I’m certain, for me to completely focus on his new enterprise – the specials, its purpose, investors, the nuts and bolts, everyone involved – as the focal point of the piece. Like I said, I wasn’t a business reporter.

Plus, I could just see plenty of other business owners that advertised in that paper. They’d be outraged by such favorable press on Horton’s new venture, insisting upon being interviewed about their own businesses. I had to be careful.

In this city, Greg had more than paid his dues. You’d think the hometown paper owed him one. Our publisher sounded against the idea. So did the advertising director. I didn’t even convene with the editor. Okay, at least I asked.

Professional standards abounded.

Greg might have stood at the head of the line of Redlands High football players – NFL, high-level collegiate play, NFL championship-level, connections, battered and bruised on field, taking on some of the sport’s greatest champions.

HORTON PAID HIS DUES

This guy was from Redlands.

He’d coached plenty of locals, headed up the city’s booster club, the Benchwarmers, provided an endless amount of support for almost anything the kids needed.

As an assistant line coach at the University of Redlands one year – mid-1980s – I can remember him going after a University of San Diego defender after a game. The USD kid had cheap-shotted one of the Bulldog players.

It was the kind of play Greg knew better than anyone. He knew all the lineman’s tricks – illegal high-low blocking techniques, going for an unguarded knee, hitting from behind, you name it – so when he saw that taking place in a NCAA Division 3 (non-scholarship) game, Greg took offense.

He went after the USD player, briefly, then turned to the injured Bulldog.

“Are you all right?”

Greg wasn’t exactly my biggest fan. He never turned me away for an interview, though. I just didn’t strike well with him, I think. In fact, he was highly critical when he showed up – among other parents, school officials, Terrier football players and coaches – at what appeared to be a public slap-down of current Redlands High coach Dave Perkins during the 1990 season.

While some parents were after Perkins’ job, Horton’s public tirade was directed at me. It was something like, “The guy in the newspaper” (me) “needs to remember this is about the kids.”

Greg seemed to scream those words, an emotional outburst.

Truth is, a parents’ group wanted Perkins gone. Fired. My presence at that meeting, however, curtailed any outward signs of outrage. I’m not certain if Greg was anti-Perkins and felt my presence nullified the meeting’s outcome.

In fact, I’m certain I was specifically invited there that night to keep things under wraps. No one has a desire to be quoted in the press when they’re doing something underhanded. Right?

Perkins, who had back-to-back 3-7 seasons in 1990 and 1991, held onto his job that night. My guess is that Greg was there to back Perkins. I was there simply to report.

Greg, for his part, probably never saw any of that while he wore a Terrier uniform in the 1960s. Womack, coach. No parents’ groups. Just a bunch of high school players lighting up Friday nights during the fall.

09_Billick_PreviewPreseason_news
Brian Billick, a Redlands product whose eventual coaching career landed him at the height of NFL play, settled in as a pro football broadcaster when his days as Baltimore Ravens’ coach concluded in 2007. Photo by the Baltimore Ravens.

This may be controversial, but Greg may well be Redlands’ greatest Connection to the NFL world, at least as a player. Then again, it might be Brian Billick – who came along just a couple years after Horton – the man who coached the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl.

While Billick was developing his mind toward coaching at the highest of levels, Greg goes down as a weight room product who lifted himself to the heights of high school play, tops among collegiate programs and into the world of NFL play.

Part 2 next week.