DE ROO WATCHED DISASTROUS MIRACULOUS HORROR

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 and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, 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

They called it the Miracle at the Meadowlands.

Redlands’ Brian DeRoo had a front row seat for the “miracle,” an infamous and highly replayed conclusion to an NFC Eastern Division game between the New York Giants and the visiting Philadelphia Eagles.

On this date, November 19, 1978 – exactly 40 years ago today – Giants’ QB Joe Pisarcik mishandled a snap in the waning seconds of a game seemingly won by New York.

Onetime All-Pro fullback Larry Csonka couldn’t quite get to Pisarcik’s handoff.

Joe Pisarcik
N.Y. Giants’ QB Joe Pisarcik made the ill-fated handoff attempt that led to the Miracle at the Meadowlands on Nov. 19, 1978 (Photo courtesy of the Calgary Stampeders).

Fumble!

Eagles’ defensive back Herman Edwards recovered. Twenty-six yards later, Edwards had scored. Philadelphia had an unexpected 19-17 victory. It should’ve been a 17-12 Giants’ triumph.

DeRoo, who had been drafted by the Giants in the fifth round of the 1978 NFL draft out of the University of Redlands, who had been placed on injured reserve durng his rookie season.

“I was standing on the sidelines for that play,” said DeRoo, “ducking and dodging pieces of headsets that were splintering from being smashed on the ground by various assistant coaches.”

That was the reaction to one of pro football’s biggest late-game blow-ups. Pisarcik had been taken from the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

Edwards, who would eventually become a head coach at both the pro and collegiate level, changed the Eagles’ fate. It turned out to be a huge boost to an eventual Super Bowl berth two years later. Philly, who went into the game at 6-5, used that win over the Giants to reach that season’s NFL playoffs.

Herm Edwards (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Herm Edwards may have singlehandedly lifted the Philadelphia Eagles into a new era with his fumble return at the Miracle of the Meadowlands (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

“Helmets were also rebounding off the turf,” said DeRoo. “John Mendenhall (a Giants’ assistant) went the highest!!!”

It was a simple play. Pisarcik was expected to take one more snap. Kneel with the football. Running out the clock. Preserving a 17-12 Giants’ upset. Instead, he botched the handoff.

The Giants-Eagles rivalry dated back to 1933.

As for the Giants in 1978, it was another step in the team’s growing era of mediocrity – 6-10, fifth place in the NFC East that season.

The Eagles, meanwhile, finished 9-7 and reached the playoffs as a wild-card. They lost to Dallas in the playoffs.

Giants’ head coach John McVay, who would eventually move on to an executive position with the Bill Walsh-coached San Francisco 49ers, lost his job in New York.

DeRoo, meanwhile, was traded to the Baltimore Colts after the season.

Brian DeRoo (Photo by Canadian Football League)
Redlands Connection Brian DeRoo had a view of the disastrous Miracle at the Meadowlands. He was a New York Giants’ rookie in 1978. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Football League).

“I always wanted to thank John,” said De Roo, “for allowing me to go on the road trips with the team. In those days, most of the guys on IR just stayed home during road trips. I always wanted to find John and thank him for that.”

 

 

PART 2 – 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

A telephone call? From the NFL? To a University of Redlands player?

Can’t be. It never happened before. It never happened again.

The deliverer of that message, University of Redlands’ John Rebenstorf, said Brian De Roo, was among those “most unlikely to be believed” by team members.

De Roo eventually returned the phone call to Giants’ head coach John McVey.

MCVAY_3
John McVay, who called Redlands’ Brian De Roo to tell him that he’d been drafted by the New York Giants in 1978, left after that season. So did De Roo (Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers.)

The exciting news: Fifth round selection. Mini-camp information. Dates. Flight arrangements. De Roo was a pro.

Bruce Gibson, for his part, was taken by the Detroit Lions two rounds later.

Axelrod, meanwhile, was De Roo’s agent throughout his four-year stint in the NFL.

“Needless to say,” said De Roo, “(my family) needed to move the party up.”

Draft day had conflicted with the school’s academic finals. De Roo left his party early to sleep and prepare for a final one day later.

“I was surprised to a certain extent,” said De Roo, “but with the information given to me by Mr. Axelrod, not totally. (I was) just excited that it was on the first day of the draft.”

Redlands, never having had a drafted football player, didn’t quite know how to handle it, said De Roo. “In the end, they didn’t do anything (to celebrate).”

There was a Bulldog inner circle, however. De Roo said being drafted was a “team victory as all of them were.”

Serrao had returned telephone calls from NFL personnel people, providing film, guiding scouts and general managers throughout the process. Noting that UC Riverside receiver Butch Johnson, selected by Dallas, along with Butch Edge, a Bulldog linebacker, had probably brought additional spotlight to De Roo.

De Roo, out of Redlands, was off anyone’s draft charts. Surrounded in the draft by players from USC, Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, Syracuse, the Bulldogs couldn’t have been on anyone’s map.

Pacific had to be. The Tigers had been the ticket for Tom Flores, Eddie Le Baron, All-Pro linebacker Mike Merriweather, plus Dick Bass, among dozens of others, who had been plucked by the NFL.

Even Hall of Fame coach Amos Alonzo Stagg had coached at UOP. Future coaches like Jon Gruden, Bob Toledo, Mike Martz, Hue Jackson and Pete Carroll were connected to the Stockton-based campus.

Redlands was full of wonderful players – too small, too slow, too inexperienced – that didn’t play tough enough opponents to make a pro scout even take notice. De Roo, who snagged 156 passes as a Bulldog, might have been the exception.

Gibson, meanwhile, was playing for a Tigers’ team that numbered 13 total wins during his 1975-77 stint. Playing the likes of Fresno State, Hawaii, Air Force, San Diego State, plus 17th-ranked Arizona in Gibson’s sophomore season, Pacific was certainly on NFL scouts’ radar.

Arizona stopped Pacific, 16-0.

Pacific was miles ahead of Redlands.

But Gibson, for whom Redlands High was built around a few years earlier, was cut by the Lions in training camp, never to play in an NFL game.

Other Redlands-based draftees:

1974 – Greg Horton was selected by George “Papa Bear” Halas, the longtime owner and coach of the Chicago Bears. Third round, out of Colorado.

1999 – Patrick Johnson, a world class sprinter who chose football over track & field, was taken by the old Cleveland Browns, now known as the Baltimore Ravens. Second round, out of Oregon.

That’s the entire list from Redlands. Kylie Fitts, a defensive end from Redlands East Valley, was expected to be taken in 2018.

As for the NFL draft, consider that eventual Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon, from Washington, wasn’t even selected. Moon, like De Roo eventually, wound up playing in Canada.

As for any University of Redlands celebration: Consider that De Roo’s jersey No. 2 is the only football one ever to be retired.

Footnote: De Roo points out that McVey is the grandfather of current Rams’ coach Sean McVey.

 

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.