Part 2 – SUPER BOWL FROM TAMPA

Twenty-four years after Redlands’ Jim Weatherwax appeared in the first-ever championship game between the National Football League and old American Football League, one of the most coincidental connections in Redlands/Super Bowl history took place.

A pair of ex-Terriers showed up in the NFL’s biggest game.

Brian Billick, whose Redlands High School days were beckoning when the first Super Bowl kicked off in nearby Los Angeles, had a future in the NFL’s big game.

At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., the Baltimore Ravens – formerly the Cleveland Browns – stopped the New York Giants, 34-7, to win Super Bowl XXXV. The date: Jan. 28, 2001.

All those football eyes from Redlands were squarely on the Ravens. By-lines appeared under my name about Billick’s early years in Redlands – his friends, starting football as a ninth grader at Cope Middle School, plus some of his Terrier playing days which included subbing for injured QB Tim Tharaldson in 1971.

09_Billick_PreviewPreseason_news
Brian Billick, whose high school play in Redlands was memorable in the early 1970s, eventually rose through the coaching ranks to take on of the most deadly defensive teams to win Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Baltimore Ravens)

Thirty years later, he was coaching the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

One of the Ravens’ receivers was speedster Patrick Johnson, a track & field sprinter who had raced to California championships in both the 100 and 200 less than a decade earlier. He wore Terrier colors. Picking football over track & field, Johnson played collegiately at the University of Oregon before getting picked in the second round by Baltimore in the 1998 NFL draft.

It was Johnson’s third season when Baltimore reached the Super Bowl. Twelve of his 84 career catches came in the Ravens’ 2000 season, two going for touchdowns. Tight end Shannon Sharpe (67 receptions, 810 yards, 5 TDs) was, by far, Baltimore’s top receiver. Running back Jamal Lewis (1,364 yards, 6 TDs) was the Ravens’ most dangerous threat.

Baltimore’s defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Rod Woodson, end Rob Burnett and tackle Tony Siragusa helped keyed the Ravens’ drive to an eventual 16-4 record. Playoff wins over Denver, Tennessee and Oakland lifted Baltimore into the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Billick’s high school coach, Paul Womack, traveled back east to see his former player. He showed up at the team’s Owings Mill practice facility. Basically, Womack had free run of the practice facility.

Womack heard Billick telling Johnson – dubbed the “Tasmanian Devil” for his uncontrollable speed – he had to run precise routes. The ex-Terrier coach quoted Billick, saying, “Pat, I can’t play you unless you run the right routes.”

In the Super Bowl, Johnson snagged an eight-yard pass from QB Trent Dilfer. It was good for a first down. There was another moment, though.

“I ran right by (Giants’ free safety Jason) Sehorn,” said Johnson.

Dilfer delivered the pass. Into the end zone. The ex-Terrier receiver dove.

“It hit my fingers,” he said. “It’s okay. It ain’t all about me.”

Patrick Johnson (Photo by Baltimore Gridiron Report)
Patrick Johnson, a Redlands High product, is shown after one of his 84 career NFL receptions, turning upfield to display some of his world class speed. (Photo by Baltimore Gridiron Report)

As for Johnson, I got him on the telephone a couple hours after the Ravens’ big win. He was on the team bus, sitting beside teammates Sam Gash and Robert Bailey. At that moment, Johnson said the Lombardi Trophy was sitting about six feet behind him.

“I just had it in my hands,” Johnson said, “right before you called.”

LOMBARDI, LANDRY, SHULA … BILLICK!

Billick, for his part, later shared time on the telephone with me, sharing some of his innermost thoughts for the benefit of Redlands readers.

“I can’t believe I’ll have my name on that trophy,” said Billick, days after the big event in Tampa, Fla. It was a chance to reflect on guys like Tom Landry, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs and a man he once worked for in San Francisco, Bill Walsh.

Billick named those legendary coaches he’d be sharing Super Bowl glory throughout the years.

In the aftermath of the game. That trophy was held aloft. Billick was holding it. Showing it to players. To fans. An Associated Press photographer snapped a picture. One day later, the Redlands Daily Facts’ single page sports section on Jan. 29, 2001 was virtually all Billick and Lombardi Trophy. Confetti was falling all around him.

Framed around the Billick photo were two stories – one by local writer Richard D. Kontra, the other by-line was mine. As sports editor, I probably should have nixed the stories and enlarged the photo to cover the entire page.

Let the photo stand alone. Let it tell the whole story. As if everyone in Redlands, didn’t know, anyway.

One day after the enlarged photo, the newspaper’s Arts editor, Nelda Stuck, commented on why the photo had to be so large. “It was too big,” she said. “I don’t know why it had to be that big.”

Maybe she was kidding.

I remember asking her, “Nelda, what would you do if someone from Redlands had won an Academy Award?  You’d bury it in the classified section, huh?”

That’s the newspaper business for you. Everyone’s got a different view of the world.

A P.S. on Womack: Not only did he coach Billick in the early 1970s, but the former Terrier coach was Frank Serrao’s assistant coach in 1960. On that team was Weatherwax, who also played a huge role on Redlands’ 1959 squad.

It was a team that Serrao once said might have been better than Redlands’ 1961 championship team.

Another P.S., this on Weatherwax: While he had been taken by the Packers in the 1965 draft, the AFL-based San Diego Chargers also selected him in a separate draft. He played in 34 NFL games before a knee injury forced him from the game.

A third P.S. on Johnson: Billick’s arrival as coach in 1999 was one year after the Ravens drafted the speedy Johnson. That would at least put to rest any notion that Billick played some kind of a “Redlands” card at draft time.

One final P.S.: That Jan. 29, 2001 Redlands Daily Facts headline in the Super Bowl photo was simple. To the point.

“Super, Billick.”

 

 

Part 1 – REDLANDS IN THE SUPER BOWL

Patrick Johnson, who caught a pass in Super Bowl XX, nearly made a diving catch for a touchdown against the New York Giants.

Jim Weatherwax, who played in the fabled Ice Bowl game against Dallas, had a hand in helping Green Bay win its first two Super Bowl titles.

Brian Billick basked in the glow of his name joining names like Landry and Shula, Noll and Parcells, Walsh and Gibbs on the Lombardi Trophy. Curiously, eventual five-time Lombardi Trophy celebrant Bill Belichick would join that list after Billick.

Welcome to the Redlands Connection-Super Bowl edition. That trio of former Redlands football players – Johnson (1994 graduate), Weatherwax (1961) and Billick (1972) – has surfaced in America’s greatest sporting spectacle.

It’s easy to break it down, too. Johnson’s speed. Weatherwax’s strength. Billick’s brains. It culminated with a spot in pro football immortality.

Johnson’s path to the Super Bowl might have been the shortest. He graduated from Redlands in 1994, committed to the University of Oregon and was selected in the second round of the 1998 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens.

Weatherwax left Redlands after graduating in 1961, headed for Cal State Los Angeles before transferring to West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas before Green Bay selected him in the 11th round of the 1965 draft.

Billick’s path took him to the Air Force Academy, eventually transferring to Brigham Young University. He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, but his career wasn’t on the playing field. He coached in Redlands, San Diego, Logan, Utah, and Palo Alto (Stanford) before surfacing as an assistant coach for Denny Green in Minnesota. By 1999, Billick was head coach of the Ravens.

It almost seems like pro football didn’t exist before 1967. That was the year when the National Football League champion played the American Football League champion for professional football’s world title. It was a first.

In the seven years since the AFL had been developed, the league held its own championship. The Houston Oilers, Dallas Texans (future Kansas City Chiefs), San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills had won AFL titles.

NFL titles during that same span mostly went to Green Bay (1961-62, ’65) with the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and the Cleveland Browns also winning pre-Super Bowl championships in those years.

SUPER BOWL ERA BEGINS

By the 1966 season, with 1967 showcasing the first AFL-NFL title game, the Super Bowl era was born.

In fact, Super Bowl terminology had yet to become adopted. The game was billed simply as the AFL-NFL Championship Game.

Green Bay going up against Kansas City was quite a spectacle.

It was the AFL’s best team going up against the NFL’s best. Vince Lombardi’s Packers playing Hank Stram’s Chiefs.

Redlands had a representative right in the middle of that package. It was none other than Weatherwax, known to his friends back in Redlands as “Waxie.”

MJS Jim Weatherwax
Redlands’ Jim Weatherwax of the Green Bay Packers. (Journal Sentinel file photo, 1966)

Weatherwax, for his part, played plenty in the second half of both games. He was seen spelling starters Ron Kostelnik and Henry Jordan on a few plays in the first half of Super Bowl II.

That particular game had been set up by the famous Ice Bowl game of 1967. That NFL Championship showdown came down to Bart Starr’s last-second quarterback sneak for a touchdown that beat the Dallas Cowboys on the “frozen tundra” of Green Bay.

That play hinged on the blocks of Packers’ center Ken Bowman and guard Jerry Kramer, who blocked Cowboys’ defensive tackle Jethro Pugh. That play, that win ultimately led the Packers into the second Super Bowl, this one against Oakland in Miami.

Pugh, incidentally, was picked in that 1966 NFL draft five players ahead of Weatherwax in the 11th round.

Green Bay, of course, won both championship games. The Packers, thus, set NFL history in virtual stone.

“That (second Super Bowl) was Lombardi’s last game,” said Weatherwax. “You should’ve heard the guys before the game, Kramer in particular. ‘Let’s win it for the old man.’ That’s what he was saying. Looking back, you couldn’t do anything but think that was special.”

Vince_lombardi_bart_starr Photo credit unkown
Legendary Green Bay Packers’ coach Vince Lombardi and quarterback Bart Starr are pictured. Redlands’ Jim Weatherwax was Starr’s teammate in Green Bay’s 1967 and 1968 Super Bowl championships. (Photo by Green Bay Packers)

AFL, NFL TACTICS LED TO MERGER

It was that first Super Bowl, however, that proved itself worthy of attention.

There was bitterness between the two leagues. The AFL started in 1960. Hopes were to provide enough competition that the old NFL would be forced to allow AFL teams into the NFL hierarchy.

When the NFL’s New York Giants signed Buffalo Bills’ placekicker Pete Gogolak in 1965 – thus stealing the first player from the AFL – the war between the two leagues was on. Finally, after much negotiation, many tactics, various shenanigans, the two leagues would be consolidated into one. The AFL forced the NFL’s hand.

They called it the AFL-NFL merger.

Some of those bitter feelings were on display in the Jan. 15, 1967 Super Bowl. Played at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The quarterbacks: Bart Starr against Lenny Dawson.

The coaches: Lombardi against Stram.

The referees: Six overall, including three from the AFL and three from the NFL, including head referee Norm Schachter, who started his officiating career 26 years earlier when he started his teaching career in Redlands.

The networks: The AFL’s NBC would be telecasting against the NFL’s CBS. Jim Simpson was on the radio.

Tough talk: Part of that first Super Bowl was the chatter emanating from the mouth of Chiefs’ defensive back Fred Williamson. Who could forget Williamson, who had a future in the movies?

Known as “The Hammer” for his vicious hits, Williamson boasted that his severe forearm shiver into the helmets of Packers’ receivers would knock them from the game. It was part of the well-hyped buildup, perhaps part of that bitter feeling between the two leagues.

As the game played out, it was “The Hammer” who was carried from the Coliseum field.

Weatherwax, meanwhile, was playing behind the likes of Willie Davis and Bob Brown, Kostelnik and Jordan – Green Bay’s legendary defensive linemen.

The Redlander gave a short chuckle as “The Hammer.” Weatherwax said, “I can’t really say what happened out there.”

Translation: He knew what happened, all right.

Kostelnik chasing Garrett (Photo by WordPress.com)
Kansas City’s Mike Garrett, 21 with ball, is being chased by Green Bay defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik during the first-ever championship game between the National Football League champion Packers and the American Football League champion Chiefs. Photo by WordPress.com)

Part of the legend: Starr’s 37-yard TD pass to Max McGee, the first touchdown in Super Bowl history, was followed by Green Bay’s kickoff to the Chiefs. When Packers’ placekicker Don Chandler sent his kick in the direction of Kansas City’s Mike Garrett, it was Weatherwax who drove the onetime college Heisman Trophy winner out of bounds.

There were a few times that Weatherwax, part owner of restaurant in Orange County, later moving to Colorado, sat next to my desk. He’d shown up visiting old friends. Part of those visits included stopping by the Daily Facts. This dates back to the 1980s and 1990s. Sharing stories. Sharing memories. Showing off his championship jewelry. Great guy. Helpful. Willing to talk.

It was a huge part of a Redlands Connection.

Part 2 – About Super Bowl XXXV tomorrow.

PART 4: HALL OF FAME CONNECTIONS INFILTRATES FAMILIES

Check out the earlier parts first if you haven’t yet!

After getting his college degree at Humboldt  State (Calif.) – Giants and A’s country, incidentally – my baseball-loving son Danny moved away to Tallahassee, Florida. Master’s degree. Marriage to Sara. Job. Career. A son, Elliott. While he claimed that his baseball interests died a little because he had no one around to share it, I’d long suspected that baseball’s PED controversies chipped away at how he viewed baseball.

“I don’t think it’s fair, Dad, that those guys are kept out of the Hall of Fame.”

I blame the unfairness and ineptitude of the media for killing Danny’s baseball love. I think he does, too.

Danny, plus my youngest son, Chet, aren’t advocating PED use. All they see is a widespread dose of unequal justice. They see media corruption. In other words, the players didn’t do any more wrong than the media did in failing to properly cover the corruption. How can they be allowed into the selection process when they failed at their own reporting assignments?

By voting those same players – Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, et al – as MVP or Cy Young winners, that fraternity of media was also part of the problem. It’s some of the more disgusting acts of hypocrisy. Many held out their votes for the Hall of Fame.

Many of those media types show up on TV, or as columnists, or on blogs, nodding, saying, “See? See? We told ya.”

They watched Verducci, “Game of Shadows” and Jose Canseco break the stories, or write their books. In effect, they got scooped. They piggy-backed on their research to stand up against PED users.

Jose Canseco (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Maybe Jose Canseco was as much of a hero off the field as he was on the field – using PED, then later confessing to the process. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Where were they when it counted? As sports editor of a small-city newspaper, I relied on their expertise and frontline coverage to properly present readers with stories. I wasn’t in MLB clubhouses like they were.

They’re not guardians of the Hall of Fame gates as they proclaim themselves. In fact, it wasn’t until after all of those golden on-field moments took place when they took action. Too late.

It’s a simple fact for Danny: Baseball’s over, at least in his mind. The sport has lost a fan.

Chet continues to surge ahead. His love for the game continues. His disgust for the Hall of Fame criteria, however, has increased. For the media. For the Hall voters, he’s spewing out total acrimony. Each January for the past few years, Chet seethes over the perceived injustice.

Brown_Chet
My son, Chet, doesn’t like the current Hall of Fame practices, but he still loves the game.

He questions Selig’s own 2017 induction, claiming that it was under his watch that baseball’s PED involvement had surged to unforeseen heights.

How dare Selig be allowed in while Bonds, among others, has been kept out. If the media, Commissioner’s office, not to mention each team had done its respective jobs, PED usage would’ve been exposed early enough and, perhaps, stamped out.

I don’t think Chet’s the only one that feels this way.

Previous Hall inductees Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre should’ve and could have known. La Russa fronted for McGwire with the media. He took up on McGwire’s side, pushing away media that dared to assault the single season HR record holder. For years, too.

Until McGwire confessed.

Torre and Cox, too, had guys in their clubhouses – Sheffield, Canseco, Man-Ram, A-Rod, plus others – that enhanced their playing efforts by using PED. World Series championships were claimed with “dirty” players on their rosters.

Weren’t those managers also part of the problem? Let’s give them benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps they didn’t encourage PEDs. But it was happening under their very noses. In their clubhouses. Did nothing to help clean up their sport.

Somehow, they all got a Hall pass to Cooperstown.

You almost get tired of hearing the refrain from voters, or the observers that don’t have a vote but want to interfere.

“Bonds was on his way to the Hall of Fame until 1998. But …”

There is no “but.”

What’s left is a mess. Millions like Danny and Chet continue to, perhaps, fret at the notion that suspected PED users Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez have been inducted. Meanwhile, some of baseball’s brightest stars have been left out.

It’s a deeply personal conclusion to a saga that won’t go away.

SAN BERNARDINO KIWANIS: MADE FOR REDLANDS

A few nuggets about a Redlands Connection:

Both Redlands High School and, eventually, city rival Redlands East Valley became connected to the San Bernardino Kiwanis Tournament as 100-percenters – but in different ways.

Ever since the tournament started in 1958, the Terriers have been rabid entries to a tournament that was once considered the prime time of prep basketball, perhaps, in two counties.

REV, meanwhile, joined the fray in 1997, when the school opened for the first time. Ever since, the Wildcats – their only coach, Bill Berich – have taken the floor against any and all opponents at the Kiwanis.

As for Kiwanis tournament dedication, look no further than Randy Genung. He coached the Terriers in the Kiwanis for a staggering total of 25 years, 1977 through 2001. After that, Brad Scott took over as head coach while Genung assisted through 2010. That’s 33 straight years at the Kiwanis.

Randy-Danny-Profile photo by Harr Travel
As a coach, longtime Redlands High coach Randy Genung, left, watched the Terriers in a staggering 33 times from the bench while his son, Danny, right, is a one-time San Bernardino Kiwanis Tournament selection. Photo by Harr Travel.

Redlands, now under current coach Ted Berry for the past few seasons, just completed play in the 60th San Bernardino Kiwanis Tournament. The Terriers reached the finals, but lost to Barstow.

Incidentally, the Terriers have played in every single Kiwanis Tournament event since the first one in 1958.

As for the Kiwanis tourney, it’s still standing amid a remarkable stretch of history.

SOME KEY NAMES FROM KIWANIS HISTORY

Greg Bunch?

Fred Lynn?

Greg Hyder?

John Masi, Scott Kay and Ty Stockham?

Those are a few of the past players who have shown up to play in San Bernardino.

While we awaited the outcome of the 60th annual San Bernardino Kiwanis Tournament, we’re reminded of the spectacular past performances of those high schoolers that came looking for tournament hardware, either a team title or all-tournament recognition.

Bunch, for instance, was the 34th player selected in the 1978 NBA draft by the New York Knicks. Out of Cal State Fullerton. He was a 6-foot-6 forward who made the all-tournament team in 1973 for Pacific.

Lynn, of course, was remembered for a brilliant baseball career. The El Monte High player was a 1968 Kiwanis all-tournament selection.

Hyder’s high school career at Victor Valley, coached by prep legend Ollie Butler, eventually led him to becoming the 39th pick in the 1970 NBA draft by the Cincinnati Royals (now the Sacramento Kings).

Kay, meanwhile, was tournament MVP in 1969. Years later, he coached San Bernardino High School to tournament titles with players like Bryon Russell – the Utah Jazz forward who was guarding against Michael Jordan’s game-winner in the 1997 NBA championship.

Russell, incidentally, was two-time Kiwanis tournament MVP in 1987 and 1988.

Masi, of course, turned up as UC Riverside coach during some brilliant days when the Highlanders dominated NCAA Division 2.

Stockham, the son of San Gorgonio coaching legend Doug Stockham, was another all-tournament player that also wound up leading his team to a tourney championship as a coach.

Part of the past includes Ken Hubbs, an original all-tourney selection in 1958.

Hubbs’ legacy, of course, is that he played major league baseball for the Chicago Cubs – winning 1962 National League Rookie of the Year honors – and was killed in an airplane crash shortly before spring training began in 1964.

Eventually, the Ken Hubbs Award was established. Such Kiwanis stars – San Bernardino’s Kyle Kopp and Shelton Diggs, Redlands’ Chad Roghair and Eisenhower’s Ronnie Lott, among others – won the Hubbs honors.

It’s left the Kiwanis with plenty of tradition, history and quite a continuing legacy.

NOBODY BIGGER THAN TARK

More tradition: Jerry Tarkanian, whose coaching legend started after leaving Redlands High School in 1961, brought his Terrier team into the mix at the 1960 Kiwanis. Danny Wolthers was picked on the five-player all-tourney team.

Tarkanian, of course, left Redlands for Riverside City College, departing for Pasadena City College – coaching five State titles for the Tigers and Lancers – before landing at Long Beach State (122-20 from 1968-73).

Ultimately, his travels took him to Nevada-Las Vegas (509-105 from 1974-92), leading the Runnin’ Rebels to the 1990 national championship.

Final coaching record – 784-202.

Footnote: It was during his Redlands days that Tark began his well-known history for chomping on wet towels during games.

Redlands and San Bernardino Kiwanis Tournament connections are seemingly endless.

Kim-Aiken poto by Redlands Rotary Club
Two-time San Bernardino Kiwanis all-tournament selection Kim Aiken is now playing at Eastern Washington University. Photo by Redlands Rotary Club.

Sixty Years of Redlands Tournament Players

Here is a list of the all-tournament players from Redlands High School and Redlands East Valley (all players through 2003 represented RHS; afterward the school is indicated):

  • 1958 – Tom Fox
  • 1960 – Danny Wolthers
  • 1963 – Tom McCutcheon, Jim Gardner
  • 1967 – Randy Orwig
  • 1977 – Don Smith, Pat Keogh
  • 1978 – Tom McCluskey
  • 1980 – Mark Tappan
  • 1981 – James Sakaguchi
  • 1982 – Jon Hansen
  • 1983 – Jon Hansen (MVP), Mark Smith
  • 1986 – Jared Hansen
  • 1987 – Chad Roghair
  • 1989 – Fritz Bomke
  • 1990 – Marcus Rogers
  • 1991 – Ledel Smith
  • 1992 – Eddie Lucas
  • 1993 – Mike Allen
  • 1994 – Nick Day
  • 1985 – Jon Allen, Chris Harvey
  • 1996 – Johnny Avila
  • 1997 – Eric Siess
  • 1998 – Eric Siess
  • 1999 – Danny Genung
  • 2003 – Richard Vazquez, Michael Estrada, Matt Mirau
  • RHS 2004 – Mychal Estrada
  • REV 2004 – Brandon Dowdy, Jacob Letson, Lance Evbuomwan (MVP)
  • RHS 2005 – Mike Solimon
  • REV 2005 – Lance Evbuomwan, Darnell Ferguson, Brandon Dowdy
  • RHS 2006 – Tristan Kirk, Alex Wolpe, Josh Green
  • RHS 2007 – Josh Green (MVP), Tristan Kirk, Ricky Peetz, Nate Futz
  • REV 2007 – Robert Ellis, Jamell Simmons
  • RHS 2008 – Tristan Kirk, Ricky Peetz, Matt Green
  • REV 2008 – Ryan Griggs
  • RHS 2009 – Matt Green, Hinsta Kifle
  • RHS 2010 – Ashton Robinson
  • REV 2010 – Greg Dishman, Terrell Todd, Paulin Mpawe
  • REV 2011 – Jamal Ellis
  • REV 2012 – Eli Chuha
  • RHS 2013 – Brad Motylewski, Kamren Sims
  • REV 2013 – Eli Chuha
  • RHS 2014 – Brad Motylewski
  • REV 2014 – Chris Harper (MVP), Julian Sinegal, Alex Ziska
  • RHS 2015 – Samer Yeyha, Davonte Carrier
  • REV 2015 – Kim Aiken, Brett Vansant
  • RHS 2016 – Olivier Uzabakiriho
  • REV 2016 – Kim Aiken
  • RHS 2017 – Brian Landon
  • REV 2016 – Sebastian Zerpa, Mykale Williams

BUSTERS FIND THAT WINNING DOESN’T ALWAYS PAY

Jeff Lane, the sports editor and my one-time classmate at Chabot Junior College up in Hayward, and I were on a mission.

Hollywood Park was our destination on July 21, 1979.

Jeff and I comprised the two-man sports staff of the small-city California daily in Redlands. We’d known each other since our junior college days at Chabot Community College in Hayward, a Bay Area city about 20 miles south of Oakland.

We were as sports-minded as they come – baseball, golf, football, basketball, college and pro, not to mention horse racing, you name it. The main Bay Area tracks were Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows, not to mention a handful of summer fair tracks in Pleasanton, Santa Rosa, Vallejo, Fresno, and Sacramento.

Looking for an angle to bring horse racing to the Redlands Daily Facts, we’d stumbled upon a thoroughbred that couldn’t defy such attention.

It was the only way you could sell such a story to local readership. Our owners, Frank and William Moore, plus its devoted editor, Richard West, had vested their faith in us to report on local events.

We were the second paper on people’s doorsteps. The Los Angeles Times, San Bernardino Sun and the Riverside Press Enterprise were regional papers. They’d cover the professionals, major colleges and, of course, they had a horse racing page.

For Jeff and I to make this work in a Redlands newspaper, there had to be a local angle. And we’d found one: The horse was called Old Redlands. There was another horse in that same barn, a filly called Milenka.

LOSING MILENKA IN A CLAIMER

On this particular day, the two of us were on a mission to watch Milenka, entered in the first race at Hollywood Park. Owned by a Redlands couple, William and Benita Marie Busters, we were curious to see the outcome of this race.

Milenka won in 1:10.2, ridden by the apprentice Patrick Valenzuela – who would go on to have a solid racing career – but just prior to the race, the Busters faced the news.

Since it was a claiming race, rival owner Patrice Bozick put in the claim for her, had beaten her own filly, Geeme, a few weeks earlier. The Busters, of Redlands, had just one runner in racing peddle left in their barn.

“It took us eleven months or a year to breed her,” said Buster. “Then another year, a year to train her, and then two and a half months of racing. And in one afternoon, she’s gone.”

Such were the perils of claiming races. You’ve got to sell at the claiming price. In this case, the claim was $20,000.

“We’re going to try to get her back,” said Buster.

After being posted at 4-to-1 in the morning line, Milenka was sent off as the 2-to-1 favorite, the filly held on to beat Hoisty Jen, ridden by Canadian jockey Sandy Hawley.

Later that day, legendary jockey Willie Shoemaker booted home his 7,700th career win aboard Parsec in the Hollywood Juvenile.

A few hours earlier, the Busters’ racing stable had been cut in half, having lost Milenka to the Bozick stable. Only Old Redlands remained in their barn.

“We’ve dreamed about having a stakes winner,” said Buster, noting that Milenka’s sire, Olympiad King, had been a stakes winner in the early 1960s.

Old Redlands, coming off a seventh-place finish in an allowance race at Hollywood Park, had been dropped into a claiming race. This colt was not in any danger of winding up in the Kentucky Derby or Hollywood Gold Cup. It won just once in his first 11 races. The win came at Bay Meadows, about 40 miles south of San Francisco in December 1979, his final race as a two-year-old.

Buster, whose father was in construction and also a horseman, had bred Old Redlands. The sire was Gummo, he was out of Judena. Gummo had been a pretty good sprinter in his years on the track.

A couple weeks before Milenka’s win and claim at Hollywood Park, the Busters watched Old Redlands win a 1 1/16-mile allowance race.

Over a month later, he won a starter allowance race at Del Mar. The Hollywood Park win had lifted the spirits of the Busters’ trainer, Clay Brinson, who called him a “useful horse.”

“He’ll win a lot of races if we put him in the right ones.”

The Busters had lost Milenka, but held on to Old Redlands. In their barn was a yearling filly – named for Buster’s wife, “Benita Marie.”

Milenka, whose lifetime earning were $59,600 in winning six times and taking second place on four occasions in 25 career races, tucked five victories and a second place finish over an eight-race span between that July 21 victory and early January 1980.

Old Redlands rarely saw Southern California tracks again. Shipped up to the Bay Area, where he raced at Golden Gate Fields, just outside of Oakland, and also at Bay Meadows, then into the Pacific Northwest tracks Yakima Meadows and Longacres – both in Washington.

The horse would race 47 times over a six-year stretch – winning ten times with earnings just over $52,000. At one point, the colt won four straight claiming races. By then, the horse had been claimed by another owner.

BUSTER’S DERBY HOPES

DASHED IN 1997

As for Buster, he wound up as part of the Team Valor syndicate, owning shares in a pair of Kentucky Derby horses nearly two decades later.

Captain Bodgit, under Alex Solis, finished second to Silver Charm in the 1997 Derby. It should’ve won. Bodgit had won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct (N.Y.), but trainer Bob Baffert’s colt could not be denied.

Silver Charm won by a head.

Buster was furious for another reason. He saw contact between Silver Charm and his colt. Derby history has only recorded one “foul.” It didn’t occur in 1997.

“An inquiry,” said Buster, who had lost his wife, remarried and moved to Yucaipa-based Oak Glen, “cost him the Derby. (Captain Bodgit) was going by (Silver Charm) when that thing happened.”

In the Preakness two weeks later, Captain Bodgit ran third – and never raced again.

For Buster, he had one Derby hope remaining in 2000.

The Deputy, an Irish foal, went to post as the favorite. He’d won the Hill Rise Handicap, Santa Anita Derby, ran second in the San Felipe – all at Santa Anita. At Churchill Downs on Derby Day, though, The Deputy failed to fire, finishing fourteenth.

Incidentally, the filly, Benita Marie, never made it to the track.

Old Redlands would have to serve as the honorable mention to Buster’s all-time stable of runners.

As for the July 23, 1979, story in the Redlands Daily Facts, the byline belonged to me. It was a horrible story, failing to focus on the Busters, their life in Redlands, Bill’s father as a horseman, not to mention the insights of the sport.

I’m embarrassed to admit it.

bustersfind

Jeff probably could’ve edited it better. He was probably trying to be nice to his reporter. At least he wrote a perfect headline:

“Busters find out winning doesn’t always pay.”


Feature image credit: “hollywood park” by Deidre Woolard licensed under CC BY 2.0.