Part 2: SCHUMACHER RACING TEAM SIGNED REDLANDS ROCKET

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

By 2016, one of racing’s premier teams, Don Schumacher Racing, signed her. All of which means Leah Pritchett’s getting top crew support, best chances to win, plus top-level sponsorships.

It costs big bucks every time she makes a pass on a drag racing strip.

As for her spot in the sport, consider that Leah was battling right up to the final month for a season championship. Four wins. 2,452 points. Just 238 points behind series champion Brittany Force.

Force won the title. Gary Pritchett’s team driven by Steve Torrence, took runner-up. Doug Kalitta and 2016 champion Antron Brown took 3-4 in the standings.

Leah’s season was remarkably consistent.

LEAH PRITCHETT (leahpritchett.com)
The Papa John’s-sponsored Redlands Rocket, Leah Pritchett, celebrates another victory. She’s had five Top Fuel triumphs, which is the fastest of the four NHRA divisions. Pritchett has appeared in national commercials for her sponsor. (Photo by LeahPritchett.com).

Langdon, the Mira Loma Meteor, plus eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, her teammate, finished behind Pritchett in the 2017 driver’s standings.

She’s one of seven women in the top four levels – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Motorcyles – and joins Force as the only two in the sport’s fastest division.

Leah has earned her place in a field where Shirley Muldowney carted away the first championship by a woman back in 1977.

She beat Kalitta in the Winternationals finals to kick off 2017 in Pomona.

Two weeks later in Phoenix at Wild Horse Park, Pritchett edged Force in a speed-filled finale.

In Gainesville, Fla., Leah kept beating all comers until Brown, the series champion one year earlier, knocked her off in the semifinals.

She made it three wins over five events, edging her husband’s team driver, Torrence, at the Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas.

Torrence got back at her in North Carolina, at the National Four-Wide, but Leah posted a weekend-best 3.747-second E.T.

Torrence beat her in the Southern Nationals semifinals again in Commerce, Ga. Again, however, Pritchett’s 3.699 E.T. was low for the weekend, not to mention the weekend’s best reaction time, 0.23-second.

She’s fast. Quick-triggered. And consistent.

You can’t turn her off, though. She made it past all comers to reach the Heartland Nationals in Topeka, Kan., losing to Brown in the semifinals.

In New England, she posted the best R.T. (0.36), getting beat by Brown in the semifinals. He lost to Force, who has been building up a points reservoir halfway through the season.

At the Summer Nationals at Englishtown, N.J., Schumacher got her in the opening round. Her R.T. (0.46) in that first-round loss, though, was best of the weekend.

The Redlands Connection keeps making a splash at every stop, it seems.

At the Bristol (Conn.) Dragway, her 3.798 E.T. was best of the weekend, knocking off Troy Coughlin, Jr., Scott Palmer and Norco’s Langdon to reach the finals against Clay Millican, who won despite Leah’s better 0.58 R.T.

Leah reached the semifinals in Ohio.

At the Mile High Nationals in Bendimere, Colo., Leah beat Coughlin, Millican and Schumacher to square off against Brown in the finals. Brown, but the numbers were eerily similar – Pritchett’s 324 mph was faster, but Brown had the edge on R.T. (0.47 to 0.59) and E.T. (3.792 to 3.816).

Talk about consistency.

On Aug. 20 at Brainerd (Minn.) Raceway, Leah scored season victory No. 4 – Passey, Palmer and Millican – before squaring off against Brown again. She won with a 328 mph pass, notching her fifth career Wally.

At Lucas Raceway in Indianapolis, Torrence beat Leah in the semifinals, but she posted a weekend low 3.711 E.T. after beating Wayne Newby and Pat Dakin.

She posted the top speed (332.75 mph) in Madison, Ill., but she was stopped in the second round by Torrence, the eventual champion.

Force, the eventual Top Fuel champion, beat Leah in the semifinals at The Strip in Las Vegas, but the two put on quite a speed duel – 329 to 323, 0.77 to 0.93 (R.T.) and 3.714 to 3.754.

At the season finale in Pomona, it was a full force of speed with every Top Fuel team gunning for a showcase victory.

Force edged Langdon in the finals at the Auto Club Raceway. Leah was beaten by Langdon in a second round speed showdown in which the Mira Loma Meteor sizzled just past the Redlands Rocket.

The Redlands Connection racer, who turns 30 in May, is still alive on the Top Fuel circuit. The season kicks off this week.

Watch www.redlandsconnection.com for season updates.

 

 

 

Part 1: NHRA SEASON OPENS, DRAGSTER STAR LEAH (PRUETT) PRITCHETT READY

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

(It’s 2018. Super Bowl Sunday means only one thing in the world to National Hot Road Association followers. One week later, it’s the NHRA season opener. In Pomona. Twenty-four showdowns. Every two weeks, it’s on. From the season-opening Winternationals to the drag racing finals in November, both at the Pomona Fairplex, incidentally, speed finds a way to entertain.)

Leah Pritchett, known to her Redlands cohorts as Leah Pruett, will be among those in line to try and chase down a season drag racing championship. Fifth place last season, Pritchett notched wins in the first two races in 2017, starting at Pomona – winning four times throughout the season.

Ron, Lindsey Pruett
Ron Pruett, left, and Leah Pruett, now Leah Pritchett, stand alongside the family dragster in the early days of her racing career. (Photo by Pruett family).

She’s a Top Fuel dragster. This is a huge connection to the auto racing world. A queen among speed thrill-seekers. Leah, 29, whose older sister, Lindsey, got first crack on the track when her dad, Ron, started building junior dragsters.

Leah was eight when she started racing. No soccer. No volleyball. No softball. No track & field or cross country.

Think of the cost. You don’t buy those cars in a kit at K-Mart or Sears, folks. Lots of detail, lots of attention, lots of expertise – not to mention expense – goes into each machine.

Ron’s Precision Alignment, located down on Park Street, was headquarters for Pruett’s car-racing dreams. A few years back, he sold out. It left Ron and wife Linda to move back east, to North Carolina – NASCAR country – while Leah sought her career in a Top Fuel speed machine.

The sponsors over the years – Gumout, Papa John’s, Albrecht’s, Mopar, Pennzoil, FireAde 200, among others – have kept her in the cockpit.

At 5-foot-9, Leah’s gorgeous. Married to Gary Pritchett, car chief for Torrence Racing. Leah’s a surfer, really into physical fitness – check out her body on the internet – all balanced by her mind. She’s a Cal State San Bernardino graduate.

Speed? She’s got it to burn.

Leah’s gone from the Sportsmen’s division to Nitro Funny Cars to Pro Mod to winning a Hot Rod Heritage Series and, finally, in 2013, she landed in a Top Fuel dragster for Dote Racing.

I can remember when Ron invited me up to his Redlands home to view the junior dragster he created for Lindsey. At least, I think it was Lindsey’s. Ron, who was a speed demon himself – setting land speed records in Utah, plus various points around Southern California – chose a different sport for his girls.

Drag racing.

Ron fed me all of his daughters’ achievements – Lindsey’s and Leah’s – for publication in the local paper. There were 37 junior wins for Leah at various tracks throughout SoCal.

Ron himself was a star on the circuit – a 12-time land speed record holder. I don’t think he ever reached the speed his youngest daughter ever registered, though.

Ron Pruett
Ron Pruett proudly holds a Wally trophy, which indicates a speed-filled victory on a drag-racing track. (Photo by Pruett family).

Speed, though. Leah was born into the chase.

It would ludicrous to list all of Leah’s achievements from the junior circuit to her Top Fuel days in which she held (as of Jan. 17, 2018) the fastest speed at 332.75 over a thousand yards which brought a 3.64 elapsed time – both world records.

Drag racing underwent a change a few years back when distances were shortened from 1,320 yards, a quarter-mile, to 1,000 yards. It was safer. It probably killed any further hopes of increasing speed milestones.

Then there’s the Wally trophy. Named for Wally Parks, the sport’s founder who took street racing and put it on the track, a Wally goes to each week’s champion.

Ron’s got a few Wallys.

Leah’s got a handful. More are likely to come. She’s got the team, sponsor and experience is gradually growing.

At Pomona, it’s a home track for Leah, especially since she raced there as a kid.

Back in 2014, assigned to cover Winternationals for an area newspaper, my assignment was to land a connection on the locals – Funny Car’s “Fast” Jack Beckman of Norco, plus Top Fuel’s Shawn Langdon from Mira Loma. And Leah.

“Do I remember you, Obrey?” she asked in amazement. “Are you kidding? Of course, I remember you. You’re some of my best memories.”

That brought a nice streak of electricity up my spine.

For my article in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, I got more than I needed from her. Leah brought me up to date on her folks, who’d moved back east. Ron had sold his Redlands business. Lindsey was teaching in Redlands.

Leah was just getting started. Patrons of the sport might tend to overlook what it takes to arrive where Leah was just reaching. This isn’t a sport. It’s a career. Racing just a portion of the 2013 schedule, Leah racked up 15th place.

Leah’s won at tracks in Denver and Indianapolis, which is near her home in Avon, Ind. She’s driven speed cars like Mustangs and Camaros. Speed records came with some of those drives.

Twice, though, she was part of teams that shut down, leaving her without a ride – and those much-needed sponsors.

Leah Pritchett – the Redlands Rocket.

Part 2 tomorrow.

BRIAN DE ROO: NO FOOTBALL. NO WORKOUT. NO REDSKINS!

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

Brian De Roo? Meet Bobby Beathard.

The year was 1978. De Roo, a senior decathlete from the University of Redlands, had already completed his four-year football-playing career with the Bulldogs the previous November.

But his career wasn’t yet over.

DeR oo was cleaning the bathrooms underneath the home side of what would someday become Ted Runner Stadium – the school’s football and track facility.

“My fun job,” said De Roo, the good-natured multiple sport athlete.

One spring day, De Roo recalled a pink Cadillac rolling up the hill into the parking lot just outside the school’s 7,000-seat stadium.

“Back then,” he said, “the foliage was not so high and thick. You could see through the fencing.”

A curvy blond got out of the car. Another person, “a dude in shorts and a T-shirt got out.”

De Roo watched them come down the hill. “They asked me if I know where they could find me.”

In other words, they were looking for De Roo.

“I obviously told them that they already did.”

VII-25 Bobby Beathard
Bobby Beathard, an NFL Hall of Famer announced on Feb. 3, 2018, once traveled to the University of Redlands to scout Bulldog receiver Brian DeRoo. (Photo by the Washington Redskins.)

That man, who turned out to be Bobby Beathard, introduced himself. The man was there to scout De Roo. The NFL draft was nearing. De Roo’s name had already started surfacing in various scouting services.

Brian DeRoo (Photo by Canadian Football League)
Brian DeRoo, the only player ever drafted into the NFL from the University of Redlands, was unable to work out for future Hall of Famer Bobby Beathard because a track coach wouldn’t open the door to the school’s equipment room.

Beathard asked De Roo if he could find a football to throw around.

Said De Roo: “The equipment room was locked up and the only coach around was Vince Reel.”

Reel, who was the school’s track & field coach, refused the request for a ball.

“Vince didn’t want his decathlete that used to compete in seven or more events during dual meets to be pulling anything running pass patterns during track season,” said De Roo, “so he refused to get me a ball.”

It didn’t take long for Beathard and his blond companion to turn tail and take off.

Beathard, for his part, was announced as an NFL Hall of Famer on Feb. 3, 2018 – forty years after meeting up with De Roo.

As for that year’s draft, consider that Washington – due to the various transactions of former coach George Allen – didn’t have a single pick available until the sixth round. They took running back Tony Green from Florida.

De Roo, meanwhile, was taken in the previous round – one of three picks that round of the New York Giants.

By the eighth round, the Redskins had their second pick. Turned out to be a wide receiver from North Carolina, Walker Lee.

De Roo said his eventual team, the Baltimore Colts, would occasionally scrimmage Beathard’s team, the Washington Redskins, “since they were just down the road.

“We had a good chuckle over his visit a few years later.”

Beathard’s NFL connections were electric – 1972-77 as Director of Player Personnel with two-time Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins, plus a 1978-89 stint as General Manager with the Redskins, where he was part of two Super Bowl championships.

De Roo said he noted the Hall of Fame announcements, saying he was “happy for (Beathard) and most of the others. (Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker) Ray Lewis was a no-brainer.”

In fact, Beathard’s visit to Redlands in the pink Cadillac with the blond might have been a Hall of Fame move for the Redskins – if only they could’ve found a ball.

PART 2 – SUPER BOWL FROM TAMPA

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

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

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

Patrick Johnson, who caught a pass in Super Bowl XX, nearly made a diving catch for a touchdown in that same game 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.

Credited with a tackle. In the Super Bowl.

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

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

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.

PART 3: HALL OF FAME CONNECTIONS INFILTRATES FAMILIES

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

If you haven’t yet, check out parts 1 and 2 first!

Like baseball fans throughout the world, the Hall of Fame means something in my household. When one of your own gets inducted, there’s an almost electric feeling of pride connected to that honor.

Every time a Yankee – Yogi, Mickey, Joe D., Whitey, the Babe and Lou, among others – goes into Cooperstown, an entire legion of fans springs into emotionally-charged action. Right? Fans from each MLB team have a connection to every Hall of Famer.

Despite its many “connections,” no one from Redlands has ever been inducted into baseball’s sacred Hall.

From my own memories, the only Hall of Famers to show up in Redlands – I know, there has to be more – were pitcher Ferguson Jenkins and hitting star Duke Snider.

Ferguson Jenkins (Photo by Commons)
Ferguson Jenkins, a baseball Hall of Famer, was one of two known such inductees to show up in Redlands – for a youth baseball clinic. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Jenkins showed up at Redlands Community Field – white stretch limousine and all – in the mid 1990s. He was part of a youth baseball camp. Along with Redlands’ own Julio Cruz and former MLB outfielder Rudy Law, that trio gave a free clinic to dozens of local ball-playing youth.

Then hung around for an autograph session later. Danny, my oldest, was one of those kids who got autographs. Jenkins, Law and Cruz couldn’t have been nicer. In fact, a newspaper photo published the day after showed Danny next to Jenkins, a Cy Young Award winner.

Memorable.

As for Snider, the one-time legendary center fielder for the Dodgers – both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles – he showed up at the University of Redlands to watch his grandson play. Multiple times, in fact.

After one game, Bulldog coach Scott Laverty came up to me just outside Redlands’ dugout.

“I saw you sitting next to Duke,” he said.

Duke?

I had no idea what he was talking about, or who he was talking about. I’d just been talking to some guy. I had no idea I was sitting next to a Hall of Famer.

“Duke Snider,” Laverty said. “I thought I saw you talking to him.”

Duke Snider (Photo by Wikipidia Commons)
Duke Snider, whose legendary batting helped lead the Brooklyn Dodgers into five World Series, showed up in Redlands to watch his grandson play. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Duke Snider? Are you kidding? THE Duke Snider?

“That’s his grandson playing for us in center.”

Jordan Snider, an all-conference outfielder in 2007, had played center field for Redlands that day. From nearby Temecula. The Duke lived just south of there, in Escondido, perhaps – San Diego County.

Neither Jenkins nor Snider were ever caught up in the PED nonsense that plagued the sport as we turned into this century. Their places in the Hall are safe and secure.

Not quite, though, for other significant ballplayers.

I interviewed both men for stories in local media. Both were fabulous.

They came from a different era, long before the sport was affected by PED use. Suddenly, guys like Jenkins and Snider were overshadowed by known PED users like Clemens and Bonds.

“It’s like they stamped out the guys I used to root for,” said my oldest son, Danny, who at one time was a rabid baseball fan. Hey, there are some guys that made it clean. Cal Ripken, Jr., Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Tony Gwynn were in his card collection.

Check out part 4 here!