REDLANDS COACHING CONNECTIONS STRETCHES INTO NFL, CFL AND NCAA

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, 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 might seem easy to ignore the football rumblings at the University of Redlands, an NCAA Division 3 program that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, nor plays in such places as Tuscaloosa, South Bend or the Los Angeles Coliseum, or attracts ESPN College Game Day staff during their Big Game against, say, Whittier College.

Ignoring them, however, would be a mistake.

Check the sidelines for the guys that have coached at Redlands. Some major careers have been launched.

Mike Maynard, the Bulldogs’ head coach since 1988, might be responsible for priming these guys.

It’s underscored by a recent move of former Bulldog defensive coordinator Ed Lamb (1998-2000 at Redlands), who left as Southern Utah University’s head coach in Cedar City to take the assistant head coaching job at Brigham Young University – about four hours north on I-15.

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Ed Lamb spent two seasons as University of Redlands defensive coordinator before moving on to bigger programs, currently as assistant head coach at Brigham Young University (photo by Southern Utah University).

Maynard, not exactly shockingly, refers to most of his assistant coaches with words and phrases like “tireless worker,” “intuitive,” “patient,” “demanding,” “great communicator,” “structured and thorough,” “relentless drive,” “relates well to players,” and “passion for excellence” – the usual high praise.

At Redlands, they got plenty of training in recruiting, game-planning, scouting and going through rigorous preparations – not to mention the games.

Lamb didn’t just show up at SUU before plopping up to Provo. One of his first stops after Redlands was landing a coaching gig at the Univ. San Diego with Jim Harbaugh as head coach. It’s the same Harbaugh who led the 49ers to the 2012 Super Bowl while later surfacing at Michigan.

Longtime Bulldog coach Ken Miller, who left Redlands in 2000, the onetime Bulldog and Yucaipa High head coach (way back in the 1970s), retired after helping coach two Canadian Football League teams – Saskatchewan Rough Riders and Toronto Argonauts – win three Grey Cup championships.

MIller and Trestman admire Grey Cup
Montreal head coach Marc Trestman, left, and Saskatchewan coach Ken Miller, right, admire the Grey Cup, which is emblematic of the Canadian Football League championship. It was the night before the 2009 Grey Cup championship game (photo by Saskatchewan Rough Riders).

He didn’t stay retired long. Miller’s now working for the CFL Montreal Alouettes.

Since Greg Hudson left Redlands (1991-92), he was defensive coordinator at Purdue, Minnesota, assistant head coach at national powerhouse Florida State (Jimbo Fisher, head coach) and a former defensive assistant coach at Notre Dame when legendary Lou Holtz was top man.

Greg Hudson with ECU ... photo credit Pirate Radio 1250
Since leaving Redlands in the early 1990s, Greg Hudson has coached at such places as Florida State, Notre Dame, Purdue and Minnesota (photo by Wikipedia).

“Best recruiter,” said Maynard, referring to Hudson, “anywhere.”

Ejiro Evero (2010 at Redlands) surfaced as a quality control coach with the Green Bay Packers after spending five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.

That included the 2012 season, the year when S.F. played in the Super Bowl. The onetime Bulldog assistant came to Los Angeles last season to coach the Rams’ safeties.

Keith Carter (2007-2008 at Redlands) showed up as a line coach with the Atlanta Falcons. In 2017, he helped construct a line that blocked for QB Matt Ryan in the Falcons’ quest for a Super Bowl championship.

Keith Carter ... AARON FREEMAN
Keith Carter, another of the growing list of ex-University of Redlands assistant coaches that have moved on, is shown here during his days at San Jose State. Currently, he’s running backs coach for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans (photo by San Jose State).

Carter’s the grandson, incidentally, of NFL Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti. These days, Carter’s coaching running backs with the Tennessee Titans – after 13 seasons.

If a question about why Redlands was unable to retain such coaching talent, well, just think about it.

There are no major radio or TV contracts, no network deals, no huge sponsorships that rain in major dollars in the Bulldog football world. No, Maynard got these guys when they were trying to make their football bones, hoping to learn the coaching craft in an environment created for teaching and coaching.

Their “pay,” was largely a two-year assistanceship while they got their Masters degrees, coaching on the side. Maynard grabbed them when the price was right. He lost them when they got good enough to get better paying jobs.

Note the fact that most coaches’ stays lasted two seasons – the normal amount of time needed to get a Masters degree.

Part of “grabbing” those guys is this: Handfuls of applicants come in each year seeking a spot. Maynard, who looks awfully impressive in casting these guys, has to sift through all applicants.

There are former Bulldog assistants having shown up at Colorado, Virginia, Miami, Brigham Young, Arkansas State, Northern Arizona, Univ. San Diego, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Southern University, plus the Ivy League – and the NFL.

Garret Tujague (1996-97 at Redlands), an offensive line coach at Brigham Young University left Provo to follow Bronco Mendenhall upon taking the head coaching position at Virginia.

On Tujague, said Maynard, “is the kind of guy that is fired up when he’s sleeping.”

Even a partial list of the “connections” that these onetime Redlands assistant coaches have made is staggering.

Names like Holtz and Fisher, Harbaugh and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, Sean McVey and Wade Phillips in Los Angeles, an NFL Hall of Famer like Marchetti, plus coaching an offensive line that protected Ryan en route to a Super Bowl.

Those were multiple Redlands connections.

 

TOUR DE FRANCE: THERE’S A CONNECTION TO REDLANDS

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 a connection that defies imagination.

In the 2005 Tour de France (TDF) alone, a string of cyclists had Redlands Classic ties.

Floyd Landis and Francisco Mancebo, Cadel Evans and Santiago Botero, plus David Zabriskie – cycling stars who had long lifted themselves into the cycling spotlight. Landis, an eventual winner who had the title stripped for doping, and Evans were eventual champs.

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Two-time Redlands Bicycle Classic champion Francisco Mancebo, has a string of top 10 Tour de France finishes (photo by Wikipedia).

Mancebo was a top 10 finisher a handful of times.

Botero, who later admitted to doping, was good in the TDF mountains.

Zabriskie, a time trial stage winner, was also relegated for doping.

This could be the missing piece that Redlands area fans are missing: The Tour de France (TDF). It’s the crown jewel of cycling. Besmirched a bit by the noted drug scandals, notably 7-time champion Lance Armstrong, plenty of other cyclists have clean enough backgrounds.

It’s not hard to keep track of the scandalous cyclists.

All evil-doing has largely gone ignored, at least officially, by RBC. The focus is on the roads. To anyone’s knowledge, no cyclist has ever failed drug tests at Redlands.

Even back in the earliest days of the Redlands Classic, Team 7-Eleven’s Jacque Boyer was the first U.S. cyclist who showed up in the fabled Tour de France.

Phinney’s 1986 Redlands Classic victory was only a prelude to a great career. The 7-Eleven cyclist became the first American to win a stage at the TDF.

That doesn’t even begin to cover the connections between TDF and RBC.

U.S. Postal Service cyclist Jonathan Vaughters, the 1998 Redlands champion, was a former U.S. national time trials champion. When he won that deadly mountainous climb to snowy Oak Glen in 1998, he sat in a team car musing over his future in Europe.

“This time in a couple of months,” said Vaughters, “I’m really hoping I can be one of Lance Armstrong’s lieutenants in the mountains of Europe.”

Jonathan_Vaughters_CA_2011
Jonathan Vaughters won at Redlands, hoping to land a spot with the U.S. Postal Service squad in Europe where he would be a lieutenant in the Lance Armstrong quest to win more races, including the Tour de France (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

A lieutenant’s role is simple: To keep a team’s race leader fresh for the finish of each stage.

He was trying to pay his dues at places like Redlands.

Christian Vande Velde, who capped U.S. Postal’s 4-year streak of winning at Redlands, won in 1999 by 39 seconds. Nine years later, he took fourth in the Tour de France, trailing winner Carlos Sastre by 3:05.

Vande Velde was seventh one year later. In 2011, he was a lieutenant to Tom Danielson – third, RBC 2003 – in a top 10 finish.

Evgeniy Berzin, the 1989 RBC champion, has won a stage at the TDF.

Dmitri Zhadanov, the 1990 RBC champion, rode in four TDF peletons.

The Poland pair: Tomas Brozyna and Dariusz Baranowski raced for world-renowned U.S. Postal, Armstrong’s team.

Baranowski, 1995 RBC champion, was a 5-time Tour de France starter with a 12th place finish in 1998.

Brozyna was 22nd at the Tour de France in 2003, winning RBC in 1996.

Botero, for Rock Racing, was Tour de France’s fifth best climber in 2005.

At the 2008 RBC, the Colombian rolled to a 54-second win over Chris Baldwin.

Zabriskie, runner-up to 4-time RBC champion Chris Horner in 2000, is a 7-time TDF starter, even capturing a stage in 2011. Like Armstrong, Landis and others, some of Zabriskie’s results have been stricken from the records.

Tour_de_l'Ain_2009_-_Chris_Horner_(cropped)
Chris Horner, the only four-time winner of the Redlands Bicycle Classic, took off for the European jewels of cycling, including the Tour de France where he was a top 10 finisher (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Speaking of Horner: Just after winning his fourth Redlands tour, he pronounced himself unlikely to ever get a shot at a berth in the TDF. Eventually, he got seven shots at the fabled Tour de France. He took ninth in 2010.

Then there’s Mancebo, one of Spain’s all-time greats.

Amid a flurry of top career finishes – Tour of California, Redlands champion, plus a string of European successes – the cyclist known as “Paco” on the peleton has a string of top 10 Tour de France finishes.

Ninth in 2000, seventh in 2001, 10th in 2003, sixth in 2004, his best ride in the French classic was a brilliant fourth place finish in 2005. It could actually be viewed as a second place finish since Armstrong, the winner, along with third place Jan Ullrich, were both eliminated from official results for testing PED positive.

That was evidence some clean cyclists remained on the peleton.

It was in 1998 that Australian 20-year-old Cadel Evans showed up at Redlands. It took the all-out efforts of the mighty U.S. Postal Service squad to keep Evans out of the yellow jersey.

Cadel_Evans_-_Criterium_du_Dauphiné_2012_-_1ere_étape
Cadel Evans showed up at the 1998 Redlands Bicycle Classic almost at the last minute, but wound up coming up just 20 seconds short to place second that year. Thirteen years later, the Australian cyclist won the 2011 Tour de France (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Vaughters, aided by another future Tour de France combatant Tyler Hamilton, barely edged Evans in the chase to Oak Glen. Evans chased Vaughters the remainder of Redlands, losing by just 20 seconds.

In 2011, Evans, a two-time Tour de France runner-up, capped his career by winning the Tour de France. He retired a few years later.

NEXT WEEK: Name the woman and, chances are, she’s raced at Redlands.

LEMOND, ARMSTRONG COULD’VE BEEN PART OF REDLANDS CLASSIC LEGACY

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

Downtown Redlands was failing, say, early 1980s.

Anyone remember that?

It needed saving. Business was down. Anxieties were up. The future of this glorious community seemed to be on the line. Would business owners be able to survive?

Always turn to sporting events for the answer.

Mayor Carole Beswick, councilman Dick Larsen, plus a contributing member of Redlands society, Denmark’s Peter Brandt, who had professional connections to bicycle racing, concocted a plan.

Carole Beswick
Former Redlands Mayor Carole Beswick launched the biggest sports plan ever in city history to claim a spot in the sports world by organizing the Redlands Bicycle Classic.

There were plenty of others, including Craig Kundig, a local business owner whose future commitment as Race Director might have led to some of the events’ greatest growth.

Craig Kundig
Former Redlands Bicycle Classic race director Craig Kundig, who is still part of the committee, delivered several stunning additions and ideas during his days.

On the heels of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games, at which U.S. cyclists like Alexi Grewal (road race) and Steve Hegg (time trials) came away with gold medals, the feeling was simple:

Why not bring professional cycling event to Redlands?

It was a clean-air sport. Shutting down city streets, opening it up to pro cycling, seemed to be a cool answer. Would the city’s residents respond well?

When Davis Phinney, a top USA cyclist from Team 7-Eleven, won the 1986 Redlands Classic, he was asked to reflect his experiences in racing at the famed Tour de France.

He was amenable for a while. Phinney, though, recognized what his Redlands victory really meant.

“Let’s talk,” he said, taking full control of the post-event media interviews, “about the Tour of Redlands.”

Lurking behind the crowd in the media center – the basement of a local bank – Beswick & Co. cheered the moment. Phinney was, perhaps, the USA’s top cycling spokesman. Talking it up about Redlands could only help the cause.

Team 7-Eleven shouldn’t have even been racing at Redlands. The team was racing in Europe when civil unrest was taking place. Said Kundig: “They just decided to get out of there and come out here.”

“Out here” was Redlands.

Thirty-four years later, not only has the Redlands Bicycle Classic survived, but it’s thriving.

Throughout the preceding 33 years, the event has moved from its Memorial Day weekend, thrust itself into February, March and April offerings. This year, it was back in May.

The reason was simple: In late May, the globe’s best teams were setting up for races back east or even in Europe. Those teams’ budgets weren’t big enough to withstand travel back to the west coast for Redlands.

Redlands wanted to build its race on the backs of cycling’s best.

By shifting its calendar dates to the beginning of the season, teams that often train in California could easily schedule at Redlands.

There was even a street sprint in downtown Redlands on State Street, perhaps taking advantage of track specialist Johnny Bairos, who won that stage, incidentally, against the biggest names in U.S. racing.

Bairos, a Redlands product, went on to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. To this date, Bairos is the only local product to ever win a stage of the Redlands Classic.

Plenty of other winners came from overseas – Russia and Great Britain, France and Germany, Canada, Poland, Switzerland and South America, to name a few.

Historically speaking, the Redlands Bicycle Classic may have no equal as an athletic event throughout San Bernardino County.

The white elephant in the room for cycling, of course, is its drug scandals, which have rocked the sport.

Consider this: The Redlands Classic has long since tested athletes for drugs. There have been no disqualifications.

Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond comes to mind.

Greg LeMond
Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond never did race at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. But the remarkable cyclist, who overcame getting shot, bounced back to win again overseas. Eventually, he showed up at Redlands to lead a Fun Ride (photo by Wikipidia Commons).

We’re wondering, out loud, that if cycling’s rampant doping regimen hadn’t taken place if he would’ve eventually shown up to Redlands at Redlands.

Cycling would’ve been a clean sport. While the peleton of lesser-gifted cyclists passed an un-drugged Le Mond, he might’ve brought a team to Redlands.

Redlands was always beckoning to cycling’s top stars to come and race.

The guess here is that he’d have shown up in, say, 1994, 1995, who knows?

That’s the kind of reach the Redlands Bicycle Classic has.

LeMond, incidentally, did come to Redlands one year. He’d retired. Showed up here, courtesy of the organizers, to lead a Fun Ride. He spent time with a couple of us media types – Paul Oberjuerge of the San Bernardino Sun and me – in the board room of a downtown Redlands bank.

There was a hint – but nothing stated out loud – that something was wrong with cycling.

Lance Armstrong had yet to unload a series of victories in the Tour de France.

Lance Armstrong
There was a story circulating in the late 1990s that Lance Armstrong, who had been suffering from testicular cancer, would not only recover but make his comeback race at the Redlands Bicycle Classic (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

The redoubtable Kundig once confided to me that Armstrong, suffering from the ravages of testicular cancer, might show up to Redlands at, of all places, Redlands in his comeback event.

Kundig gave me that impression more than a few times. I believe he was hoping. Armstrong had yet to win a single Tour de France, but he was about to launch a fabulous – later stripped from the history books – career in Europe.

“It was on their schedule to come here … with Lance,” said Kundig. “He made the decision on his own to go straight from here to Europe.”

The Postal team, at that time, was training in nearby Palm Springs. Kundig was riding, ironically, next to Armstrong during a training ride in the Coachella Valley. He asked Armstrong about the plans.

“He told me, ‘That was the plan (to race at Redlands), but I decided that I’m going to Europe.’ ”

His U.S. Postal Service team had landed at Redlands with four straight champions – Tomas Brozyna, Dariusz Baranowski, Jonathan Vaughters and Christian Vande Velde. All were featured players on Armstrong’s Postals.

Imagine the publicity of Armstrong-at-Redlands.

L.A. Times.

Sports Illustrated.

ESPN.

CNN.

The joint would’ve been rocking.

But Armstrong picked his comeback race in Europe.

Too bad.

It’s spread from Redlands to Yucaipa and Loma Linda, Highland and Route 66 in North San Bernardino, in the nearby mountains of Crestline, even to the Fontana-based Auto Club Speedway, plus Mt. Rubidoux over in Riverside, plus a road stage that wound its way past Lake Mathews.

The final two days have always been reserved for Redlands – finish line on Citrus Ave. – where the city can highlight its downtown image a la the original Beswick-Larsen dream.

All they needed was a plan.

It’s been long billed as an event “Where Legends Are Born.” That’s based on the fact that top-racing Redlands competitors often bolt for bigger races and become hugely successful overseas.

Original champion Thurlow Rogers, 1985, may have set the tone for that theme.

NEXT WEEK: The Tour de France connect with Redlands.

JIM SLOAN ‘SHOT’ BEN HOGAN

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

Jim Sloan never really pushed his photos on anyone. In the media business, whether it’s on large metropolitan dailies or a mid-size, there are also small town dailies that attract a group of contributors ranging from writing correspondents to photographers. Sloan was a true professional.

The guy hustled, figured the angles, brandished his gear, fed film into the canisters, throwing his heart in the art long before modern technology – aka digital – was available.

Sloan, who specialized in Boy Scout photography throughout the years, had presented the local newspaper with a lengthy list of photos throughout the years. On the back of those mostly black-and-white glossies was the familiar hand stamp – “Photo by James Sloan.”

There were photos of President Eisenhower, especially during that time when the World War II general was living out his final years in the Coachella Valley. Sloan caught the ex-president in a variety of poses, mostly on the golf course.

Fellow photographer Ansel Adams, musician Stan Kenton and politician Ted Kennedy were among the celebrity shots. Plenty of stories could be written about his photography connections with those famous faces. In his own way, Sloan, himself, was a celebrity photographer.

One of his photos, however, stood out. I remember when he brought it into my office. “I got this,” he said, pulling the 2 x 4 black-and-white out a small white envelope, “when I was down in Texas. I got him to pose for this.”

I looked at the mug shot. Smiling, handsome, almost stylishly posing, was the familiar face of golf legend Ben Hogan.

459px-Ben_Hogan_Walking
This isn’t the photo that Jim Sloan provided to me during my days as a sports editor in Redlands. That photo, if it even still exists, is in possession of the newspaper. The Ice Man? This wasn’t the shot of golfing legend Ben Hogan that Redlands photographer Jim Sloan presented me with, but it will have to do (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

I glanced slyly at Sloan’s face. Hogan was a well-known recluse, a superstar who rarely claimed the spotlight. Players from Hogan’s era had often commented on Hogan’s arms-length distance, a coldness, a reluctance to seek the spotlight – but a legendary golfer.

Sloan’s photo was apparently opposite of such a philosophy. Was it a lie? Did Hogan occasionally shed that image? Was Sloan a personal friend? No, way. Couldn’t be. Ben Hogan, who had captured every major championship – four U.S. Opens, a British Open (in his only attempt), two Masters and two PGA titles – while overcoming that infamous 1949 car collision with a bus that nearly killed him.

All of which is a well-known story by now, part of history – along with that picturesque swing, the calmness, ice water in his veins, the famous comeback, the movie that depicted his life around the crash, Follow the Sun: The Ben Hogan Story. No sense in reciting all that here. This story is A Redlands Connection between a local photographer and a golfing icon that breathed immortality.

It was hard to trust Jim; I didn’t know him all that well, but I had to trust him. In a way, Jim Sloan was far more worthy than I was on a local front. A trick? A way to claim some kind of connection to a legend? A little self-indulgence? Redlands was a golf community, its country club often playing host to a variety of legendary connections. Wouldn’t it be great to fabricate a story with those golf partisans? A story connecting Jim Sloan to Ben Hogan would be a good one.

Golf had plenty of prominent connections to Redlands.

Club manufacturer Mario Cesario, whose son Greg was an All-American golfer at Arizona State, made golf clubs for Tom Watson, Nancy Lopez, Gene Littler and others – in Redlands. Watson himself even journeyed to Mario’s local shop for consultation.

Tiger Woods came to Redlands as a well-known five-year-old.

Phillips Finlay, younger brother of Madison Finlay, once took on Bobby Jones in the Roaring 20s. Or was twice? Or three times?

Dave Stockton, who famously outdueled Arnold Palmer at the 1970 PGA Championship, hailed from San Bernardino – but moved to Redlands.

On the other hand, here was a photo print of the Ice Man, Hogan’s historical nickname, that bore all of Sloan’s photographic trademarks. Remember my cynicism. That started melting away. I believed Jim Sloan was telling me the truth.

I asked the first question that came into my head.

“Did you shoot this photo in Redlands?”

Excuse my excitement. Jim, of course, had already told me that he was in Texas when he took the photo. Texas was Hogan’s home, somewhere near the Dallas area. I was excited to think that, somehow, Hogan might’ve traveled to Redlands.

All of which would have begged several questions: Why was he here? Who does he know from Redlands? Will he be returning here sometime? But, no, Hogan was never on local turf.

I wish I could re-create the conversation I had with Jim Sloan about his Hogan photo – but he was always in a hurry. There was no real conversation. Any time he showed up, it was always a quick-hitting visit. Sloan, in my memory, only showed up a few times for talk, presenting photos, or discussing some sports-related shot he’d taken. Something about the guy, always on the move, seemingly like he was late for something.

“I’ll give you this,” he said, “to use when he dies. Keep it in your obit file.”

And Jim Sloan disappeared. A few years later, Jim Sloan died. Hogan outlived him by a few years.

NO DERBY INQUIRY IN 1997 … VICTORY WENT TO SILVER CHARM OVER CAPTAIN BODGIT

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

“And here comes the Captain!”

Captain Bodgit was on the move. It was the 123rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Fabled Churchill Downs was the site. Some 141,000 patrons had assembled, presumably with bets on the outcome. The May 3, 1997 NBC telecast was live throughout the world.

This year’s Derby will be tomorrow, May 5.

Redlands horseman William Buster, who dabbled in horse racing, wasn’t unlike every other race track participant in 1997. A Kentucky Derby triumph was always in the back of his mind, much in the manner that an actor dreams of Academy Award glory, or a scientist dreams of a Nobel Prize.

Captain Bodgit belonged to Buster – well, partially.

Such a prospect of winning the Derby for the highly profitable area contractor seemed improbable. Not only does it take dedication – translation, big bucks plus incredible connections – to pull it off, but it takes the kind of racing luck to get that kind of thoroughbred ready for the first Saturday in May.

By no means does Buster take a bow for his place in the sport. His interest derived from his father, a far more interested horseman.

He’ll use a variety of phrases – “lucky … fortunate … it’s a crapshoot … you lose more than you win” – to describe his own place in racing.

As for Buster, he wound up as part of the Team Valor International syndicate, owning one of 32 shares in a pair of Kentucky Derby horses. The first of those was Captain Bodgit, a 1994 foal that was offered around to various horsemen like Buster.

Barry Irwin, a renowned horse investor who brought people together for the purpose of winning the big one, had offered a piece to Buster. He took it. Maybe, it was five percent.

Captain Bodgit
Captain Bodgit, runner-up to 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm, was partly owned by Redlands’ William Buster.

Captain Bodgit, under jockey Alex Solis, finished second to Silver Charm. The Captain might’ve won. He’d won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, he scored another win at the prestigious Wood Memorial at Aqueduct (N.Y.).

This was a true blue blood thoroughbred. He’d won five straight at tracks like Pimlico (Md.) and Delaware Park, Gulfstream Park (Fla.) and Aqueduct. By the time Captain Bodgit showed up at Churchill Downs, he’d won 7-of-10 with three third place runs.

He went to post as the 3-to-1 Derby favorite. Captain Bodgit drifted up from far back of the field. Freestone was the early leader. Silver Charm, second choice at 5-to-2, was always near the front of the pack. The Captain, though, had entered the stretch with a full head of steam.

When NBC race-caller Dave Johnson saw The Captain coming with a flash, he fired up a worldwide television audience.

His signature phrase … “and down the stretch they come” had been preceded just moments earlier with this phrase, “and here comes The Captain.”

It seemed like Captain Bodgit had enough firepower to overcome Silver Charm.

Sitting dead in The Captain’s tracks was Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s colt, who would not be denied. Silver Charm won by a head.

Or did he?

That famous Churchill Downs home stretch, which had seen plenty of neck-and-neck Derby duels – Affirmed over Alydar in 1978, Swaps over Nashua in 1955, the 1989 classic win by Sunday Silence who nosed out Easy Goer – came down to another thrilling conclusion.

Silver Charm, with Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens in the saddle, was seen drifting to the right. No question that it seemed to slow up The Captain’s hard-charging, stretch-running stride to the finish of that grueling 1 ¼-miles.

There should’ve been an inquiry.

Captain Bodgit had 32 owners in its Team Valor syndicate. Watching the race. It was the 18th straight year the favorite had lost the Derby. The question had to be asked: Was The Captain’s pathway to the finish compromised when Silver Charm drifted?

A side view revealed a questionable outcome. A head-on view, however, revealed no contact.

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

There was, in fact, no inquiry. Solis did not file an inquiry claim. Stevens said he didn’t feel contact. In reality, The Captain might’ve been drifting in more than Silver Charm was drifting out.

Buster questioned the outcome. From his vantage point, he saw contact between Silver Charm and his colt. Derby history has only recorded one “foul,” which occurred in 1984, but didn’t alter the outcome of the winner’s horse.

Derby history wouldn’t be set in 1997.

In the Preakness two weeks later, Captain Bodgit ran third – trailing Free House (third in the Derby) and the eventual winner, Silver Charm – two heads separated the trio at the Preakness finish at Pimlico.

The Captain, with earnings just over $1 million, never raced again after losing.

Silver Charm, for his part, was left with the difficult 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown. Maybe it was that open-ended question mark at the Derby, that karma, that kept Silver Charm from beating lightly regarded Touch Gold in the third leg.

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

The Deputy, an Irish foal, went to post as the favorite, having won the Hill Rise Handicap, Santa Anita Derby, running second in the San Felipe – all at Santa Anita. At Churchill Downs on Derby Day, though, The Deputy failed to fire, finishing 14th.

A few years later, Buster seemed much calmer about both outcomes.

“It’s just another horse race,” he said of the Derby. “It has a lot more publicity, a lot more tradition. But it is just a horse race. You go through the same anxieties with any horse race.

“I’ve been through it now twice; the mystique is not as great.”

Said Buster: “At least I can say, ‘been there, done that.’ ”

 

CYCLING HALL OF FAMER DAVIS PHINNEY HELPED LAUNCH REDLANDS CLASSIC

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

Davis Phinney took over the post-race media conference after winning the yellow jersey at the 1986 Redlands Bicycle Classic.

Phinney was a cycling rock star.

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Until Greg LeMond came along to win the Tour de France in 1988, there may have been no bigger USA cyclist than Davis Phinney, who won the Redlands Bicycle Classic while wearing Team 7-Eleven colors in 1986. (Photo by Wikipidia Commons.)

He’d just ridden a handful of days, pushed over the line by runner-up Raul Alcala, an Olympic bronze medalist for his native Mexico a couple years earlier. Phinney also held off future teammate Jeff Pierce in that Memorial Day weekend event.

Interviews centered around, naturally, of Phinney’s Tour de France success. Wasn’t that big news?

Wouldn’t Redlands like to connect with a guy that was in cycling’s greatest race?

After all, he would eventually become the first-ever American to win a stage at that European-dominated event. Americans, at that point, had rarely competed in that event.

Team 7-Eleven had raced across the pond in the globe’s most important cycling race. Until Greg LeMond came along, the Americans weren’t successful at any level in Europe.

In Redlands, Phinney was trying to be kind, but he knew why he was there. Phinney’s presence, along with his pre-eminent 7-Eleven cycling team, had been whisked to Redlands in order to help try and send the one-year-old event to the next level of popularity.

There were enough questions about European racing. Mostly mine. I was thinking globally, not locally.

“Let’s stop talking about the Tour de France,” said Phinney, in a manner of taking over the post-event media conversation, “and talk about the Tour of Redlands.”

Fair enough. We’re on U.S. soil. On hand for those moments were handfuls of Redlands race organizers, no doubt delighted over their guest’s manners in trying to highlight their race.

Team 7-Eleven’s presence might have been paramount in keeping Redlands afloat. Eighteen years into the next century, it’s still pertinent and relevant in the cycling world.

In 1997, that team was inducted into the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame. That original 7-Eleven squad had sent two teams to Redlands for that 1986 Memorial Day weekend trek.

Team manager Jim Ochowicz, a Hall of Famer in his own right, had organized a remarkable collection of mainly U.S. riders.

Racing in Redlands that weekend was Tom Schuler and Bob Roll, Ron Kiefel and Doug Shapiro, plus Alex Stieda, Roy Knickman, Chris Carmichael, not to mention Phinney and Alcala.

It was a showcase for Redlands, its area fans, perhaps, not yet connected to cycling.

Don’t forget Eric Heiden, the Olympic speed skater who captured multiple medals at the 1980 Lake Placid (N.Y.) Games while also qualifying as an alternate for Team USA’s cycling squad later that summer.

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Eric Heiden, a 1980 U.S. Olympian in both speed skating and an alternate in the Summer Olympics as a cyclist, was part of Team 7-Eleven’s appearance at the 1986 Redlands Bicycle Classic. His presence brought extra prominence to the growing event. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

And don’t overlook another Hall of Famer. Knickman, who rode for La Vie Claire and Toshiba-Look alongside the famous teams that included LeMond, Andy Hampsten and Frenchman Bernard Hinault.

We’re told the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame, which has limited hours in a Northern California city of Davis – just outside Sacramento – isn’t all that impressive. That it exists is, in itself, a major bow to the sport.

Team 7-Eleven’s presence in Redlands that year, I was told, came after plenty of negotiation – with Ochowicz, I believe – to help lift Redlands’ race to prominence. It was hard to bring his team west when most of the most important competition and events were in Europe.

Perhaps spurred on by his Redlands success, Phinney won the third stage that summer at the Tour de France, copping the 12th stage a year later.

Phinney, meanwhile, was accorded a high honor in Redlands when organizers proclaimed “Legendary” status on him at a ceremony in 2012.

It was a Hall of Fame moment, a Redlands Connection and a huge chapter for the Redlands Classic.

 

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.

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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.