Padecky: Doling out lessons, and scholarships, 63 years later


As Dave Devoto spoke, as his speech quickened, as the frown went to a smile, time and place didn’t matter. It was a football story, a really good one. It needed no context, no set-up. It stood on its own.

“Every time I came off the line of scrimmage,” Devoto said, “Bob Strong would hit me in the face. Sometimes it would be with his forearm. Sometimes it would be with his fist. Yes, that’s right, his fist. He’d punch me and keep punching me on almost every play.

“Late in the game we ran a play to the other side of the field. I went after Strong: I’ll teach that SOB something. He never saw me coming. Knocked him flat. Really hit him. Man, it felt good. I felt ecstatic. He got up. He was hot. I got three punches in before the officials kicked me out of the game.”

Dave Devoto is 81 years old. Does his story feel 81 years old? Does it feel as if it should be dismissed because it happened back-in-the-day when there were leather helmets? Does it feel somehow irrelevant because a player at that time was thought huge if he weighed 240 pounds?

Not if you believe that the elemental nature of the game is perpetually young and vibrant.

Not if you believe that what attracted Devoto to play football in 1950 was the very same thing that makes football America’s most popular sport 63 years later.

In fact, a description of taking a fist repeatedly in the puss without a facemask or mouth guard spikes more curiosity than a player trying to poke his finger into the roll cage that passes for a helmet these days.

“When you told that story,” I asked Devoto, “does it appear so vivid that you feel young again?”

“Absolutely,” Devoto said.

Don’t think those with gray hair or no hair or those with a halting gait lack significance. Lenny Wagner, SRJC’s head football coach and the school’s acting athletic director, doesn’t think so. Wagner asked members of the 1950 SRJC football team to speak to his players before the Bear Cubs played Butte College on Oct. 18.

Why that team? Why have eightysomethings speaking to teenagers? Teach them how to use a walker? No, Wagner brought the old guys in front of the kids because that 1950 football team went 12-0, an SRJC record that has stood for 63 years. Records, like stories, never go to the grave, never vanish from memory. A thing worth keeping is a thing worth keeping forever.

“I told them what Harry Truman once said,” said running back Bob Taylor, now 84, “It’s amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Ask any coach today in any sport what is his or her biggest challenge. The coach will tell you it’s getting the players to believe what Harry Truman said. Sure, have an ego; every accomplished athlete has one. In fact, have a big ego. Make it huge, ginormous even. Just keep a seat belt on that bad boy.

In 1950 those guys played together and then took it one step further. They did something so well, people will thank them forever.

Since 1987 the SRJC Football Scholarship Fund has awarded $15,300 to players leaving the school to continue their college education. The eightysomethings would like to believe their legacy is not that 12-0 record as much as it is that scholarship fund.

Fact is, it’s something else, something that is rarely emphasized — the unity of this team.

“When I stepped on the field,” Devoto said, “I thought I was indestructible. I thought nobody can hurt me. I just wanted to hit people.”

Now there’s a paragraph that can stand the test of time. Devoto was no different than the 18-year-old now. He just came wrapped in a primitive package. If the Bear Cubs of today heard those stories of the Bear Cubs of yesteryear, if they were to listen really close, they would see themselves in those stories. They would see perspective. They would agree they have felt the same thing Devoto is about to describe.

“Before the game, as we are standing on the sidelines,” Devoto said, “we were like racehorses at the gate. We’re pushing and shoving and jumping up and down on each other.”

Devoto was a 6-foot-1, 180-pound end. He caught five passes in one game, four for touchdowns. He would be voted into the SRJC Hall of Fame. He would go on to own KTOB radio in Petaluma for 30 years. Taylor, the star 165-pound running back, would become a music and health science teacher in the county school system.

Each would marry, have children and live a good life. They would meet once a year with their remaining teammates, the 92 on the roster now reduced to 31. They would have stories, like Devoto going to Russia nine times promoting wrist-wrestling championships.

None of that, however, makes them feel young again, the kind of young that the memories of that 1950 season give them. The incident Devoto describes at the start of this column was a game against the Illinois state junior college champion. The opponent had surrendered only 31 points all season. SRJC won, 41-6.

“I have tried to contact Strong (a defensive back),” Devoto said.

You know, to make amends.

“But maybe I should have a bodyguard, just in case,” Devoto said.

Devoto did get in three good punches. He might tell Strong it was a shame his face ran into Devoto’s fist and he sure hoped his face finally healed after 63 years and, well, who can predict what would happen after that?

Kids will be kids, even if they are 81 years old.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or

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