Pappy's Boys honor their compatriots, 'The Ramblers'


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By David Bush, Staff Writer
Posted Oct 17, 2016
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2016

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The young Pappy Waldorf & his brothers
Sixty years have passed since Pappy Waldorf last coached at Cal, and his legacy endures, not only in the record of 67-32-4 with three Rose Bowl bids, but also with the organization started and maintained by his former players and associates.

Pappy's Boys, founded in 1987, six years after the legendary coach's death, is a combination social club and support group for the football program, and for the University as a whole. Among other contributions the 'Boys' fund an annual scholarship and are responsible for several campus landmarks. They held their annual banquet recently, honoring two things dear to Waldorf's heart: his family and The California Ramblers, officially the junior varsity in Pappy's time.

Nine of Waldorf's descendants, including daughter Carolyn Pickering, attended the event and reminisced about their patriarch.

Great-grandson Josh Osborne, 37, has been designated the unofficial keeper of the memorabilia. He has boxes of Waldorf lore in his basement, enough to stock a museum large enough to fit Pappy's outsize personality.

 "I don't really remember him. My father told me about him when I was eight or nine," he said. "But I didn't really understand the scope of it until I got older."

 From his grandparents he inherited some of Pappy's items, and over the years his collection has grown exponentially. "People just kept sending me stuff," he said.  "My favorites are pictures of him with Ty Cobb and another with Bob Hope." (For one, see the accompanying photo). 

 Josh's father Steve and his brother Bruce (Josh's uncle) remember their grandfather more vividly after he left Cal and went to work for the 49ers, where he became their scouting director. "He took us to the East-West Shrine game and to dinner where we met some players," Steve said.

The brothers recalled one Waldorf Christmastime visit to their home near Syracuse, Waldorf's alma mater. This was well before video recording or even remote control, so on New Year's Day Pappy took the two family television sets into one room and put one atop the other so he could watch two bowl games at once.

Their cousin Jerry Pickering, Carolyn's son, said he remembers Waldorf "more as a grandfather than a coach. …He loved to go bird watching."

Not that Waldorf didn't share his coaching experiences with his grandchildren. "He loved to talk about his days at Cal," Pickering said. "And he was very interested in his former players and their lives after they left Cal. He paid close attention. That always amazed me."

And the players responded in kind, thus Pappy Boys. Besides the family, the group this night was saluting the Ramblers, who provided Waldorf with an on-campus farm system.

"The writers called it 'Pappy's Deep Freeze', where he stored his extra players," said Jack Vohs, a Rambler halfback in the Waldorf era.

"It gave the men on the second, third and fourth strings the opportunity to play in a game and be ready," said Stu McKee, a Rambler lineman in the early 50s and current Pappy's Boys chairman. 

"It was a great experience."

 Some of the military bases in the Bay Area fielded football teams and provided a portion of the Ramblers' opposition in that era. "We played the really good service teams," Vohs said, "and some of the good junior colleges like Santa Rosa. We also played some state schools, like Sacramento State and Chico State."

McKee remembers Fort Ord fielding a particularly formidable club.  "They had Ed Henke, Ollie Matson and our favorite friend from USC, Pat Canamella."

(Henke was a USC lineman who played ten years in the NFL. Matson, a running back out of USF, is in the pro football Hall of Fame. Canamella infamously twisted John Olszewski's knee when the Cal running back was on the ground.)

No official Ramblers records can be found, but they are mentioned sporadically starting in the 1930s and early 40s, leading to the belief they did not exist every season. During World War II fielding one team of able-bodied men was hard enough, so the Ramblers disappeared entirely for several years. When Waldorf took over in 1947 and sent out a campus-wide request for volunteers, applicants came by the dozens. The Ramblers were thus reborn and thrived before slowly fading away in the 1950s.

 Just how the group came be known as the "Ramblers" is lost to history.  "The research is a little iffy," McKee said. "There was a jazz group in the 20s and 30s that was known as the California Ramblers. It included Tommy Dorsey among others. The name may have originated there, or it may have just been that California Ramblers was an appropriate name for the guys on team."

Those guys were a diverse bunch. Some, like McKee and Vohs, rose no higher in the Cal football hierarchy. Conversely, some of the bigger names of that era were one-time Ramblers including: Forrest Klein, Carl Van Heuit, Ray DeJong, Frank Brunk, Jim Hanifan, Will Lotter, Bill Mais, John Ralston, George Stathakis, and Roy Ward.

In at least one instance, a Rambler career became the ticket to varsity stardom, even  bypassing coaching authority. In 1950, Jim Marinos who had come to Cal as an unheralded quarterback from San Diego, was in his fourth year as a Rambler. His path to the varsity blocked first by veterans Dick Erickson and Bob Celeri, later  by young newcomers Brent Ogden and Dick Lee.

Waldorf's practice was for the team to elect captains for each game. A group of varsity players, who had been pals with Marinos since they were all freshmen, felt that after four years he deserved a varsity chance. They also believed that Marinos might have been the best quarterback on campus, despite the younger pair's higher pedigree.

So Marinos' allies lobbied enough of their teammates and he was voted captain for the game against USC, even though he officially was not on the varsity. Waldorf was stunned at the result, but true to his word, he followed their decision and did them one better.

Marinos not only served as captain, he quarterbacked the Bears that game and  the rest of the season, defeating the Trojans on the way to unbeaten (with a Big Game tie) record and a Rose Bowl appearance.

"The only reason I was ever heard of at Cal was because of my buddies stood up for this Rambler," Marinos said.

For others, the Ramblers games, usually preliminaries to the varsity, were their only experience playing in Memorial Stadium.

"We used to play at 11 o'clock in the morning," McKee said. "Besides our parents, the only people in the stands were eight Gremlin (frozen orange juice) vendors and a few more Eskimo Pie (ice cream bar) vendors. By the time of the fourth quarter there might have been 10,000 people there." (Editor's note: a double-header back in those days was a real treat for devoted football fans).

One of those Eskimo Pie salesmen, with a helping hand from Marinos, cost Vohs his chance for varsity glory, or at least exposure.

"Pappy would often bring up Ramblers for the varsity games," Marinos said. "We were told, 'Suit up, warm up with the team and sit on the bench so you can see what's going on.'"  We didn't expect to get in the game."

During warm ups Marinos found some coins on the Memorial Stadium grass and secreted them in his uniform.

"We were sitting on the bench, and Jim Marinos asked me if I wanted an Eskimo Pie," Vohs recalled.

"What would I want an Eskimo Pie for?" I said.

Marinos said years later that it was the middle of third quarter of an "important game". He believed neither of them would play, and he was hungry. "There was an Eskimo Pie guy just down by the rail near the bench," Marinos said.

Using Marinos' money they bought a couple of Eskimo Pies and were sitting on the Cal bench in full uniform munching their Eskimo Pies.

Suddenly one of the Bears' defensive backs was injured and a replacement was needed. Pappy, in an unusual move, summoned Vohs even though he was busy eating.

"Pappy called me to go in, and I got so excited I grabbed my helmet and still had the Eskimo Pie in my hand," Vohs said. "Pappy kind of smiled, looked at the Eskimo Pie and said, 'I'll call you later.'"

The call never came. "It is funny now, but it was terrible at the time," Vohs said.

In a column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Ron Fimrite recounted Waldorf and Vohs meeting one another at a reunion years later. Fimrite said that the coach told Vohs, "I'd have sent you in had that bar been fresh. But it was half gone so I figured you were out of shape."


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