Stags' First Football Championship

Stags' First Football Championship

Other than the participants and coaches, not many people will take note that the Stags 2010 season marks the fortieth anniversary of their very first football championship in school history.  Somewhat more notable events that occurred in 1970 included eighteen year olds getting the right to vote, the beginning of withdrawal of troops from Viet Nam, the Beatles breaking up, the Apollo 13 mishap and students being shot on the campus of Kent State by National Guard personnel.

The five seniors on the 1970 Stags remained from twenty-one freshman arriving in the fall of 1967 to a team that had won only five games in the preceding three years. Three of those wins came against Caltech and by 1970 Caltech no longer played a varsity schedule in football.  New coach John Zinda's infectious enthusiasm, along with better recruiting resulted in a steady improvement to 3-4-2 in 1968 and 5-4 in 1969.

Although one of those seniors was our "nuclear weapon", All American, Steve Endemano, he would likely be the first to say that learning to play together as a team made all the difference. This is not to say that the team was a big happy family away from field. It was a group with diverse interests and activities. There were combat veterans returning from Viet Nam and resuming college; players active in anti-war protests as well as civil rights activities on campus and in the community; and the requisite majority of players that spend inordinate amounts of time on their studies. There was also a very small minority whose activities away from the field were, at times, just south of a felony. They shall remain nameless.

The offense that season was very solid relying on the running, pass receiving, and special teams abilities of Endemano. In that teams focused so much attention on stopping him, it was impressive that the offensive line including standouts, Tim Nissen, Pete Merandi, Howard Bright, Arne Hendricksen, and Dave Austin could consistently create openings in opposing defenses. Glen "Bruno" Grossman could make all the throws at quarterback, but was rarely turned loose by Coach Zinda who preferred a more conservative game plan. In eight victories that season, the Stags never scored more than thirty-five points.      

Coach Mike Merandi's defense was special. At 6-6 and 240, Chris Stecher was a beast at defensive tackle. He like Endemano would later have a stint in the NFL. Stecher was joined in the middle by tackle Jim Naulls.  Defensive end Sam Reese was dominant and provided a D-line pass rush that the Stags had not previously enjoyed. Bob Hayes was another All-Conference defensive back who had started four consecutive years. Scott Thompson, the middle linebacker made up for a lack of height with an excess of mean. In nine games the defense shut out three opponents. In two other games a safety was the only scoring our opponents managed.

It was galling to have our one stumble that year to the Sagehens, 21-12 early in the season, and to share the SCIAC Championship with Redlands who we trounced 35-0. We finished the season ranked number two in the NAIA Western Division (predecessor of NCAA Division III). The National playoff spot went to Cal Lutheran who also finished 8-1. The 1970 Stags did, however, manage to leave a little something for future teams to aspire to.

Harry Wright, CMC '71