Aaron Rodgers, Les Richter, Deion Sanders, Mike Montgomery, Al Davis, John Fisher
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 09, 2011


AARON RODGERS: Like other Cal alums, I was very happy to see Aaron Rodgers have a great game as the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl..

I was hardly surprised, though. When he was at Cal, he not only had the physical tools but the confidence to be an outstanding quarterback in the NFL.

I had a personal example of that. When I interviewed Cal players at that time, they were deferential, calling me “sir” or “Mr. Dickey.” Not Aaron. He acted as if we were in the same generation, which I much preferred. One time after I had written something complimentary about him in The Chronicle, he approached me the next day saying, “Hey, Glenn, I hear you had some good words for me.”

As for intelligence, when he became a Packer, he asked Steve Young for advice on how to follow a legend, Brett Favre. Young told him, in essence, “Don’t say anything beyond how thrilled you are to be around a great player.”

Young, of course, had also followed a legend, Joe Montana. He missed some of the more heated debate, though. When there was an almost constant din in early ’93 about who should start for the Niners, until Montana was traded to Kansas City (at his request), Young was immersed in his final semester of law school. He wasn’t reading newspapers or watching TV. When I asked him at the start of training camp what his thoughts were during that period, he said to me, “What happened?”

Rodgers had no such refuge, but he kept quiet until Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy told him he’d be the quarterback in 2008 and traded Favre to the Jets. The cheeseheads might have had doubts about that at the time, but those doubts have since been resolved.

I was disappointed that he wasn’t drafted by the Niners but, in retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened to him. No quarterback had a chance in that toxic mix of bad players, bad coaches and bad ownership.

Now, Rodgers has had his visit to Disneyland, which brought back a memory for me, from the 49ers’ third Super Bowl win. Jerry Rice was the game’s MVP and upset because he didn’t get the trip to Disneyland. That was for the quarterback of the winning team but, because quarterbacks had always been the MVP, Rice had assumed that the trip went to the MVP. I think he’s gotten over that disappointment by now.

BIG BEN: In a blatant attempt to change his public image, in the week before the Super Bowl, Rothlisberger offered to help the Pennsylvania Girl Scouts sell cookies. I told the media source who e-mailed me that story, “The Scouts better wear chastity belts.”

On Monday, the Girl Scouts gave their answer: No. They didn’t think sexual assault charges and their cookies were a good match.

HALL OF FAME: Andy Mousalimas points out that, with the election of former Cal linebacker Les Richter to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, four west coast picks on the 1952 first round of the NFL draft are now enshrined. The other three are Ollie Matson (USF), Hugh McElhenny (Washington) and Frank Gifford (USC). Both Richter and Matson eventually were traded to the Los Angeles Rams, in trades involving 11 and nine players, respectively, from the Rams.

In addition, Gino Marchetti from that great USF team of 1951 was picked on the second round. Since there were only 13 first round picks at the time, the second round and even the first part of the third rounds were the equivalent of first-round picks today.

Another member of that USF team, Bob St. Clair, is also in the Hall of Fame. St. Clair transferred to Tulsa for his senior year when USF dropped football. That was the only time from his first year of high school football to the last year of his pro career that St. Clair played a home game anywhere but Kezar. His high school, Poly, used Kezar because it was just across the street, then to USF which also used Kezar and to the 49ers, who played at Kezar before moving to Candlestick in 1971.

USF dropped football after that year because, though it was undefeated, bowl sponsors didn’t want the Dons because they had star black players Matson and linebacker Burl Toler. Many considered Toler the best player on the team but he tore up his knee in the College All-Star game and never played pro ball.

The racial discrimination story line was an ugly one but, realistically, USF couldn’t have carried on much longer. As pro football became more popular, it doomed the smaller Catholic schools. USF, St. Mary’s and Santa Clara had thriving programs, often playing at Kezar, but interest and attendance dropped with the rise of the 49ers. There were similar stories in other areas, including Fordham (alma mater of Vince Lombardi) in New York.

So, the interest of Catholic fans and players turned to Notre Dame, which has thrived.

MORE HOF: The most interesting selection to me was Deion Sanders, who played a very important role in the 49ers’ last Super Bowl season, 1994.

Sanders had been a brilliant player but was also the very definition of a hot dog, and when he became a free agent, there were many teams that wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole.

Carmen Policy brought him in and told him bluntly that this was his chance to improve his reputation. If he played for the 49ers, with their reputation of star players being hard workers and team players, he would be attractive to other teams.

So, Sanders agreed to a one-year deal with the Niners for considerably less than he could have gotten if he didn’t have the reputation of being a trouble-maker.

He was a revelation with the 49ers, with the best season I’ve seen from a cornerback I covered regularly, a list that includes the Raiders Willie Brown and the 49ers Jimmy Johnson. Sanders could lay off a receiver and make a quarterback think he was open – and then close rapidly to make the interception, six of them that season, three of which he returned for touchdowns.

It was probably hard for Sanders to tamp down his hot dog tendencies. Behind closed doors, there were reportedly some heated exchanges with coach George Seifert and there was one exchange during Super Bowl week between Sanders and Jerry Rice which became public. But for the most part, he kept his nose clean and was a big contributor to the 49ers’ fifth Super Bowl championship.

Policy never thought Sanders would stay, and Deion was soon on his way. But he gave the 49ers what they needed that season.

E-MAILS: Once again, if you want a reply, empty out your e-mail basket. And that means you, Ernie Nackord.

CAL BASKETBALL: When he was at Stanford, I thought Mike Montgomery was the best college coach I’d watched on a regular basis since Pete Newell. Now that he’s at Cal, he’s doing the same kind of job.

Watching Saturday’s game with Arizona on TV, I couldn’t help but remember the frustration with Ben Braun’s teams, when players would pass the ball around the perimeter and then take a bad shot. Though Montgomery said yesterday that his current team is only “OK” as a passing team, there’s a purpose to the passes and they often end with a player getting a good shot, whether it’s a 3-point attempt or a drive to the basket.

Montgomery hasn’t changed since his Stanford days, either. He’s always been sarcastic, which bothered writers in the Stanford days but always amused me. When he came into the room yesterday for his weekly media meeting, he spotted me and said, “Well, Methuselah’s here.” For years, he would greet me with, “Where’s your notebook, Glenn?”, mindful of the fact that I never take notes, relying instead on my memory.

At the end of yesterday’s meeting, he kidded Chronicle beat writer John Crumpacker about his note-taking. “I’m glad my kids didn’t go to the school you went to,” he said. Crumpacker, in fact, went to Cal, and he learned shorthand when he was working on the Daily Cal. He read some of Montgomery’s comments back to him perfectly.

Kidding aside, Montgomery has done one of his best coaching jobs ever this year, with an almost entirely new team that was supposed to finish near the bottom of the Pac-10 but instead has been a solid team, with seven games going down to the final minute. They’re 4-3 in those games, including the heartbreaking three overtime loss to Arizona last Saturday. They’ve also had a tough schedule, playing six ranked teams; no other Pac-10 team has played more than four.

“I’ve always thought it was ridiculous to look at a team in early season and decide that it’s not very good,” Montgomery said.

The Bears have some talent – and quite a bit of room for improvement by the young players. Freshman Alan Crabbe, for instance: “As good as he is now on the catch-and-shoot,” said Montgomery, “he’s going to be just about impossible to defend when he learns how to put the ball on the floor and pull up to take the mid-range jumper.”

Sophomore point guard Brandon Smith is still learning because he hardly played last year, when he was behind Jerome Randle. In Saturday night’s game, for instance, Smith just kept pushing the ball up the floor, not ever giving his teammates a chance to rest.

“We wanted to play an up tempo game, of course,” said Montgomery, “but there were probably times when it might have been better to pull up and give the players a chance to rest because you can’t do it on defense.”

That was especially crucial against Arizona because the Bears basically have only an eight-player rotation.

One secret to Montgomery’s success: He never criticizes a player’s shot selection – unlike Braun, whose players were always tentative because of his constant criticism from the sidelines. Crabbe had a terrible game against Arizona State last Thursday, missing shot after shot. But Montgomery never told him to quit shooting, and in the final minute, Crabbe hit a three-pointer that sealed the Bears’ win.

They’re in tough this week with games in Seattle against the Washington Huskies, 11-0 at hoem, and Washington State in Pullman.

“They (Huskies) play much more aggressively at home,” Montgomery noted. “The crowd really gets into the game, especially the students, and it’s tough for the visiting team. We had that kind of thing going for awhile at the other place (Stanford).

“With Washington State, the travel has always been the big thing, but now, they’re starting to fill up their place, so that makes it a much more difficult place to play.”

When Montgomery was hired, there was some concern that he might have a hard time adjusting because Berkeley is a different place in many ways.

But, Montgomery is a great college basketball coach, and he’s proving it once again at Cal. It’s great to have him here.

OAKLAND STADIUM: I’d like to believe this isn’t true, but there are some Oakland politicians talking about using public funds to build a new football stadium on the current grounds, and to build a commercial center around it.

Apparently, they’ve never heard the old saying, don’t throw good money after bad.

Oakland should have nothing to do with a new football stadium until Al Davis is out of the picture. They should have learned their lesson from the current deal, which has cost Oakland and Alameda County money, despite the promises that it wouldn’t when the deal was struck.

The problem is entirely with Davis. He destroyed the fan base when he moved the team to Los Angeles, for no good reason than personal vanity. With other sports teams in the area, when season ticket holders grow old and can’t go to games any more, the torch is passed to their sons and daughters. Not with the Raiders.

The Raiders have a very small season ticket base, about 25,000. That means that most of the tickets are sold on a game-to-game basis.

When the Raiders were here originally, they were virtually selling the stadium out on a season ticket basis. The same fans were there year after year, and it was like family. My wife sat in the stands (I would never have let her sit in the stands at Kezar) and had a good time.

Now, many of those buying game tickets are foul-mouthed exhibitionists. Over and over I’ve heard from fans who have gone to one Raider game and said, never again.

The other problem is that football fans don’t spend money away from the stadium. They drive to the games, tailgate and then drive home. So, trying to establish a commercial center based on football is a feckless operation.

It would be much better to spend that money on a new A’s park. Baseball does provide an economic stimulus because baseball fans patronize local restaurants and shops and sometime even hotels when they come from areas like the San Joaquin Valley.

MORE PROPAGANDA: Ken Rosenthat, the national writer for The Sporting News, recently wrote a piece comparing the A’s attempt to move to San Jose to what happened when the Montreal Expos were moved to Washington, D.C. Rosenthat’s analysis was embarrassingly bad because he didn’t do his homework.

In fact, there is no similarity between the two situations. There are at least three huge differences:

1) Baltimore and D.C. are distinctly separate areas. They have their own national television stations. In the Bay Area, the NBC affiliate is in San Jose, and residents of one part of the area often work in other parts.

2) Baltimore and D.C. fans almost never go to the other area for games. In the Bay Area, San Jose fans go to San Francisco and Oakland for football and baseball games. San Jose and San Francisco fans go to Oakland for basketball. Fans from all over the Bay Area (and north of it) go to San Jose for hockey games.

3) The Orioles had only a vague “territorial rights” in play. Baltimore owner Peter Angelos ran a nice bluff to get a financial subsidy from the Nationals, knowing he would lose neither fans nor advertising revenue. In San Francisco, the Giants have a firm commitment from MLB not to put another team in San Francisco, San Mateo or Santa Clara Counties, and they have a considerable financial stake in the Silicon Valley, both in direct investment and season tickets, which helped build their ball park.

A blogger in Cincinnati did an excellent job of destroying Rosenthal’s argument, pointing out accurately that writers often take the side of owners without investigating the situation – which is exactly what Rosenthal did. If you want to read his entire report, go to http://redlegsbaseball.blogspot.com and click on “long tradition continues” on the side of the page.

The blogger also ran the attendance records of Giants and A’s for the last three decades, which showed the teams on an even basis for the first two, the Giants far ahead in the third.

The difference? The ball park, of course.

The A’s could have done what the Giants did. In 2006, when Ignacio de la Fuente was running for mayor of Oakland, he proposed that the A’s build a park at a spot just off the 880 freeway and close to Jack London Square. The city owned the land and could donate it to the A’s, if they paid for the park.

This is exactly the kind of deal the Giants made for their park. They involved many investors. The A’s didn’t need to do that because the silent partner, John Fisher, is one of eight billionaire owners in baseball. He could easily have done that himself.

But managing partner Lew Wolff didn’t want that. He wanted to make a real estate deal by having city officials help him buy land across 66th Avenue from the Coliseum cheaply. And, oh, yes, he wanted BART to put in a new stop, just for A’s games.

When that didn’t happen, Wolff said he didn’t want to deal with Oakland any more, so he resumed his efforts to get to San Jose. I’m certain that was always his plan.

THE SUSPENSE is killing me: Will The Chronicle end its daily tributes to the Giants before the season starts?

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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