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Cal State Los Angeles Football, 1964 National Champions (Part I)
If I told you that California State at Los Angeles won the national championship in 1964, you might assume I was referring to UCLA, but I wasn't. UCLA went 4-6 in 1964, after which they fired seven-year coach Bill Barnes and hired Oregon State's head coach Tommy Prothro. He produced a conference and Rose Bowl champ the following year.
Alabama topped the AP and UPI polls for the NCAA's University Division in 1964, while California State at Los Angeles sat atop the poll for the NCAA's College Division. Back then, the NCAA had only two levels -University and College- with the only difference being which box the school checked on a form. Who the school played, the stadium they played in, their attendance, and the number of athletic scholarships they provided had nothing to do with being in one level or another. They just had to check a box.
Nevertheless, the big boys largely sorted themselves into the University Division, and everyone else played at the College level. Of course, there were schools and entire conferences that could have checked a different box, and Cal State at Los Angeles was one of them, as their performance in 1964 showed.
Like many, I knew little about Cal State Los Angeles until I obtained their 1964 media guide. The Diablos did not call it a media guide at the time, but that's what it was, and it was an information-rich one. ("Media guide" did not arrive as the term to describe sports-related press kits until later in the 1960s.) It's a fantastic item, and its authors did a fabulous job.
California State College at Los Angeles had a loose brand identity at the time as the press variously referred to the school as Los Angeles State, Cal State Los Angeles, Cal State LA, Cal State (L. A.), CSCLA, CSLA, and others. Though generally called Cal State Los Angeles, I'll typically use CSLA for brevity's sake.
CSLA dropped football in 1977 and switched their nickname from the Diablos to the Golden Eagles in 1980.
At the time, CSLA was part of a broad post-secondary public education system in California that included an expansive junior college system providing associate degree programs and a pathway to the system's four-year schools. The state had the flagship Cal, the emerging UCLA, and many other four-year schools of different sorts. Private Stanford, USC, Cal Tech, and many small schools added to the mix. California’s public four-year public schools have taken different paths to academic prominence and athletic semi-prominence over the last fifty years, with some focusing on serving their local communities.
In the mid-1960s, many of the four-year state schools belonged to the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA), which played football at a level comparable to the bottom FBS or top FCS teams of today, though they often had high-level talent. CCAA schools admitted limited numbers of high school students and relied instead on junior college transfers, and their athletic teams did the same. Academically and athletically, the junior colleges performed a sorting out process, with the four-year schools picking up only those who could study or play at the next level. (O. J. Simpson went this route a few years later and ended up at USC.)
CSLA's 1964 squad reflected the reliance on junior college talent with one returning freshman, 17 upper-class lettermen, and 23 California junior college transfers. Due to differences in talent on the roster and college football just emerging from the limited substitution era, about half the starters played both ways, particularly those in the line.
CSLA, originally known as Los Angeles State, was founded in 1947 and played its first football game in 1951. They were an afterthought or worse until Homer Beatty took over in 1963. A successful California high school and junior college coach, Beatty led them to a 7-1 record and the CCAA championship in his first year and was optimistic heading into the 1964 season. Still, the conference had several other talented teams, including San Diego State, Fresno State, and Long Beach State. Before entering conference play, however, the Diablos had to contend with Hawaii and the University of the Pacific.
Hawaii (September 26)
CSLA played their home games at the Rose Bowl, with their first coming on September 26 against Hawaii, which had already won two games, beating a club team, the Hawaii 49ers and Cal Western (now United States International University). Having beaten Hawaii 43-7 in 1963, CSLA dominated, gaining 252 yards on the ground and shutting out the Rainbow Warriors 43-0. Diablo fullback Art Robinson earned the Golden Helmet as the College Player of the Week, so named by the Southern California Football Writers.
The UPI released its first College Division poll the following Wednesday. Delaware sat atop the poll, San Diego State sat 2nd, Wittenberg was 3rd, and CSLA came in 13th.
Pacific (October 3)
Pacific opened its season with a solid win over Montana and a close loss to Colorado State. Pacific had beaten CSLA in 1961 and 1962, but that was before Coach Beatty arrived, and 1964 was a different story. Diablos halfback Ray Jones scored on 71- and an 8-yard runs and tossed a touchdown pass to 6’ 6”, 255-pound end Howard Kindig as CSLA rolled to a 32-13 win.
A Delaware loss dropped them from the top of the poll. Wittenberg took the top spot, San Diego State grabbed second, and CSLA stayed at 13th. The next week, when CSLA had a bye, San Diego State took over the #1 ranking, while CSLA moved to #12.
San Diego State (October 17)
Top-ranked San Diego State entered the game 4-0, scoring at least 45 points on each opponent. CSLA beat San Diego State in 1963 in a 43-30 affair, but with the Aztecs leading the nation in scoring, it would not have surprised anyone to see another high-scoring game.
San Diego State was transitioning from a run-oriented power offense to a pass-heavy game under fourth-year head coach Don Coryell. Their first-year defensive coordinator, John Madden, had just moved up from a two-year stint as head coach at Allan Hancock Junior College. Their quarterback, Rod Dowhower, would go on to a long college and NFL coaching career, while their halfback, Jim Allison, later spent four years with the San Diego Chargers.
Played at San Diego's Aztec Stadium, the contest was the first of four Diablos games televised in the Los Angeles area, but defense rather than offense dominated the game. San Diego State gained only 22 yards in the first half as a first-quarter interception gave CSLA the ball on the Aztec's 32-yard line. A quick strike by quarterback Dunn Marteen, followed by a scoring sweep by Art Robinson, gave CSLA a 7-0 lead, but that was it for the game's scoring, and CSLA went home the victor for the second year in a row.
Following the win over San Diego State, CSLA took over the #4 spot in the poll, while the Aztecs dropped five spots to #6.
Fresno State (October 24)
This devilish story continues tomorrow. (Read Part II.)
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