By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
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By Erin Sherbert
The J.C. Grid-Wire got its start as a publicity tactic. The idea was to create a ranking system, like college football's Top 25, that would drum up a little excitement as the season wound down. In those days, the best team in California faced off against the best team outside the state in Pasadena's Junior Rose Bowl, essentially the juco national-championship game. The Grid-Wire's rankings would whip up a little phantom tension every week, generating more interest in the championship game, and consequently more interest in the players.
Still, juco football was a hard sell. Ives points to two people, two decades apart, who helped change the perception of junior-college football. Both are part of a line that leads to Rush and his success. Both also suggest something about the raffish nature of the sport.
One is former University of Illinois coach Mike White, a California product whose program was really the first to pursue, and win with, junior-college talent. His 1983-84 Rose Bowl team started eight juco transfers. At the same time, his staff bent its share of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. The school dumped White after the 1987 season. "He was always on the cutting edge," Rush says, leaning back in his squeaky chair and glancing up at a photo stapled to his office wall. It's Craig Moore, a former City College Ram, posing in an Illinois uniform. He played under White. Now he's an assistant under Rush.
Rush's chair groans. "He also won for 'em," he says of White, "so it's how you look at it, I guess."
And the other guy who changed the juco landscape? O.J. Simpson.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY ROBERT BAKER: Now, after you left Galileo High, where did you go, O.J.?
O.J. SIMPSON: I went to City College of San Francisco for a -- turned out a year and a half, and then I transferred to USC.
BAKER: OK. Did you play football at San Francisco?
SIMPSON: Yes, I ran track and played football at CCSF.
BAKER: And at San Francisco City College, did you do well in sports?
SIMPSON: Yeah, I did well in sports on every level, but I think because of the talent that was at CCSF, it showed itself a little more.
BAKER: And did Al Cowlings, as well, go to CCSF?
SIMPSON: Yes. Al dropped out of high school right after football season, and after I had done real well in junior college, I talked him back -- to get his high school diploma. Then the following year he came to the City College and ended up, consequently, one year behind me through college.
BAKER: Do you know if any of your records, are they still held by you at CCSF?
SIMPSON: I really don't know.
BAKER: But you basically set the record book at City College when you went there, did you not?
SIMPSON: Most of the national records I broke in junior -- in City College.
-- From O.J. Simpson's Jan. 10, 1997, testimony in civil court
A bowlegged teen who ran with his tongue hanging out, Simpson rushed for 2,445 yards in his two seasons at City College, 1965 and 1966, gaining almost 10 yards a carry. He wasn't the first great juco athlete (Jackie Robinson played at Pasadena City College in 1938-39), and not even the first at City College (Ollie Matson, 1948-50, is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame). But he stiff-armed any doubts that junior colleges could produce polished athletes.
Now, though, you won't find much mention of O.J. at City College. No statue, no poster, no framed photo of him holding a giant check at the Rams' 50-yard line. "Yeah," says City College Chancellor Philip Day Jr., "I think people used to point to [O.J.] with pride. But O.J. Simpson never did anything special for City College after he left. I've never heard of him writing a check to help us out."
Still, his influence lingers. If Simpson proved that future pros, even stars, could be made on the shabby fields of a junior college, and White went to the trouble of actually finding them, Rush represents a third step in the rise of juco football: He molds great football players and gets them into Division I ball.
Now, an O.J. Simpson would recruit him, and a Mike White would have City College on speed dial.
Under a low December sun, three recruiters -- one from Idaho, one from Oregon State, one from nearby St. Mary's College -- watch from the end zone as the Rams' first-team defense drills against its scout offense. It's the last week of practice this season, and today's has been crisp, clean, even friendly. Earlier, Rush was puttering around in a golf cart, chatting up the scouts. Sometimes you can see the players eyeing them, too. They all stick out, standing off to the side, arms folded, their logos sitting on their jackets like name tags. All three guys have recruited at City College for years.
Idaho has red hair and a red beard, and wears black slacks, black shoes, and a black jacket. "George Rush does a nice job with this program," he says. "They draw some great players here."