It’s often been said that victory is sweet. Much of the time, it’s a short-lived sensation, like an after-dinner mint. Every once in a while, though, comes a victory that endures like a vintage port. Santa Barbara High’s 19-6 triumph over Compton Centennial in the 1960 CIF AAAA championship game was such an occasion. Fifty years later, it is still being savored.
The game was a rematch, and a fight promoter might have billed it as the “Collision in the Coliseum.” During the regular season, the Dons subdued Centennial 20-6 at Peabody Stadium. The defeated Apaches left the field first, and some of them waited in ambush for the Santa Barbara players.
“I made the mistake of taking my helmet off going into the fieldhouse,” Felix Rivera said. A Centennial player’s cleats came down on top of his head. Blood was streaming down his face as his teammates entered the hallway. But before a full-fledged brawl could break out, the Dons were herded into their dressing room. “We locked the door on them,” assistant coach Mike Moropoulos said.
Seven weeks later, after they had knocked off Muir and Anaheim to reach the CIF final, the Dons suited up to face Centennial again at Los Angeles Coliseum. As they gathered around their coaches, they were reminded about being locked up to prevent them from fighting Centennial. “We told them, ‘We’re going to let you out now,’” Moropoulos said. “You guys busted out of that door past [Centennial’s] procession,” head coach Sam Cathcart recalled, “and I knew that was the game.”
The champs gathered at a luncheon last Saturday to retell the stories and enjoy each other’s company. “You are my family,” said Jim Murphy, whose selection as the 1960 CIF Player of the Year showed what kind of team the Dons were. He was a center and defensive lineman. The guys who scored the touchdowns acknowledged their teammates in the trenches. As fellow lineman Manuel Herrera said, “We sacrificed the ‘I’ for the ‘We’”
They came in all shades. “We had Mexicans, Italians, blacks, whites, and the coaches were Danish and Greek,” Moropoulos said. Joining them at the luncheon was 101-year-old Claude Hardesty, their high school principal. They must have been well behaved for him to age so well. “Mr. Hardesty said, ‘Give them room to run, but tell them where the fence is,’” said Cathcart, who commanded respect as a World War II combat veteran.
As they ventured off to colleges and careers, the fellowship of the 1960 “Golden Tornado,” as Santa Barbara’s CIF teams were known, remained strong. One of them, Manuel Robledo, came back to the school 30 years ago as a volunteer coach, and he has been part of the program ever since. He epitomizes the saying, “Once a Don, always a Don.”
So ironclad are his ties to his alma mater, Robledo confessed, that he refused to associate with his daughter Natalie, a San Marcos cheerleader, before one of the “Big Games” between the Dons and Royals. “She came up to me, and I scraped a line on the field,” Robledo said. “I said, ‘See that line? You stay on that side.’” His former teammate Frank Galindo was astonished. “This is your daughter,” he said. “This is San Marcos,” Robledo answered. The Big Game rivalry had been launched with passion on both sides in 1960. Even though he later brought up his family in the proximity of the newer school, Robledo was not going to let that diminish his loyalty to Santa Barbara.
His fervor made an impression on his daughter Kristina, who chose to become a Don. “My dad has always told me that olive and gold run through his veins,” Kristina said. “He says that his heart hurts when the Dons lose a game.”
“I’ve seen the team go up and down,” Robledo said. Last Friday night, the Dons won the game that mattered most, the 51st Big Game, 6-0. Robledo was on the sidelines, and a couple dozen of his 1960 teammates were in the stands. “Because of our team,” he said, “I’ve been out there for the past 30 years.”
GAMES OF THE WEEK: Big West opponents were more troublesome to UCSB’s soccer team than was nationally ranked Duke last week. While the Gauchos blanked the Blue Devils 2-0 before 11,242—the second largest crowd in school history—they needed late goals to stave off Cal Poly (2-1) and UC Riverside (4-3). Another upset-minded conference foe, Cal State Northridge, comes into Harder Stadium on Saturday night (Oct. 23). … In prep football Friday night, Channel League favorite Ventura visits Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos hosts Buena, and Bishop Diego faces Santa Clara at La Playa Stadium. … The “Littlest Big Game” takes place Saturday (2pm) when Laguna Blanca visits Cate School in an eight-man football showdown.