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Locker Room Talk with the Boys of the Berkeley Gazette

December 3, 2018

Once upon a time, Berkeley had its own daily newspaper, the Berkeley Gazette, and for a brief, semi-glorious moment, it had two sports-reporting brothers. The paper was small enough that the brothers weren’t exclusively sports-reporters, but being born and bred in Berkeley, with Bear-blood in their veins, they wasted as much ink and newsprint on Cal’s sports program as they could possibly get away with. In honor of this year’s delayed Big Game, here are a couple long-delayed dispatches from the Jacobsen’s, Ken and Matt, from Cal locker-rooms of yore, starring two of the biggest names ever to wear the Blue and Gold. Read on:

The Little-Known Last Play of 1958’s Big Game

Ken Jacobson, ‘73

I was six when I attended my first Big Game; that was in 1956, Joe Kapp’s sophomore year. Over the two seasons that followed, Kapp became my hero.

Acting out games in my backyard, I would sports-announce myself as the sturdy Jack Hart running out for passes from Joe. In 1958, I learned an indelible lesson from Kapp’s 92-yard touchdown run: I’d missed all but the crowd’s swelling cheers while peeing and pouting in the Memorial Stadium men’s room. I have never since taken a bathroom break during a Cal game.

Joe Kapp baseball card, 1961

I didn’t meet Joe until 1971. I was a kid sports writer for the now-defunct Berkeley Daily Gazette, and Joe was making the rounds after having been bounced out of the NFL. We did an interview, and my childhood hero didn’t let me down. He struck me as a human power plant, energy emanating from every pore.

The following year, Joe’s old Cal teammate Mike White became the Bears’ head coach. He held fall practices in the Stadium, and he invited Joe to work out with the team—both morale-building measures. After practice one day I went down on the field to say hi to Joe, who was dressed in sweats and holding a football. “Go out,” he said. “I’ll hit you.”

Stunned, I sprinted as fast as I could, which was not very fast. But the ball—a perfect spiral, by the way, for those who doubt that Joe Kapp ever threw such a thing—sailed slightly beyond my fingertips. I then did something I had never done before: I attempted a diving catch. The ball grazed my fingers as I slid along the turf. Joe came running up to ask if I was OK.

“Just fine,” I told him. I was probably finer than I had ever been in my life.

A few moments later, Cal’s sports information director, Bob Steiner, offered me a lift home. “Where do you live?” he asked.

I gave him the first address that came to mind. It was from 1958, back when I was eight years old.

Golden Boy Goes Berkeley Blue

Matt Jacobson, ’79

As a copy boy at the Berkeley Daily Gazette in the early 1970s, I greeted an array of visiting eccentrics and oddballs as they wandered into the newsroom. I would palm them off on the closest reporter or editor I could find, then gleefully stand by watching the scene unfold.

Karma would catch up with me. (It was, after all, Berkeley in the early 70s). Soon after I was promoted to the sports desk, I was given my first assignment covering a Golden Bear sporting event: a varsity baseball game at Evans Diamond. Jackie Jensen, once Cal’s two-sport All-American golden boy, was now in his fourth and final year of coaching the baseball team. There had been great expectations for the talent-laden 1977 squad, but the season had started poorly. That afternoon, the Bears lost miserably to the USC Trojans. I’ll spare us all the score.

Jackie Jensen baseball card, 1962

After the game, I waited in the locker room while Jensen showered. As he came out of the shower room toweling off, I approached to ask a question. I was the ultimate soft touch as an interviewer, but he took a step back as if I were asking him for a spare change handout. I stepped toward him and asked another question. He backpedaled again.

Our dance continued for a few moments. Then, all of a sudden, Jensen jumped straight up in the air with a stunned look. When he turned around we both discovered that he had backed into a wall of fresh blue paint. His buttocks were now a true Cal Bear blue. He tried to wipe it off with his towel, but it was oil-based paint. It just smeared.

Someone brought a sopping-wet towel to Jensen, thinking that it would do the trick. It didn’t. The water just rolled off the coach’s backside. A passing gym rat pointed at Jensen’s behind and helpfully began, “Coach, you’ve got…” The words froze. Soon, the whole locker room was buzzing with coaches and players offering assistance.

Any chance of completing this interview was long gone, and so was whatever question I had for Jensen. Straining mightily to keep my composure, I ran out of the gym into the stunning sunshine of the baseball field. At that moment, I knew that I was no longer a copy boy: I was now a reporter–with a secret, shaded Sherwin-Williams, Pantone 282, Oxford Blue.

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