USCHerd, a USC fan site celebrating the USC Fan.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Catching up with Ron Fletcher, USC '54-'56 (part 1)

The Ron Fletcher Interview (part 1)

The Thundering Herd is made up of a wide variety of Trojan fans, who have contacts with great former players, and great Trojan legends, and we've recently started asking our Herd friends to put the USCHerdblog in contact with these ex-Trojan football studs. A few weeks ago Brooks Wilson said that he'd email former Trojan lineman Ron Fletcher to see if he'd be interested in doing one of our Herdblog interviews. (photo left: Ron Fletcher) Ron has a very interesting past, playing in the mid '50s alongside Jon Arnett, C.R. Roberts and Marv Goux. He has a wonderful memory of a nostalgic time long ago including his recruiting, and the strange practices college coaches had in those days of actually paying high school players to commit to their university football program. And Ron continues to be a great Trojan, in fact, he was one of the first people to suggest the idea that a group of diehard Trojans should get seats together to cheer on their beloved Trojans. In time, that group turned out to be the Thundering Herd.

I asked San Diego Trojan Club President Ray Weber to tell us a little about Ron Fletcher, and Ray sent me this email:

"I got to know Ron some years back from his attending many of our (SD Trojan Club) events down in SD. He'd come all the way down from Fallbrook and over time I got to realize that 'Rose Bowl RonFletcher' was from that USC era of the mid 50's of 'grit on the field and loyalty to USC off the field!' He played in two Rose Bowl's while at USC and played with Marv Goux. Enough said!

Ron lived in Ohio for many years but since he has returned to Southern California he comes to many of our events and he drives Don Clausen down so Don can still attend our luncheons and dinners. (Don Clausen is a past San Diego Trojan Club President and great Trojan booster who has a debilitating illness) This is a noble cause, indeed. In the past Ron has been our featured speaker, Master of Ceremonies and he has also introduced keynote speakers. He has an undying love for USC and its football program and follows each and every move with keen insight.

I recall asking Ron, which side of the line of scrimmage he played at USC and he merely said that ''in the 50's , you played BOTH sides''. Ron is a real treasure to have in the mix and I hope that everyone can get to meet him and talk Trojan Football!

Brooks Wilson continued about Ron, "I first met Ron about five years on the i
nternet. He mentioned he was thinking of moving to Fallbrook. I lived in Fallbrook and I recommended it. He came to my house with his wife and son so I could show him around the area. After the tour, Ron told us stories about the "old days" at Los Angeles High School and at USC. Ron is just a few years younger than me, so I was mesmerized. He had done all the things I would've done if my sophomore high school coach would've just recognized my talent and put me in a game or two. Ron was the inspiration for what has become the Herd. He is a great storyteller and he knows football in general and USC football in particular.

The interview that Brooks did with Ron follows below:

Tell us about your high school sports career and the old Milk Bowl game. Not many of the Herd ever saw one or heard of it. Did you letter in any other sports in HS?

In February of 1950 when I entered High School there were 26 high schools in Los Angeles. We did not have any organized sports until the 10th grade in the city. The first time we played tackle football was as 10th graders. There was no Pop Warner nor Little League.

I went to Los Angeles High School and we were in the Western League with Hollywood, Fairfax, Dorsey, Venice, Hamilton and University. We played a league schedule and one practice game in football. There were no city playoffs. The City Title was decided in the Milk Bowl. In my senior year a playoff system was started. In my sophomore and junior years the first 2 teams from each league got to go. They played 6 games of a 25 minute quarter each and by a vote, the two best teams were selected to play an extra quarter for the Championship. All the bands and drill teams from the participating schools performed. The event was held in the Coliseum. In my senior year all 26 teams got to go to the Milk Bowls, early in the year, one on Thursday night in the Rose Bowl and the other on Friday night in the Coliseum. A playoff which matched league champions was played at the end of the year.

We had two coaches; a head coach and assistant for the varsity and the same for the 'B' team. We had been to the Milk Bowl in 1949 and three members of that team went to 'SC on scholarships. In 1950 we had a new coach and won one game, tied one and lost the rest. I was a 235 pound JV tackle. The coach was fired and in 1951 Harry Edelson came to Los Angeles High from Fremont. He was considered the best coach in the city. He was born in Palestine, went to Jefferson HS and USC. He was a part of the Thundering Herd teams at USC and scored three touchdowns in the 1929 Rose Bowl game against Pitt. He was the most influential teacher in my life.

I was the only junior starter in 1951 and played at 205 pounds. We finished second in our league to Venice and beat Manual Arts in the Milk Bowl. Venice was led by Leon Clarke and Manual High was led by Jon Arnett. Venice lost to Jefferson for the Champioship. Arnett and Clarke were both GREAT athletes and eventually they became TROJANS!!!!

In 1952 we only returned 3 letterman and had a great year going undefeated until losing to Manual Arts and Jon Arnett in the City Championship game. I made all-league and all-city and was selected to play in the 2bs Shrine High Football game and the City vs CIF game in San Diego sponsored by the Breibard Foundation.

At the Shrine Game, we beat the North 20 to nothing. At that time, the teams were chosen to represent Northern and Southern California. Northern California was everything north of Paso Robles. We were led by Ronnie Knox from Santa Monica HS. His father was the ORIGINAL PUSHY PARENT. Ronnie went to Beverly Hills as a sophomore, Inglewood as a junior and Santa Monica as a senior. He started at California and finished his collegiate career at UCLA.

In the City vs CIF game, we beat the CIF 24 to 13 and I was chosen to receive the Donn Moomaw Award for the outstanding lineman in the game. Art Lupino played for the CIF and was the tailback in the spread and went on to play at Arizona. He held the NCAA career rushing record for 20 years or more.

Back in those days, attendance was much higher than you see at high school events today. The Milk Bowl in 1951 was attended by 52000 fans. In 1952, the Rose Bowl Milk Bowl had 25000, and the Coliseum Milk Bowl had 31000. The Shrine North South game had an attendance of 36000, and there were 16000 at the City vs CIF game in San Diego.

The notable athletes I competed against in those years included Don Drysdale, of Dodgers fame, a reserve QB at Van Nuys HS, the basketball star and politician, Jack Kemp, who played QB at Fairfax High and Jim Morav an all-league end at University High.

What was it like being recruited by USC in 1953? How different was the recruiting process then compared to the tightly controlled procedures of today?

Recruiting was much different than today. The only rules I remember was that you had to send a letter to the school about your interest before they could talk to you and your decision was final when you attended the first day of classes.

The first step in the process was usually when an alumni would give you a form letter to sign and addressed to the coach which he usually took to the coach and then the contacts would be made.

My first contacts were with Stanford my Junior year. Chuck Taylor invited myself and 3 senior teammates to come up for a weekend. We stayed in a fraternity house and were taken out to the bars off the backroads of the campus. Stanford went to the Rose Bowl that year and three of their stars were fraternity members. The three were Bobby Garret a QB, Sam Morley an end and Bill McColl another end. In that period the schools hired you to be ushers at the games so I got to usher the Illinois vs Stanford game in 1952. The Illini won 40 - 7.

My senior year UCLA really started recruiting a couple of my teammates and I very aggressively. We met the alumnus for the letter and then the Bruin coaches took over. They were in constant contact. A "good luck" letter before every game, weekly visits for lunch at Chatums (always had the Chattum Special sandwich). Also I received the usher jobs at the Coliseum. When basketball season began we always went to the UCLA games and sat with the coaches. Because we were graduating in Februrary we had to make up our minds in the fall. We decided that we were going to UCLA but in order to get in, we needed one semester in Junior College.

That college was LA Valley. UCLA sent all of their recruits there for obvious reasons. Al Hunt was the football coach and he taught history. UCLA started giving us $50 a month. There were 6 of us there in the spring of 1953. One of the 6 had been getting money since his junior year in high school. All of the recruiting and illegal money handouts were done by the coaches.

USC recruited me but nowhere as aggressively as UCLA. Most of the recruiting was done by the alumni. Bob McNeish ran the Alumni house and Trojan Club. An alumnus was assigned to work with you and if you went to SC they were your sponsor. I ushered at games and went to the 25 year anniversary dinner before the UCLA game honoring the 1927 team. My high school coach was a member of that 1927 team. 'SC won USC-UCLA game and went to the Rose Bowl

I graduated in February and went to Valley for the spring semester. Once at Valley, I received a 3.7 GPA and was set to be a Bruin.

That summer I did real well in the All Star games and SC started to recruit me very aggressively along with 3 other Bruin commits Dick Enright, Bob Issacson and Laird Willot. Laird and I played in both the Shrine and City CIF game, whereas Dick and Bob played in only the City CIF game. We all decided that we were going to USC. What looked to be a great recruiting class for the Bruins all of a sudden became a GREAT ONE for the Trojans. I was the only who had gone to Junior College. The others were spring graduates.

When I didn't show up to enroll at UCLA on the Tuesday before classes were to start, I had six visitors at my house from UCLA. They were all LINEMAN, 3 All Americans O'Doud,

Ellena and Salisbury. Sam Boghasian, the Bruin version of Marv Goux, was also there. The only Trojan friend I had at my house was Jim Kaufman, an All City Player in basketball. He was going to SC and had the same sponsor that I had. The UCLA players told me that coach Meyers was very upset that I hadn't enrolled and they were there to take me back to Westwood so I could enroll the next day. Kaufman was very silent. I finally convinced them I wasn't going with them and they left. Jim and I called our sponsor and he came over and took me to another Alums house in Pasadena to spend the rest of the week before the first day of class.

I finally enrolled at USC. The following Sunday I went home. That evening UCLA coaches Tommy Prothro, Jim Meyers, an old coaching friend of Red Sanders in the south, and a Bruin Alum who owned a Car Dealership, all showed up at my house. They did not leave until midnight, and only after I agreed I would not start class at USC the next day and come out and see Red Sanders. During the evening they had Red and his wife on the phone and all sorts of offers were made over and above the extra monthly money.

The next day I drove to UCLA, and parked off the campus as I was afraid they might not let me leave. I met with Red and the Dean of the Law school. l didn't change my commitment to USC, and I returned the money they had given me at Valley and left. The money I returned was given to me by 'SC. The next day I started USC and became a Trojan for life!!!

You played in 1954, 55 and 56. Tell us about your career. What were the highlights? Did you letter all three years? Who were your favorite team mates? You were at USC the same time as Jon Arnett and your career overlapped with Marv Goux. Tell us what it was like playing with them.

College football turned out to be much different than High School. We had a lot of talent but did not play up to our capabilities as we were not a close unified team for a lot of reasons. There was a large age variance as we had 8 or 9 players who were Veterans and were 24 - 25 years old and married. Team members were in many different fraternities with most in Kappa Sigma,Sigma Chi and Kappa Alpha. The coaching staff was not a close knit unit although most were from SC. My senior year in High School I played on a team that was very united and the lack of camaraderie was kind of a let down at USC.

That being said there were still a lot of memorable experiences. In 1954 we were 8 and 1, and undefeated in the Pacific Coast Conference going into the UCLA game. We knew we were going to the Rose Bowl because of the no repeat rule. UCLA had gone the year before, and although undefeated, they could not go if they won. UCLA kicked off and Arnett ran it back for a TD but it was called back as we lined up offside on the kick. From there it was down hill and we lost 34 - 0. It was very frustrating as UCLA was a finesse team and we were very physical and we didn't feel like we had been in a game. It took us 2 years to learn how to play them.

The next week we went back to Notre Dame and it was an experience I will never forget. As we entered the field through the tunnel the fans were booing and spitting on us as a welcome. Once the game started it was a war. VERY PHYSICAL. Every time Notre Dame snapped the Ball their lineman let out loud GROWLS and carried them on through out the play. Marv Goux was our leader and every time he lined up on defense he would stare at the Notre Dame players and snap his fingers and say, "Come here big PUSSY CAT!!" He was all over the field making plays. It was probably the greatest game he ever played. He was the only unanimous choice on their all-opponent team that year. We had them beat 17 to 16 with three minutes to play when Notre Dame's Jimmy Morris went 65 yards on a pitch to beat us 23 to 17.

Our next game was against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. The experience before the game was great but the game was a disaster. It rained as hard as I have ever seen it rain. It was so dark during the day that it seemed like night time, and it was almost like survival became more important than the game. (photo left: Ron Fletcher as a boy) Fans were going to there cars and players were developing skin burns from the sand on the field rubbing against their clothes and pads. Several required medical attention. Unfortunately, we lost that game and ended up 8 and 4. This game was Woody Hayes' first Rose Bowl and they had Howard Cassidy, the Heisman winner and Jim Parker a future NFL Hall of Famer who was only a sophomore.

That year, UCLA was ranked first in one poll and Ohio State in the other so we had two Champions. That was the only year the Bruins ever had a National Championship in football. Notre Dame could have beaten both UCLA and Ohio State on the same day. Ten Domers made the NFL the next year.

1955 was another year of underachieving for USC. We won 5 of our first 6 games then went to Minnesota and lost 25-19 in a blizzard. Wv did not have thermals and only short sleeved jerseys, and every time we had contact with another player it hurt from the cold. It was a very unpleasant experience for the California natives. We came back to California and lost to Stanford 28 - 20 and UCLA 17 - 7 although we had finally found out how to play against the Bruins.

Our Last Game was against Notre Dame and we were 14 point underdogs. The coaches shook up the lineup and it was the first game I started. The combination of players had much more camraderie and we upset Notre Dame 42 to 20. I played 34 minutes. The game was basically us against Paul Hornung, the Notre Dame superstar. He ran for 95 and passed for 257 yards.

We finished the year on a high note, and we were looking forward to 1956 and a possible National Championship as our very highly ranked freshman class would be Seniors. We had two great backs in Jon Arnett and C.R. Roberts and all the other components on the team to go with them.

We had a great spring practice and were set for the season until July 18th when the Conference came down on UCLA and USC for rules violations. The refrain we heard when the money was offered was that everyone was doing it so it was alright. Our seniors lost five games, the juniors lost the whole 1957 season and the sophomores lost five games in their senior year. We went on to go 8 and 2 lost to Stanford 27 - 19 and Oregeon 7 - 0. Both games were road games. We beat UCLA 10 - 7 and Notre Dame 28 - 20. Without the penalties we believed we would have been National Champions.

The outstanding experience of my senior year was the Texas game in Austin. Everyone always makes a big point about Sam Bam Cunningham in Alabama but C.R. Roberts in Texas was just as big if not BIGGER. He was the first black to ever play in the Southwest Conference. He was not originally going to be allowed to stay with us in the hotel, and the Texas fans treated him as a side show. He had the game of his life and set a record that stood for many years by carrying 12 times for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns. The three TD's were all over 60 yards. After the 1st TD, the stadium was quiet, the second created a ripple and the 3rd brought cheers. C.R. became an instant hero in the black community in Austin.

Goux and Arnett were the two most notable players I played with for very different reasons. One was all talent and the other all heart. Marv was all heart. He was 5' 10", 180 pounds and very slow of foot. On top of that, he had to play both ways and was at a severe disadvantage as an offensive center. He never would have been on the field on offense except that he was such a great linebacker. His secret on defense was instincts and strong forearms. And above all he was mean and looked it. He was a throwback to the Thundering Herd of the late '20s.

Arnett, on the other hand, had great athletic ability. He was about 5'11" 195 to 200 pounds. He ran 9.9 for a 100 yards, long jumped 24 + feet and was the City Champion in tumbling. In the long jump he was the City champion in 1952 and placed in the NCAA track meet. He had great vision, balance and you could not put a hand on him if you were right next to him. All the old time USC people such as Goux, Ron Mix and Monte Clarke say Arnett is the best football player they ever saw!!!

After lettering three years it was off to the Army for 6 months and then back to school for my Masters degree. I began coaching in 1959.

The interview with Ron Fletcher will be continued at a later date. Ron will share his thoughts about Trojan teams in the past and the current regime of Pete Carroll, and tell us what being a Trojan has meant to his life.


Anonymous said...

(we received this in email through 2nd hand sources)

I enjoyed reading about my former teammate at USC Ron Fletcher.

I had the pleasure of playing behind Ron Fletcher when I was a Sophomore. He was a senior and It was the year some seniors were penalized five games so this gave me an added opportunity. The game I got to play for the first time, was in was that game against Texas where CR Roberts ran wild.

I considered Ron my mentor and he really took me under his wings. I admired the way he did just about everything and he was a great role model and very helpful to this young country bumpkin from Kingsburg. He helped me every way he could as both a player and person. Ron Fletcher was very generous giving me great help and advice as well as being a great example how to conduct my life properly.

It is people like Ron Fletcher who helped get me started on a life time as an NFL player and coach. Too bad some others don't seem to get the same good advice and listen to people like Ron Fletcher.

As a matter of fact, Ron helped me perfect a technique that SC coach Don Clark made certain all SC linemen mastered--that's the "flipper" . We were all instructed in how to deliver a maximum blow with that weapon. This technique happens to be one of the things commonly missing in much of today's NFL line play. The collision the "flipper" provided has now been replaced for the most part with fat. The premium is no longer the collision or striking a maximum blow as Coach Don Clark taught us all, but it's now how fat you can get! I call the new system--"La Maze"system. (pushing and shoving") Ron was one of the masters of that "flipper" and I not only used it for 11 years as a NFL player myself, as my best weapon, but I also taught it to the offensive line that won 2 Super bowls including the '72 Dolphin 17-0 "Perfect Season".

Monte Clark
Co-Captain 1958 Trojan Football

Grover said...

The thing that I found most interesting--and pleasing--in Clark's response to the article was the common theme we hear from not only guys like Adam Abrahms, but today's players as well (I've heard Hancock mention it), and that is how they all learned how to conduct themselves the right way while at USC, not only on the field, but in life. It's good to hear that it's as true today as it was fifty years (and more) ago.