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Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Football Star Who Never Was...

The Last Two Pointer
by Mojack

February 7th was national signing day. Highly recruited athletes, five stars, four stars, etc., faxed in signed letters of intent to their chosen Division 1 schools, thereby cementing their future for the next year (at least) up to the next five years of their lives. See, there are no guarantees in college football, no written promises that a Jeff Schweiger or a Rocky Hinds will be the next Trojan superstar, no guarantees that they'll get the playing time or even the practice time that a highly recruited athlete thinks they deserve. Those thoughts are already in their head; gotta get that face time, that TV time to shine and make it to the next level. Not many players have that Matt Cassell attitude, I will stay and play and contribute to the team no matter what my personal feelings about this situation is.

Because Division 1 college football is bigtime, and it's been bigtime throughout our lives, even back when Mike Garrett was winning his Heisman and before that to the Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard days. The media is just bigger now, the internet and TV and cable and podcasts, etc., it makes the players strive for that playing time to get in the limelight to get noticed so they can get to the next level and a bigger limelight.

And all that above is just stream of consciousness because I mentioned one date, February 7th, and my mind started racing, and here I was going to write about a football player at Chaffey High, back in the day, back in 1978 when there was no internet and the normal fan or even the rabid fan didn't have a daily outlet to track high school studs and high school All-Americans, wondering what school they'd finally sign with on their national signing day. Before the TV cameras caught hundreds of high schoolers knocking other hats off tables, while picking the one true hat from their pocket, the hat of their school for the next year or two or three or four or five years.

This is a football post. It is relevant to the Herd and Trojan fans for just as Ryan Powdrell's possible career ending injury shook a little reality into the game we all have passion for, I remembered a career ending injury I saw once, and it made me think of what could've been, not for me, of course, but for the player, Mike Newman, quarterback of Chaffey High. (photo left: Ryan Powdrell at the Huddle)

This wasn't a Carson Palmer and Oregon type injury. That game was close. Carson was in a battle. He made a bad choice by not stepping out of bounds, by lowering that shoulder and colliding with that defensive back head on. Bad choice. Loss of a season. In hindsight though, that choice won Carson a Heisman Trophy. If he had gingerly stepped out of bounds, he would've continued the game and the season, and probably never redshirted. He would've graduated in 2001, the Utah loss at the Las Vegas Bowl would've been his swan song. He never would've made it to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York.

But not all bad decisions turn out well in the end.

In 1978, I was a freshman at Chaffey High School in Ontario, California. Anthony Munoz had recently graduated from Chaffey, in 1976 I think, and had started his career at the University of Southern California. Chaffey played some good football back then, in the Citrus Belt League with Fontana and Eisenhower, Ronnie Lott's alma mater, i.e., so the quality of high school ball was high. And 1978 was another magical year of Chaffey football, led by quarterback Mike Newman and his acrobatic receiver Scott Bennett. If memory serves me right, Newman was around 6'1" or 6'2", but he was very mobile and he had a rifle arm. The guy would not be sacked, and he would scramble in the backfield and finally Scott Bennett would get open and Newman would heave the ball downfield and no matter where it was, Bennett would catch it. He made Dominic Byrd-type catches in every game. Leaping, stretching, diving, his hands were like glue, a high school Freddie Biletnikoff, and Bennett looked like Freddie B. too, long blonde hair, just running down the field catching everything that Newman threw up.

And though it was rumored that Bennett had scholarship offers for lots of colleges; Washington and Washington State off the top of my head, it was Newman who was the real leader of the team. He was also getting scholarship offers from schools such as Stanford, for one, a PAC-10 school that had produced a Heisman winner in Jim Plunkett eight years earlier. These kids were talented, and the games they played in were exciting. It was a good time for Ontario football.

To me, they were gods. I was a freshman, they were seniors, and on top of that age disparity they were the leaders of a team that was winning the Citrus Belt League (or coming in 2nd) in front of a sold-out Graber Field. That Chaffey team was highly ranked as it started CIF playoffs, the Division 1 of CIF playoffs, and people were talking that this might be the year they actually won CIF. The first playoff game was a blowout at Graber field, against Edison or Loyola, some consistent Division 1 Southern California high school powerhouse that we've all heard of, and with the blowout came more talk in the local papers and around school, "this is the year we go all the way."

And the 2nd game of CIF started off in that fashion. Chaffey was playing a tough Servite team, and Chaffey was just dominating. Servite couldn't stop Newman and Bennett, and Chaffey just overpowered them. There were 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter when Chaffey scored again, making it 35-7 or 30-9 or something ridiculous, my memory fails at this point, but the game was over. Mike Newman was still in the game, and as Chaffey lined up to kick the extra point, in that spread extra point formation that I've never understood, Newman was back to hold the ball. But as Newman called the signals, the team never came back to line up in the standard extra point formation, they stayed spread for the trick play. The ball was hiked. Newman stood up and started scrambling for the two points. The defense surged. Newman ran for the flag. A Servite man dove at Newman, cutting his legs out, and the play was dead. No extra point.

Except Newman rolled around on the field, writhing in pain. The coaches ran out to him. The excited stands, with our 30 point lead, were suddenly silenced. Minutes went by. They ran a stretcher across the field, and slowly put the injured QB on the stretcher. He wasn't moving, he was on his back, still. The tension grew in the crowd. As they carried the stretcher back across the field towards the locker room, Mike Newman raised up and lifted his fist. The crowd went wild. That was his last heroic effort. His apex. He was carried off the field, and carried into oblivion. The game ended, Chaffey won, and later that weekend or on Monday, we found out that Mike Newman's knee was damaged extensively, and he needed major knee surgery.

Days or weeks later we found out that Newman's injuries were so great, he would need more surgeries and never play football again.

All for a 2 point conversion as his team held tightly to a 30 point lead with 2 minutes left. No Stanford scholarship, no other PAC-10 school free ride. No schollie to Montana University. Nothing. Football career over because the star quarterback was still in a game that had been decided 40 minutes prior. Glory gone in a flash, in a second, by such a futile decision, or a string of futile decisions. Who left him in? Who called the split formation on a extra point play that was unnecessary? Who decided to bootleg?

In hindsight, it really doesn't matter. The game ended. Chaffey won or lost the next CIF playoff game, I don't remember, but they didn't win the championship. Scott Bennett decided he wanted to play guitar instead of football so he didn't accept any scholarship offers. And Mike Newman didn't do anything, he was angry and bitter, he wanted to still be the hero, still out there calling plays and throwing that ball a long ways down the field. But, that wasn't going to be his destiny.

So when I think of the February 7ths every year, I hope these players take the opportunity to make good decisions and go to schools where they'll get the chance to play, and also the chance to get an education, because there are Whitney Lewis' out there still, and Ryan Powdrell's, the guys who get to the big stage of college football, but through lack of effort or injuries, they fall short of their dreams.

At least they got to the big stage of college football. Mike Newman never got there. And that's too bad, he probably would've been fun to watch. Really fun.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Mo,

I liked your article on Chaffey and their team and QB.

Funny, I played in that 1978 game for Loyola at Chaffey; even saw the field too, Special teams and later O as it was blowout (sorry)

Needless to say we were in awe, as we sat in the visitor locker room,
which was the PE locker room at Chaffey, and saw all of the Munoz weightlifting records posted up on the wall.

Neat Story

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Great article.

I was a junior at Chaffey High School and was at the Edison game when I saw Mike Newnam's two point attempt that resulted in his injury. Chaffey had just spanked Mater Dei the week before 34-7 and had hit their stride going into the Edison game who was ranked #1 in Div I CIF. Mike Newnam and Scott Bennet were the two main studs on a talented Chaffey team that year who had exponentially improved throughout the season. But unfortunately for Chaffey and Mike Newnam, the backup quarterback who I will not mention by name, had virtually no backup experience and started against Servite the week after and lost the game 23-0. It was indeed very bad luck for Mike Newnam that his injury was so serious. It was also too bad that Scott Bennet wasn't interested in plying his trade at the next level. Those two gave Chaffey fans alot to cheer about and would have for sure entertained alot of people at the college level. My email address is atmorales@ca.rr.com and I would like to hear particularly from Mojack or anyone else who knows about this story.

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Your story brings back memories.
Mike Newnam was just as great of a quarter back as John Elway. I played with both. But with John for only 2 scrimmages in preperation for the all star Shrine game. Mike was just incredible.We played together since pop warner. I dropped out of the shrine game for physical reasons. I quit playing football for many reasons. My name is Scott Bennett.Thanks for your article and support!

Ben Wheeler said...

was an 8th Grader at Vina F. Danks Junior High School, just across the street from Chaffey on 4th St in 1978.
Although, I was not a Chaffey student until the next fall, I was the younger brother of Phil Wheeler who played on Ray Starks' first team in 1966, and graduated in 1967 and ironically, I played on his last team in 1982-3.
So, like every former player of Coach Starks', My brother Phil maintained a life long relationship with the coach.
My brother loved Chaffey High School football so much he used to stand outside the fence west of Graber Field and watch every game from the West end zone. He always felt like he could really see and feel the game from the end zone, we also came from a family of seven kids so cash was tight, yet our father was a teacher at Chaffey High School (Glenn Wheeler - Driver's Ed who passed away Dec 2006) and had a teacher + 1 guest pass, even so, we watched every game from that end zone, except for the game that night.
That night, we actually bought tickets and sat in the stands . And, it was the blow-out as suggested in your posting. I can remember how emotional it was when Newnam was hurt. Four years later when playing for Chaffey as a junior I can remember the feeling of walking out of the field house and running on to the field where the gurney that Mike Newnam was on was heading as it went off into history.
I never forgot that night, and how Mike Newnam put his fist up on the way off the field, although I think he actually put up two fingers for victory. It was one of the sadest days in my brother's and my life, because it seemed like the magic we had watched that entire season was snatched away in a heartbeat and that in that moment Ray Stark's best team, and best chance to win CIF was gone. It also marked the end of an era, as Chaffey left the Citrus Belt League between the school years and moved to the newly formed Baseline League. This was my freshman year at Chaffey, and there is no reason to be embarrassed to mention that the quarterback that replaced Mike Newnam was Danny VanderKallen, who led the 1979-80 Tigers to the CIF final, where they lost 16-9 on six turnovers to Riverside Poly High School in the CIF final game at Cerritos College in Norwalk, CA.
That story too, is very interesting as the 1979 team lost its first 6 games and then won its next six and found themselves in the CIF finals. I think that when they were 0-6 and had just lost their first league game to Upland, they were able to draw on the memory of Mike Newnam rolling off on the gurney with his fist up in the air. They never quit. Joe Olive never let them quit.
Anyhow, long story made short, my high school carrer ended on a gurney at Chino stadium when we played and lost to Don Lugo in 1982. I know that my own career in football really reached anywhere near where Mike Newnam and Scott Bennett had taken the 1978 Tigers, not even close. I played a year at Chaffey College and got a chance to redeem myself as a player, but nothing like Mike Newnam's fist thrust into the air leaving a CIF playoff game a fallen Chaffey hero that we are still talking about 29 years later.
As for the comment about the shift extra point play Chaffey ran all those years. Coach Starks ran that thing right to the end of his career, and he used it a couple times in the 1980 season, with Joe Olive out on the wing behind the gate, but I never saw him snap the ball to the quarterback ever again, for the option pitch. He felt like it kept the opposition guessing, but he caught so much heat for Newnam getting hurt that he was never the same after the 1978 season. He also was known for running the shovel pass, and many people credited him with creating it. My senoir year, as bad as we were, going 2-8, we still were able to run the shovel pass for an average of 23 yards per try. Ray Stark's never put his head down, he just kept coaching and kept giving to kids.
The last thing I wanted to say is that I did have a chance to meet Scott Bennett, a few years after he had graduated from High School, he was competing in the long jump somewhere after high school and the Chaffey coaching staff always welcomed Scott to come in and use the facilities to practice. So, one afternoon during track practice about a year or two after he graduated, there he was, the long blond super jock who could out long jump anyone on our track team at the time. He seemed like a great guy and I always hoped he found happiness in whatever he was doing. He was like the Jerry Rice of Chaffey High School who lost his Joe Montana or Steve Young. which cost him a CIF championship not because he wasn't great, but becasue the quarterback that could find him on evey play was gone without a reason or a warning.
The other night on Youtube, I watched the entire run of the video called, RFK's last speech. It was amazing how Robert Kennedy was joking about going to CHicgao to win, and as the tape continues to roll, after the rally is over it turns into a very somber occasion as people come to the podium looking for a doctor in the house, as Kennedy was shot in the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel on his way out the door. Scott must have felt pretty empty inside after Newnam went down, I hope he found peace in his life. He seemed like a nice guy.

Phil said...

About the Newnam-Bennett story. As my brother Ben Wheeler said, I did play on Ray Stark's first team but it was in 1964. I was a sophomore. That was a pretty decent season. We were 7-2 overall, but only 3-2 in CBL play. We started with a 20-16 win against Anaheim at La Palma Park. I remember Tim Delaney from the Colonists playing a remarkable game and just laying on the field totally spent after it was over. He was a tough kid. We beat Santa Ana 14-7 in our second game at home. Then we beat Rosemead at their place 27-6. Rosemead used a gadget play on the first play from scrimmage and scored their only touchdown of the night. Then we beat Centennial of Compton 20-7 at home (Mickey Cureton scored their only touchdown on a kickoff return-he was also a sophomore). We started league play with a 20-7 win over Redlands at home. We lost four players to injury in that game, Art Luciani (concussion) and Rex Robledo (hip) were the most serious losses. None of the four played the next week at home vs. Pacific and Loren Brucker was playing hurt as we lost to Pacific of San Bernardino 13-0. They didn't show up until time for kickoff. They warmed up at Vina Danks and came in late. It was a gimmick to confuse us. It was a little weird. They played like they were possessed and we were depleted by key injuries. Wins over Riverside Poly 27-7 and San Bernardino 12-0 set up a game for a piece of the championship vs. Ramona. We lost at their place 7-6. Ramona and Pacific finished 4-1 and Chaffey and Redlands finished 3-2. Ramona and Pacific went to the playoffs and Chaffey and Redlands stayed home. Under today's format, all four might have gone to the playoffs. Claire Van Horbeck's Anaheim team went on to the CIF championship game and lost to Loyola led by Mike Bergdahl, I think 28-7. I think they ran the single wing.
The loss of Rex Robledo who never played another game that season was a real blow. He could really run and Tommy Thompson could really throw him the ball. We lost that dimension and were never really the same team after that, much the same as the Newnam to Bennett connection but in reverse. From that team Loren Brucker went on to play defensive back at the University of Washington and Ronnie Shotts went on to play baseball at Stanford. Tommy Thompson played AAA ball for the St. Louis Cardinals (He and three others went back to Kansas to play football Thompson, Luciani and Robledo ande Kevin Toole). I can still remember most of the line-up. Ned Crutcher whose first love was shot putting played at Long Beach State. Jim White was a terrific player. He starred at Chaffey College after he came back from Kansas, and I am sure he played college ball after that, but I don't know where. Luciani had some spinal defect with which he was born and had to stop playing football when it was detected after a couple of years of college. I can't remember if it was spinabifida or what. Robledo was never really able to play again after the hip injury, which was too bad as he was a terrific wide receiver and a fine basketball player as well (and a very bright guy).

TE Kevin Toole
T John Hemingway
G Greg Comsa
C Dick Holmes
G Dick Barnett
T Jim White
WR Rex Robledo
Slot back Kenny Burt
QB Tommy Thompson
RB Ron Shotts
FB Art Luciani

Most of those guys played both ways. Loren Brucker and Gary Ovitt (former mayor of Ontario and now San Bernardino County Supervisor) played defensive back and Ned Crutcher came in as a Defensive Tackle.
Boyd Schneiderwendt played some linebacker and played fullback when Luciani was hurt. Our return man was named Harris (our only African-American Player) and he transferred in from Riverside Poly. I did not start. Only four sophomores were on the team, Pat Perryman, Chip Showalter, Alfred Mora and I. His older brother Mike Mora was on the team and played significantly as a sub. I ran down on some kickoffs. The most I played was a quarter against Riverside Poly after we had blown them out early. I went both ways the next two years and made all CBL and All San Gabriel Valley and played in the 2nd Annual All San Gabriel Valley All Star game in the summer of 1967, but that line-up was really hard to crack (Pat Perrymasn was back-up center and made all CIF as a senior and got a scholarship to play football at USC-He was on those great late sixties/early seventies USC teams but rarely if ever saw the field). They were really good, and it was a senior laden team. Without the injuries they would have been undefeated during the regular season with a legitimate shot at a CIF championship. In fact I am absolutely sure to this day that Art Luciani got into the end zone for the two point conversion vs. Ramona and if it had been called correctly we would have won 8-7 and been CBL Co-Champs. So much for road officiating. I remember when I was at UCR, Nick Goldware who QB'd Ramona in that game and I talked about that failed conversion. He was the starting QB at UCR the year before I went there as a defensive end after two years at Chaffey College.
All of this is from memory, but I know the names and scores are right because, though I haven't really thought about it in years I had vivid memories of those long ago days once I sat down to write this and recalled them. Those memories were just filed away somewhere. It was so long ago. So long ago. I doubt anyone cares about all these details. But here they are.

rodriguez said...

I am a class of 73' graduate of Chaffey High school. Just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading about all the Chaffey football lore posted on this site.
I didn't play football at Chaffey--I ran cross country and track. But I used to play football every day growing up in my neighborhood, which was close to the airport. A young Anthony Munoz used to play with us, as did Danny Herrera, who later moved away and played for Anaheim High School as a tight end.
Too bad that neighborhood doesn't exists anymore...it's now been reduced to a tent city for the homeless. No one would believe it was once an actual neighborhood.

Jim said...

Well I played in that game that Mike injured his knee. Infact I was the offensive lineman who`s man got away and eventially got to Mike. My name is Jim Mendoza. Our football team perhaps was the best gelled team I`ve ever been on. We all started playing together when we we feshman,with coach Ovitt and crew. I want to add that the offensive line protected Mike, for him to get the ball to Scott. We also had a very good running game with Bobby Mercer and senior, "the Student" Marty Crow. Coach Dave Stauffer was brilliant at the Defensive line and linebacker calls. If there was a time to play football in high school I was the luckiest kid out there,I know all of our team worked hard in the off season, as well as during the season. WE all put our hearts into the game. This was incredible to be apart of. I hope all our team mates and friends are all doing well I sure miss coach Stark. He was the best!

SNAKEBELLY said...

Chaffey High... A lot of names here evoked that walk down memory lane. My two older brothers and I went to Chaffey.
Greg [Bones] 65'
John (Lurch) 68'
Great times, great memories. Steve Gaylord 69'

Anonymous said...

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