Monrovia has proud, painful tradition

This story comes from longtime staffer Jim McConnell, the man we call, “The King” around the office. He writes a weekly Then & Now column. He gives us a bit of history today about Monrovia football.

THEN & NOW
Jim McConnell

Say “wait ’til next year” one hundred times. When you’re done, you will have articulated the mantra of Monrovia High football.

Few Southern California football programs have been as successful as Monrovia’s. None have been as star-crossed.

In the 100-year history of football at Monrovia High, the Wildcats have had legitimate shots at no less than 24 CIF-Southern Section titles. Incredibly, they’ve failed to win any.

Monrovia High was founded in 1887, which makes it one of the oldest high schools in Southern California. The school first fielded a football team in 1898. In 1914, it was one of the founding members of the CIF. By 1921, Monrovia was in the running for a berth in the CIF-SS playoffs and took a 7-1 record into its regular-season finale against L.A. Lincoln. A win would have vaulted the Wildcats into the playoffs, but Lincoln won 33-0.

By 1927, under the guidance of former USC star Hobbs Adams, the Wildcats were back among the top teams in Southern California. Monrovia was 7-1-1 entering its final regular-season game against league rival Covina. The powerful Colts – two-time defending league and CIF-SS champs – prevailed and denied Monrovia a playoff berth.

The 1928 season brought more heartbreak for Monrovia rooters. The Wildcats went undefeated in nine games, but were held to ties against league rivals El Monte and Citrus, and Covina once again wound up representing the league in the playoffs.

The leading player on the 1927 and 1928 Monrovia teams was quarterback Willard Brouse, who went on to play for Howard Jones at USC.

After a couple subpar seasons, Gene McAlister took over as Monrovia coach and put together a powerhouse in 1935. It was quite possibly the best team in school history and among the greatest San Gabriel Valley teams ever.


The Wildcats, led by quarterback Leroy Zimmerman, end Johnny Lindell and lineman Lou Bowman, shook off an early-season, 7-0 loss to Pomona to win the Pacific League title. In one of the bigger upsets in Valley sports history, however, Monrovia was stunned by Muir Tech 14-6 in its final league game a week after the Wildcats secured the league title.

Even so, McAlister’s team seemed to have shaken off that loss when it rolled over its first two opponents in the CIF-SS playoffs. That set up a championship matchup with Santa Barbara High at the Rose Bowl.

Monrovia was favored, but the Dons had other plans. They held off the Wildcats 14-12 in one of the most exciting Large Schools finales to that point.

The loss certainly didn’t hurt the careers of Zimmerman, Lindell and Bowman. Zimmerman went on to star at San Jose State, played nine years (1940-48) in the NFL and made the All-Pro team in 1944. Lindell, who also was a star in baseball, basketball and track at Monrovia, opted for baseball and played 11 years in the majors (1943-53), most notably with the New York Yankees. Bowman went on to star at New Mexico, where he earned all-conference honors.

By 1948, Bob Blackman had taken over the coaching duties at Monrovia and guided the Wildcats back to gridiron glory. They went 9-0 in the regular season and qualified for their first playoff berth since 1935. As fate would have it, Monrovia’s first-round opponent was Santa Barbara. Once again, the underdog Dons bested the Wildcats.

John Daniels assumed coaching duties at Monrovia in 1950, and his 1951 team was a beauty. The Wildcats, led by lineman Hardiman Cureton, rolled over 11 consecutive opponents. That set up a classic matchup in the CIF title game against Pomona, which also was 11-0. Pomona prevailed, though, 26-13 in front of a standing- room only crowd estimated at 25,000 at Mt. San Antonio College.

In addition to Cureton, who went on to star at UCLA and in the Canadian Football League, distinguished members of that 1951 Monrovia team included guard Jim Pullman, who went on to play at UC Santa Barbara; end Lawrence Ross, who played at the University of Denver and then in the CFL; and fullback Bob Ballard, who followed Cureton to UCLA.

Daniels fielded another strong team in 1952, when the Wildcats went 8-2. One of the losses, to South Pasadena in the first round of the playoffs, ended their season. The same story held true in 1953, when the Wildcats again went 8-2. One of the losses, to Fullerton in a nonleague game, didn’t hurt. The other, in the first round of the playoffs to Whittier, did. The Cardinals rode the momentum all the way to the Large Schools championship game, where they were beaten by Santa Monica 34-19.

Monrovia fielded another strong team in 1957 that featured halfback Keith Lincoln, who when on to be one of the early stars in the AFL with the San Diego Chargers. The Wildcats were 7-2 that year, but a tough 31-26 league loss to longtime rival Pomona kept them out of the playoffs.

By 1959, Monrovia had a new coach in Mike Giddings. Everything clicked for the Wildcats, who took an 11-0 record into the CIF 3A Division championship. Unfortunately, nothing worked for Monrovia in that one, and San Diego High posted a 53-0 victory. San Diego, long a target of complaints from fellow Southern Section schools, knew the game was its last in the section, with the San Diego section due to open for the 1960 season. The Hilltoppers used their exit as motivation and swamped the favored Wildcats.

Don Robbins took over as coach at Monrovia in 1960, but the switch didn’t change the Wildcats’ luck. They put together an 8-1 season, but the one loss was in league to Arcadia, and it cost them the league title and a playoff berth.

Robbins guided Monrovia to an 8-0-1 record in 1962 and into the Large Schools playoffs. Unfortunately, they were matched up against powerful El Rancho in the first round and lost 19-0.

The 1965 season provided almost an instant replay of 1962. Robbins’ team won league and took an 8-1 record into the Large Schools opener, where it once again was paired up with El Rancho and once again lost.

One of the more notable players from the Don Robbins era at Monrovia was wide receiver Fair Hooker, who went on to play at Arizona State and for six years (1969-1975) with the Cleveland Browns.

First-round CIF playoff losses again were the Wildcats’ fate in 1966 (again to El Rancho) and 1968 (47-20 to Blair).

Tom Paton became Monrovia coach in 1972 and produced a series of outstanding teams. After going 7-2 in 1972, Paton guided back-to-back 12-1 seasons. The 1973 team, led by quarterback Doug Hopper, lost in the CIF-SS 3A final 14-7 to Crescenta Valley. The 1974 team lost to Santa Ana Valley in the 3A Division semifinals. Santa Ana Valley went on to rout Colton 47-14 in the 3A title game.

Perhaps the most notable Monrovia player during Paton’s tenure was halfback Obie Graves, who went on to star at Citrus College and Cal State Fullerton and played two seasons in the CFL.

The 1981 Monrovia team, coached by Rick Watson, also reached the CIF semifinals. The Wildcats took a 10-1 record into that year’s Northwestern Conference semis but lost to Antelope Valley, which then beat Burbank Burroughs 24-14 for the title.

In 1982, Watson’s charges went 9-2-2 and reached the CIF Northwestern finale but lost 7-0 to underdog Verbum Dei.

The 1983 Monrovia team might have been even better. The Wildcats had an 11-0 record heading into a much-heralded Northwestern Conference semifinal matchup against Canyon Country Canyon. Canyon nipped the Wildcats 27-25, and that was perhaps the most bitter of all Monrovia playoff setbacks.

Among the many outstanding players on the 1982 and 1983 teams was Chris Hale, who went on to star as a defensive back at USC and play four years in the NFL.

It took Monrovia 14 years to get back to a CIF title game. The 1997 Wildcats were 12-0-1 entering the CIF-SS Division IX finale, but they came up short against Mira Costa, 28-14. Amazingly, the 1998 season was a virtual re-run, with Monrovia taking a 12-0 mark into the Division X title tilt only to lose 28-24 at Paso Robles.

Again in 1999, it looked like Monrovia finally would end its CIF jinx. The Wildcats, led by running back Akil Harris, were 12-1 going into a Division X championship rematch with Paso Robles, but this time the game was going to be played at Citrus College rather than far-off Paso Robles. Unfortunately for Wildcats fans, the site didn’t make a difference as Paso Robles came away a 24-10 winner.

The 21st century brought yet another outstanding Monrovia team. The 2002 Wildcats were 11-0 heading into their Division X semifinal against Lompoc, but fell short. Lompoc went on to win the division title, a story that by then was all too familiar to the Monrovia faithful.

jim.mcconnell@sgvn.com
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2383

  • Weldon D. West

    Hello Wldcats, I’m trying to find our any information about Coach John Daniels.

    Thanks Dean West 1959