There is no better way to get ready for Wednesday’s football preview and the start of the season than Jim McConnell’s take on the best football teams in San Gabriel Valley history. “The King” says the 1992 Bishop Amat team than went 15-0 is the best ever. Some have told me the 1969 Blair team with the “Blair Pair,” was the best ever. I think the best teams of this decade, bigger, stronger, faster, would stack up well against any of them.
COMING NEXT WEEK: McConnell will divide the 24 teams into playoff brackets and begin our mythical Valley playoffs in earnest with eight wild-card games.
By Jim McConnell, Staff Writer
The best high school football team in the history of the San Gabriel Valley?
Most would say the 1992 Bishop Amat squad. That year’s Lancers, under coach Mark Paredes, won all 15 games. They won the CIF-SS Division I title and a special state playoff game to boot. They are the only 15-0 team in CIF-SS history.
However, on further review …
Football is a team sport, but history teaches us sometimes one great player can lift his teammates to higher levels. History also gives ample evidence that anything can happen in one game.
So, following that wisdom, it would be hard to pick against, as an example, the 1942 Bonita team that starred Glenn Davis. That team went 11-0 and Davis did a little bit of everything. Interestingly, the Bearcats had three other players who played major college football, a quality coach in John Price and a long-standing tradition of winning football games.
Based on sheer numbers, you would have to favor the 1992 Amat team over the 1942 Bonita team in a mythical matchup. Still, as good as Amat was, it never faced the likes of Davis. And you can only play 11 men at a time.
All of this points out how difficult it is to single out one team above all others as the greatest ever.
A conversation I had with St. Paul coach Marijon Ancich earlier this summer raised this point. Ancich said give him Jamie Quirk (a star on Swordsmen teams of the early 1970s) at quarterback and he would take his chances against any team, anywhere. The lesson being you can’t underestimate the importance of one great player on what otherwise might be a less than talent-laden team.
Ancich touts Quirk. Long-time Muir High coach Jim Brownfield would say the same thing about his teams that featured Ricky Ervins. Former West Covina High coach Mal Eaton would echo those thoughts about the teams he coached featuring Sandy Durko. And so it goes.
What does it all amount to?
Today’s players definitely are bigger than yesterday’s. They also are, as a group, faster and stronger in the upper body (this due to innovations in weight training). However, are they better-conditioned? Probably not. Are they as football savvy? Possibly not.
And there’s no way to measure competitiveness. With great players, it isn’t just that they hate to lose. Everybody hates to lose. Great players find a way to win.
For what it’s worth, if I were to create a mythical All-Valley playoff, here are the teams I would include, in chronological order:
1926 Covina (11-1), CIF-SS Large Schools champion. Probably the best of coach Chief Newman’s three CIF championship teams of the 1920s, this one featured the multi-talented Gus Shaver.
1939 Alhambra (11-0), CIF-SS Large Schools champion. Likely the best of a long string of outstanding Moors teams coached by George Hobbs, this squad featured a high-powered single-wing offense led by Johnny Petrovich.
1942 Bonita (11-0), CIF-SS Central Division champion. In addition to all-time great Davis, this Bearcats team also had Duane Whitehead, later a star at USC, and Glenn’s twin brother Ralph, who later played with his brother on the outstanding Army teams of the mid-1940s.
1951 Pomona (12-0), CIF-SS Large Schools champion. Coached by Harold “Hoppy” Hopkins and led by Marty Keough, the greatest athlete in Pomona history.
1955 San Marino (13-0), CIF-SS Northern Division champion. Coached by Vic Schwenk, this was one of the legendary scoring machines in CIF history.
1964 Whittier (13-0), CIF-SS Large Schools champion. Coached by Vic Lopez and featuring linebacker/guard George Buehler, the best of a long line of outstanding Whittier teams.
1965 West Covina (12-1), CIF-SS 3A Division champion. One of the valley’s best-ever defensive units, coached by Mal Eaton.
1966 El Rancho (13-0), CIF-SS Large Schools champion. Ernie Johnson coached a series of strong El Rancho teams in the 1960s, but this one answered all challenges, including whipping favored Anaheim 35-14 in the CIF title game at the Coliseum.
1969 Blair (13-0), CIF-SS Large Schools champion. Pete Yoder’s team featured the talents of running backs Kermit Johnson and James McAllister and also had one of the best defenses in CIF history.
1970 Bishop Amat (12-1), CIF-SS Large Schools champion. With Pat Haden throwin’ ‘em and J.K. McKay catchin’ ‘em, this was state-of-the-art football for its era. The team was coached by Gary Marinovich, although the rumor remains that USC’s John McKay devised the Lancers’ offensive schemes.
1971 Bishop Amat (12-0), CIF-Large Schools champion. So who was the better quarterback, Pat Haden or John Sciarra? This Sciarra-led Amat team beat all comers, something the Haden-led 1969 and 1970 Amat teams failed to do.
1972 St. Paul (13-0), CIF-SS Large Schools champion. Ancich’s best team, although there is plenty of competition. However, this one had the aforementioned Quirk at quarterback. While he went on to a successful pro baseball career, people often forget he had a full football ride to Notre Dame. The Irish instead had to “settle” for Joe Montana.
1982 Los Altos (14-0), CIF-SS Southern Division champion. DeWayne DeSpain coached numerous championship teams at Los Altos, but the choice here is the 1982 Conquerors, with Mike Smith at quarterback.
1984 Claremont (14-0), CIF-SS Eastern Conference champion. One of many outstanding teams coached by Bob Baiz. This one featured the talents of quarterback Dan McGwire and wide receiver Travis Watkins.
1984 Diamond Bar (14-0), CIF-SS Southeastern Conference champion. The best of coach Terry Roche’s teams, this group set a slew of scoring records en route to its unbeaten season.
1985 Charter Oak (13-0), CIF-SS Southeastern Conference champion. The first of what has become a dynasty at the Covina school, this one probably remains coach Lou Farrar’s best. One of the best-balanced teams in CIF history.
1986 Muir (14-0), CIF-SS Coastal Conference champion. It’s a close call as to which of Brownfield’s Muir teams was the best, but the opinion here is it was this 1986 contingent.
1991 Baldwin Park (12-2), CIF-SS Division IV champion. A long shot for sure, but it would be interesting to see how coach Tony Zane’s complex passing attack – ran to perfection by this team – would fare against the big boys. This squad also had an underrated defense, as evidenced by a 28-7 victory over Nogales in the CIF title game.
1992 Bishop Amat (15-0), CIF-SS Division I champion. Led by Rodney Sermons and Daylon McCutcheon, this Amat team wasn’t as spectacular as other Amat champions but was remarkably efficient, especially on defense.
1995 Diamond Bar (14-0), CIF-SS Division III champion. Another Roche-coached team, many felt this squad was even better than his more heralded 1984 group. It capped a perfect season by beating a potent Newbury Park team, 30-21, in the CIF title game.
1996 Wilson (14-0), CIF-SS Division VI champion. Easily the best team in school history, this squad coached by Tom Caines featured a near-unstoppable running game and a stifling defense. The Wildcats beat arch-rival Los Altos 34-13 in the title game. It doesn’t get any better than that.
2000 Los Altos (14-0), CIF-SS Division VII champion. An outstanding coach, Greg Gano, a balanced offense and a sensational defense – featuring a pass rush led by Shaun Cody – made this Conquerors squad a tough foe for anyone.
2000 South Hills (13-1), CIF-SS Division IX champion. Steve Bogan has coached a decade’s worth of championship teams at South Hills and has earned the reputation as one of the best game managers in the business. It would be interesting to see how this team fared in a title game against any of the above foes.
2002 La Habra (13-1), CIF-SS Division IX champion. Like Bogan at South Hills, La Habra’s Frank Mazzotta now has a decade’s worth of outstanding teams to his coaching credit. This Highlanders squad quite possibly was the best of the lot.
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