Our final second round vote of the weekend features two more football favorites from the defensive side of the ball that are now at work in the NFL.
Ron Rivera was the centerpiece of a stout Golden Bear defense from the early '80's and is now the coach of the Carolina Panthers. He advanced by beating Thomas DeCoud easily in their first round match-up.
Scott Fujita embodies the Berkeley ethos of hard work, spectacular achievement, and social involvement to a T. He's gone from an unknown high schooler to an NFL champion, helping people and making a difference all along the way. He came here by beating Ed Gray in their first round vote.
This should be a pretty close vote but I'd not be surprised to see Fujita pull off a mild upset. The winner will advance to take on the winner of the Mike Pawlawski/ Marvin Jones match-up. This match-up is out of the Brick Mueller Region and you can see the whole bracket here. The full write-ups are after the jump and you can vote up until Friday. GO BEARS!
(3) Ron Rivera
It's fitting to look at Ron Rivera with Texas A&M upcoming on the schedule, since Rivera will forever be defined (at least to our thinking) by the A&M game his senior year. With 1:20 left in that game, Cal and the Aggies were tied at 17 and Cal had the ball deep in A&M territory. On 4th and short, the Bears set up for an easy field goal attempt, and Randy Pratt knocked it through for a three-point lead and, apparently, the win. Then Joe Kapp lost his mind.
The Aggies had jumped offside, and for some reason Kapp took the points off the board to go for a touchdown. This was the precise moment when Old Blues looked at each other and realized that this coaching experiment would not work out. On the next snap from center Gale Gilbert lost the handle and A&M recovered the fumble at their own two yard line. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle to our fourteen-year old eyes.
A&M Coach Jackie Sherrill called a toss sweep - a dumb call deep in your own territory, but not quite Kapp-esque. The ball arrived to Hawkins at approximately the same time as Rivera, who was coming on a run blitz. Rivera was traveling a bit faster than the pigskin, and he knocked Hawkins backwards into the A&M end zone for an improbable safety - and the upset win for Cal.
Rivera had many more shining moments as Cal's best defender of the early 1980s. He was named team captain as a sophomore, and led the Golden Bears in tackles from 1981 to 1983. In 1983 he set a record that still stands with 26.5 tackles for loss including 13 sacks. For his efforts Rivera was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac 10 and was a consensus choice for All-America at linebacker. He was also the first Golden Bear to become a finalist for the Lombardi Award.
Rivera was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 2nd round of the 1984 draft, and became the first Puerto Rican to play professional football. Following his retirement in 1992, Rivera entered the coaching ranks and is now the highly-regarded defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears.
And readers share some memories:
"Ron Rivera also had a hand in helping erase the dumbest coaching mistake in Cal history when he tackled a Texas A&M running back in the end zone scoring a safety, when coach Joe Kapp had taken 3 points off the board." ~LeonPowe
"I remember that game oh so well, even though I could only listen to it on the radio. It was the first game of the 1983 season, making it Cal's very next game after The Play. Cal had it won with the FG. Then there was a penalty, and Kapp decided to take the 3 points off the board and try for a TD. The next play, Cal fumbled. But then the next play, Rivera got us the safety. Cal wins! In Texas!" ~CalBear81
(6) Scott Fujita
Coming out of high school, Scott Fujita was not seen as a Division I college football player - not one deserving of a football scholarship anyway. Some fifteen years later, one looks back at Fujita's career and sees not only a Division I football career at Cal, but a long NFL career and a Super Bowl ring with the New Orleans Saints.
Cal football walk-on to world champion
Fujita redshirted his freshman year, but not before blowing away coaches in his first camp by helping out the injury-plagued Bears at safety even though both of his hands were clubbed up with tape-one because it was broken, the other because of a nasty gash. The Bears gave him a scholarship the next spring, and he added 20 pounds to his 6'5" frame while switching from safety to linebacker. But as a sophomore in 1999, he was plagued by nerve stingers in his neck. Following the season, he had career-threatening surgery that put him in the ICU for three days and a neck halo for a week. That was March. By August, he was cracking skulls again in live practice drills. Two seasons later, he was among Cal's leading tacklers. "I call it Pat Tillman syndrome," says former Cal defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich, now at Texas Tech. "There are a few players you come across who give their heart and soul to the game. That's Pat Tillman, and that's Scott Fujita.
Off the field, as paleodan pointed out, "[r]epresents the Cal bleeding-heart liberal spirit in much of what he does, see: NFLPA, gays in sports, Hurricane Katrina aftermath." Indeed, Fujita has been outspoken about the lockout situation, has been an advocate for gay rights, and has tackled numerous philanthropic causes.