50 GREATEST GOLDEN BEARS - #44 - JOE IGBERNever a truly dominant back, but always entertaining and explosive, Joe Igber might be my favorite Golden Bear of them all. He came to Berkeley as the most-decorated prep player in Hawai'i's history. He was quick and smart - but also very, very short. Joe was listed at 5'8" in the Cal media guide, which was generous - to my eye he stood no taller than 5'7" (and maybe a bit smaller than that). As a result Cal was the only BCS school to offer Igber a scholarship.
Igber's background was unusual for a D-1 prospect. His parents emigrated to Hawai'i from Nigeria, and Joe and his three siblings grew up in Palolo Housing on Oahu. Despite their lack of material resources, the Igbers stressed the intellectual - Joe Sr. taught at West Oahu Community College and his mother worked at a local preschool. With this foundation, Igber went to Cal to study and football was a bonus. Despite being a full foot shorter than many of his own linemen, Igber finished his four years at Cal as the school's 2nd all-time leading rusher to that point with 3,124 career yards. As a senior he gained 1,130 yards, capped by a 226-yard performance in the Big Game. Igber's running was the primary reason Cal won that game 30-7 and brought the Axe back to Berkeley for the first time in eight years.
Little Joe was an even smaller version of Barry Sanders - taking a few more losses than he should by dancing in the backfield, just so later he could break a 40-yard run to completely change the momentum of a game. An 80-yard run against Arizona State as a sophomore in 2000; a 28-yarder against Washington in 2002 that set up a touchdown in the streak-breaking 34-27 conquest of Washington; a 42-yard touchdown run that stuck a fork in Stanford midway through that 30-7 victory in Igber's final game.
Joe Igber was never going to make much of a pro, which was just fine with him. In fact, he turned down the invitations he did receive to NFL camps following his senior season to focus on his transition to graduate school, where he received a master's in structural engineering. Humble to the end, Igber was quoted in the locker room following his last Big Game as saying, "People will forget about me in the next couple of months, but I did what I came here to do....We got the Axe. That's all that matters."