Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Today starts a countdown of the 50 greatest Golden Bear football players in the program's history. My hope is to run this as a regular feature over the next five weeks, culminating during Big Game week. This is hardly scientific - it goes without saying that all I know about many of these players (pre-1975) is what I've read and what I've heard from Older Blues who were present in the day. It's nearly impossible to compare players from different eras and positions, but that's what makes this fun.

#50 - Steve Sweeney, Wide Receiver (1970-1972)

Kevin Moen was just entering the sixth grade when Steve Sweeney made what was at that time considered the greatest play in Big Game history. On a rainy day and muddy field in 1972, the underdog Golden Bears hosted Stanford, who had won the previous two Rose Bowls. Cal entered the contest a lowly 2-8, led by a freshman quarterback named Vince Ferragamo. Ferragamo played the part, throwing four interceptions including one less than three minutes to play and Stanford ahead 21-18. Improbably, Stanford QB Mike Boryla threw an interception of his own and Cal took over at midfield with 1:13 left. Ferragamo drove the Bears down to the Stanford seven yard line, but with only three seconds left, Cal faced one last chance at victory. Ferragamo, his jersey black with mud, dropped back and found a diving Sweeney in the southwest corner of the end zone for the winning score.

So, Steve Sweeney's career at Cal ended as it had begun - in the first game of the 1970 season against Oregon, the sophomore from Yakima, WA broke free for a 71-yard touchdown pass from QB Dave Penhall. He would go on to score 21 touchdowns in three years of play, which today places him third among all Cal receivers in scoring. Thirteen of those scores came in his senior year of 1972, along with 52 receptions. For his career Sweeney reeled in 132 passes for 2043 yards, and he left Cal as the school's all-time leader in receptions and yardage. The dependable receiver was twice named first-team all-Pac 8, and the Bear Backers voted him MVP after his senior season.

Sweeney was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the 9th round of the 1973 NFL draft, and played one forgettable year before retiring.

Ferragamo to Sweeney