50 GREATEST GOLDEN BEARS - #24 - MATT HAZELTINE#24 - MATT HAZELTINE - CENTER/LINEBACKER (1951-1954)
The legend has it that Matt Hazeltine first gained notice when he subbed for the starting center who had broken his shoulder pads during a practice drill in November 1951. If true, that was an expensive equipment malfunction, because Hazeltine never gave the job back. He started the final game of that season, a 20-7 upset of 9-1 Stanford, and ever other game of his storied Cal career.
Hazeltine used his speed and quickness to shut down opposing linebackers and chase down ball carriers. He was twice voted all-conference, and also received All-America honors from the International News Service after both his junior and senior seasons. He led defenses that surrendered an average of 15 points per game from 1952-1954.
The linebacker's relative lack of size affected his draft stock, and San Francisco took him in the 4th round in 1955. It was a wise investment, as Hazeltine became an All-Pro over a fourteen-year career with the 49ers and New York Giants.
Matt Hazeltine's story ended tragically - he contracted anyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in his forties, and died on January 13, 1987 at the age of 53. Following his untimely death, he was promptly inducted into both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame.