50 GREATEST GOLDEN BEARS - #20 - DELTHA O'NEAL#20 - DELTHA O'NEAL - DEFENSIVE BACK/EVERYTHING (1996-1999)
The 1999 Big Game was symptomatic of O'Neal's star-crossed career at Cal. In that game, O'Neal returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown, a kickoff 100 yards for another score, and intercepted a pass. And Cal was still thumped by the Rose Bowl-bound Cardinal 31-13.
Deltha O'Neal deserved far better - the most talented DB in school history was asked to play offense for his first year and a half at Berkeley. As a true freshman he hit for 126 yards against Oregon and returned the opening kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown against Navy in the Aloha Bowl. After the position switch, he had a good junior year (earning HM All-Pac 10 honors) but nothing prepared Bears fans for what was coming in 1999.
In that senior season, O'Neal had the finest year of any Bear that we've ever seen (any argument?). He intercepted nine passes, though teams rarely threw his way. He returned four of those picks for touchdowns, and scored twice more on kick returns (the two against LSJU), leading the Bears in scoring as a DB/return specialist. Against Oregon he set a Cal record by returning an errant Joey Harrington pass 100 yards for a score. O'Neal earned consensus first-team All-America and All-Pac-10 honors as a senior (both on defense and as as a return specialist), and was named Pacific-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He was also honored as the 2nd recipient of the Mosi Tatupu Award, honoring the nation's top special teams performer.
Over his career O'Neal scored 12 touchdowns by five different methods: interception return (5), punt return (1), kickoff return (2), rushing (2) and receiving (2). He is the greatest dual threat return specialist in school history, having returned 110 punts for 1169 yards and 99 kicks for a 24.9 yard average. His 4998 all-purpose yards are the most by any non-QB in California football history. Deltha O'Neal was drafted by the Denver Broncos as the 15th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, and currently starts at corner for the Cincinnati Bengals.