50 GREATEST GOLDEN BEARS - #22 - PAUL LARSON#22 - PAUL LARSON - QUARTERBACK/SAFETY (1951-1954)
In two years as Cal's starting quarterback Larson threw for nearly 3,000 yards. That might not sound like much, until you consider that Pappy Waldorf was a run-first coach in a very conservative era. Larson's 1537 passing yards during his senior year of 1954 led the nation, and his 1572 yards of total offense in his junior year also led the nation in that category.
Larson did much more than throw - he is tied for third all-time with 12 interceptions, including a critical pick in the 1953 Big Game that preserved a 21-21 tie. He also punted and kicked field goals in 1954, and returned both punts and kicks in three of his varsity seasons, averaging 28.5 yards per kick return and 10.7 per punt return with a touchdown.
Larson finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1954, and was the top vote-getter in the Western region; he was also named to the FWAA All-America team. Larson was also indirectly responsible for the decline of Cal football after Waldorf. If he had not been a star, then prized recruit Ronnie Knox might have cracked the starting lineup in 1954 and not transferred to UCLA. Knox and his father later ratted out Cal boosters to the NCAA, which landed the Bears on probation.
Larson was drafted in the eighth round by the Chicago Cardinals in 1954, and played two seasons in professional football.