Wednesday, December 27, 2006


#6 - VIC BOTTARI - HALFBACK (1936-1938)
Cal's 6th greatest Golden Bear was 5'9" and weighed 175 pounds; he was reputed to have flat feet. To this day his surviving teammates struggle to find nice things to say about his athletic skills. A local sportswriter in the days before political correctness referred to him as "that dumpy Italian from Vallejo." He had toughness, vision and a work ethic - and not much else.

You see, Vic Bottari wasn't really a football player. He was a football hero. Doug Flutie's a good comparison, actually - different era, different position, but just about the same brand of magic on a football field.

As a sophomore in 1936, the lightly-regarded Bottari languished on the Golden Bears' bench and the Bears struggled to a 3-4 start. In the eighth game, against USC in the Coliseum, coach Stub Allison inserted Bottari at offensive halfback with the Bears down 7-6 in the 2nd half. On first down Bottari took a pitch and completed a pass to the Trojan 31-yard line. On the next play he hit Sam Chapman for the touchdown that won the game, 13-7.

From that point forward, Bottari never left the Cal starting lineup. He starred alongside Sam Chapman for the 1937 Thunder Team that finished the season 10-0-1. The only blemish - a scoreless tie with Washington in Berkeley - came with Bottari slowed by a knee injury that required a brace. In the Rose Bowl, Bottari was all the offense and defense that Cal required to dispatch Alabama 13-0. He rushed 34 times for 137 yards and two touchdowns. He also led a defensive backfield that intercepted five Alabama passes. Crimson Tide head coach Frank Thomas credited the victory to Bottari, shaking his head and smiling when sportswriters asked him for a comment on the little halfback's MVP performance. Bottari was a first-team all-PCC choice at halfback, and finished eighth in the Heisman voting (despite not being named to a single All-America squad.

As a senior, Vallejo Vic was named team captain and carried the workload in the backfield in the absence of Chapman and quarterback Johnny Meek. He had another outstanding season capped by an unforgettable defensive performance against Stanford. The Indians had a first and goal late from the Cal two yard line as the Bears clung to a 6-0 lead. Four times Stanford tried to run the ball in for the winning score, and four times Bottari stopped the runner short of the end zone.

Bottari finished fifth in the Heisman voting that year, and was named first team All-America by virtually every service. He finished his Cal career with 1,536 yards rushing on 388 carries, with 22 touchdowns. While Bottari's primary fame came from his efforts with a football in his hands, he may have been an even better defensive back. How good was he on the other side of the football? When Sports Illustrated named an all-time All-Pac 10 squad in 2001, they selected three DBs: Kenny Easley, Ronnie Lott...and Vic Bottari.

Following his graduation, Vic Bottari turned down a handsome offer from the football Brooklyn Dodgers and entered the coaching ranks. After a few years in that profession, he switched to insurance and built a successful business over several decades. He died on January 7, 2003 at the age of 86, having lived long enough to attend his elections to three Halls of Fame - the University of California (of which he was a charter inductee), the Rose Bowl, and the College Football Hall of Fame.