Sunday, December 24, 2006


I've probably never been more optimistic than I was at 1:15 pm on September 15, 1990. That's the approximate time that Russell White took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against the Miami Hurricanes. It was the first time he touched the ball for the Bears, and it augured Great Things.

Russell White wasn't a better running back than Marshawn Lynch. He was a lot more important, though. Go back to that time. Cal had just gone through the 1980s, its worst decade in football history - one winning season in ten tries. Its favorite son had come back to Berkeley and utterly failed as head coach. No one yet knew who Mike Pawlawski or Sean Dawkins were. But everyone knew Russell - or at least they thought they did - and he gave the student body and alumni some hope that things would get better.

Cal's all-time leading rusher was perhaps the biggest recruiting coup in school history. Controversy surrounded White's decision to move from Crespi HS to Berkeley, since he was a Prop 48 student who had not achieved a qualifying SAT score. A summer of tutoring revealed that Russell was dyslexic, and he would go on to earn his degree in social welfare in four years with a B average.

He would also go on to become Cal's all-time leading rusher, behind 1,000 yard efforts in 1991 and 1992. Fifteen times he rushed for at least 100 yards in a game, including a 229-yard effort in Cal's record setting 52-30 beatdown of USC in 1991. With White, the Bears reversed a decade of futility and won back-to-back bowls in 1990 and 1991. His '91 season, with 1,177 yards rushing and fourteen touchdowns earned White first-team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Foundation and the FWAA.

In 1991 Russell White faced the same decision that faces Lynch today - turn pro, and be drafted as a high 1st round choice, or return to Cal for his senior year. White chose the latter option, bulked up in the off-season, and suffered through a disappointing 4-7 campaign under new coach Keith Gilbertson. By April 1993 the bloom was off White's rose, and he fell to the third round and the Los Angeles Rams. A year later, he was done with football. A huge mistake? Well, he did get that degree, and today he's doing something he loves - coaching and teaching at Desert Chapel High School in Palm Springs.

As an aside, White is also responsible for one of the stranger highlights in recent Cal history:


At 10:03 AM, Blogger Pete Morris said...

I've never met Russell White, but like you Tightwad, I lived through his era of Cal football after suffering through the 1980s. And far too large a part of my brain is thus filled with memories of both the limitless dreams and the only slightly limited reality of #4. While I was disappointed as a Cal fan that he wasn't able to take his game to Sundays, I also have taken great pride as a Cal alum of his apparent transformation as a young man during his four years in Berkeley, especially that first non-football year. He entered as a football prodigy, nephew of a Heisman Trophy winner, everyone's "greatest California high-school running back ever" and every Cal fan's gridiron savior, but he came to realize that he was a much more complete human being--someone capable of earning a Cal degree and making a living with his brain rather than his legs. The NFL hadn't been particularly kind to his uncle Charles, and I get the impression that Russell simply didn't have the single-minded passion anymore that a long NFL career requires.

According to this article, White wants to coach at the college level. It sure would be nice to see him wearing the Blue and Gold again.

At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Crespi grad a year behind White, it was incredible to me to see Crespi handing out grades to jocks. My parents did not believe it was happening. Russ got handed his grades at Crespi.... and Cal busted them on it. Highly regarded Prep school spits out a guy who can't read with a GPA in the 3.X? White should sue them for letting him get by on just his legs.

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At 7:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a class of 1987 Grad and best friend of Russell's, I can tell you Crespi did not hand out grades. Crespi is a prestigious 4 year Catholic High School In Encino California. 93% of Crespi grads go on to graduate from a four-year college. Russell as far as I remember scored a combined SAT of 690. I do not remember him having a 3.0 or higher GPA. You needed a 700 SAT and 2.0 GPA back then to not be Prop 48. Prop 48 you lose 1 year of eligibility, your red shirt year and you have to sit out your first season. Russell ended up graduating UC Berkeley with a B avg. and 3 1000+ yards seasons. At the time only the 3rd running back to do that ever. Charles White (his uncle) and Anthony Davis both San Fernando High and USC products were the other 2. Russell was supposed to follow that exact route but instead ended up at Crespi and Cal to not walk in his Heisman Trophy winning uncles shadow.
Russell did a tremendous job on and off the field and was a great friend and kind person.
All these years later there are still haters.
He took UC Berkeley to there first Jan 1st Bowl game and 10 win season in 40 years. His first play in college was a 99 yard kickoff return against defending National Champion Miami Hurricanes. His first season his sophomore year he was first team all Pac-10 without starting a game. I believe the first to ever do that.
Enjoy the High School and College football memories he gave us.
He is still California's best ever.
GO Golden Bears!
MC Wood in Da House Class of 87

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