50 GREATEST GOLDEN BEARS - #4 - JACKIE JENSEN#4 - JACKIE JENSEN - FULLBACK (1946-1948)
The Golden Boy was one of two players (along with #5 Rod Franz) who will forever be associated with the post-war renaissance of California football. While Franz labored in relative obscurity along the lines, Jensen was probably the most famous football player in Golden Bear history.
A heralded recruit in both baseball and football, Jensen came to Berkeley from Oakland HS with great expectations. In the 1946 season opener against Wisconsin, he lived up to them - Jensen fielded a punt at his 44 yard line and threaded the Badger tacklers for the first of many touchdowns. Throughout that freshman year, Jensen demonstrated a flair for the long score - hauling in a 58 yard reception for a score in Cal's 20-6 loss to Washington, and throwing a 49 yard touchdown pass in a loss to Oregon. Unfortunately the season was a disaster, at 2-7, and coach Frank Wickhorst was fired after only one year.
Under new coach Pappy Waldorf, Jensen helped his teammates blossom into a national contender. In one of their closest tests against Navy, Jensen took a simple off-tackle play 64 yards for the winning score in Cal's 14-7 victory. Jensen's passing and running powered the Bears to a 9-1 record, with only a loss to USC separating them from the Rose Bowl. In the 1947 Big Game, Stanford committed extra defenders to Jensen, who made them pay by faking a run and throwing an 80-yard pass to Paul Keckley for the winning score in the fourth quarter.
In 1948 Jensen had a magical season, rushing for 1,080 yards on a 7.3 average - very high numbers in a low-offense era. There were more long scores - 62 and 64-yard scores and another 64 yard dash against Santa Clara in the season opener; a 54-yard TD pass against Oregon State; 170 yards against Stanford. But the greatest moment in the great Jackie Jensen's career came that year against Southern Cal. SC had ruined the previous season, and this year's game was in Los Angeles, where Cal had not won since 1940. SC's kicker applied boot to ball to open the game, and Jensen returned the ball to the SC 32. In a single play, Cal showed the Trojans and their fans that they would not be pushed around this year. Jensen would go on to score both Bear touchdowns on 132 yards rushing in a 13-7 win that ensured Cal its first conference championship in a decade.
Jensen was a consensus choice as All-America that year; in addition to his rushing heroics, he led Cal in punting and was a top defensive back, intercepting seven passes during the 1947 campaign. He finished a strong fourth in the Heisman balloting (behind winner Doak Walker, Charlie 'Choo Choo' Justice and Chuck Bednarik).
Not bad for a guy's second sport. Jackie also pitched and hit Cal to victory in the inaugural College World Series in 1947. The lure of a baseball career was strong enough to cause Jensen to leave Cal after his junior year and sign with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. He would go on to play for the Yankees, Senators and Red Sox, for whom he would win the 1958 American League MVP award. Jensen's debilitating fear of flying hastened his retirement from the game in 1961, after major league teams had switched from train to air travel.
The only man to play in the Rose Bowl and the World Series, Jensen was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1984. He unfortunately did not live to see this honor, having died of a heart attack in 1982 in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was 55 years old.