– Football –
caught more passes than any San Francisco 49er tight
end ever. In his 11 seasons with the team, he won three
Super Bowl rings. He played in the Pro Bowl four years
in a row.
Brent Jones is living proof that sometimes
better when you don’t get what you wish for.
“I never thought about becoming an NFL tight end,” he
once wrote. “As a young person growing up in San
Jose, I had aspirations of playing pro baseball.”
It was the early years of his sports
career at Leland High School that had Jones headed in
the wrong direction,
because by heritage, you’d have figured him a football
player from the start. His father Mike had been a draft
choice of both the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers
in 1961. But he was a first team all-league player on
the Chargers’ baseball team. As a football player,
he was only second string.
Santa Clara gave him a scholarship
that allowed Jones to play both sports, and the change
in athletic fortunes
surprised both school and athlete. He hit .345 for the
Broncos’ JV baseball team while playing wide receiver
on the football team. But after switching to tight end
his sophomore season, Jones’ future as a football
player was sealed. He made all-conference three years
in a row and in 1985 was named All-American and Western
Football Conference player of the year.
Still, Jones’ future as a professional wasn’t
secure. Just one week after being drafted in the fifth
round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1986, he suffered
a neck injury when hit by a drunk driver. His rookie
season wasn’t impressive, and he was cut by the
Signed as a free agent by the 49ers,
Jones finally realized his football potential. He became
a regular player in
1988, his second season when he went to his first Super
Bowl, and a starter in his third season when he caught
a 7-yard touchdown pass from Joe Montana to give the
49ers a 13-0 first quarter lead in their Super Bowl
over the Denver Broncos. He got his third Super Bowl
ring in 1995 when he caught a pair of passes for 41
yards in a victory over the San Diego Chargers. In 19
games, Jones caught 60 passes for 745 yards and five
touchdowns. In two of those games he gained more than
100 yards receiving.
But Jones’ impact on the 49ers and on the tight
end’s role in the modern NFL was as a receiver
in the regular season. By the time he retired as a player
and became a television analyst following the 1997 season,
he had caught 417 passes, just the fifth 49er to surpass
400 but the only tight end.
back to top
– Tennis –
had long ago claimed a share of the tennis spotlight
by the time the Jordan sisters came along in the 1960s
and ’70s. But the women who preceded them to greatness
at the Grand Slam tournaments – the Australian,
French and U.S. Opens and Wimbledon – had traditionally
achieve fame straight from the country club.
Not so the
daughters of Robert Jordan, an insurance executive
in King of Prussia, Pa., who was a nationally
ranked player at the time in the men’s 45s division.
the older of the two girls, was bound for Stanford
University in the fall of 1974, one of the first
women athletes at the Farm to win an athletic scholarship.
Two years later Kathy would join her, and in their
season together on the Cardinal they would lead the
team to its first national championship, taking the national
doubles title for themselves.
But they took independent
paths in blazing the new trail for American women’s tennis through the collegiate
sports system. And though they would leave their ultimate
marks on the women’s professional game as doubles
players, they did not do so as doubles partners.
was a dominant junior player before she got to Stanford.
Between her 13th and 18th years, she never
lost a singles match in her age group of the U.S. Tennis
Association’s Middle State Sections. She was named
an All-American three times at Stanford, and immediately
after winning the 1978 collegiate doubles title, she
won the 21-and-under National Hard Court championship.
skipped that tournament in ’78, instead
electing to play in the National Amateur Clay Court
Championships, which she won. The next year she won
the national collegiate
singles and doubles crowns before joining her sister
in the professional ranks.
Barbara struck first as a
pro by winning the women’s
singles at the 1979 Australian Open, the only American
woman to win the singles title there in the decade. She
climbed as high as 37th in the Women’s Tennis Association
rankings, and in 1983 she won the mixed doubles championship
in the French Open.
Kathy’s professional career went into high gear
in 1980 when she won doubles titles a month apart at
the French Open and Wimbledon. She won two more Grand
Slam doubles championships the next year at the Australian
and U.S. Opens. In ’85 she added her second Wimbledon
doubles title and then closed out her career in ’86
with mixed doubles championships in the French and Wimbledon.
She climbed as high as fifth in the singles rankings
with victories over Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova,
Pam Shriver and Tracy Austin.
back to top
– Football Coach –
he retired as Saratoga High School’s football coach
after the 1994 season, one of the many newspaper stories
honoring Benny Pierce said “Pierce’s teams
were noted for their upsets.”
If that’s true, a lot of people weren’t
paying enough attention to Pierce.
How does a coach
last 33 seasons with the same team unless he’s
doing a lot of things consistently right? How does
a coach with 33 winning seasons surprise
anyone? How does a team with 21 league or section championships
over that span ever rank as anything less than the
team to beat?
The story did mention one of Pierce’s great achievements
as evidence – the 1987 season when his second-place
Falcons qualified for the Central Coast Section playoffs
by a coin flip but then downed three undefeated teams
in a row to take the title. But by then, Saratoga High’s
trophy case was already bursting at the seams with
hardware brought home by his teams. Surely folks had
to his miracles by then.
It also mentioned that after
reaching an enrollment high of 2,100 students in 1976,
body had dwindled to only 900 by Pierce’s last
season. But did that ever make the ranks of Falcon players
who packed the sidelines any less menacing from the other
side of the field?
It shouldn’t have. People should
have expected Pierce-coached teams to be consistently
in fact, they did. Pierce was the capital letter and
the period on an era of Saratoga football history.
came to the school to start the junior varsity program
in 1959 after playing quarterback for San Jose State,
where he was the guy who threw the ball to Bill Walsh.
The switch from player to coach was broken by a three-year
stint as an Air Force pilot. And from the very start,
Pierce’s teams won, never having a losing season.
“It is very hard to single out one team as being
the best,” he said prior to his final game as coach,
four years after the mild heart attack that caused him
to give up teaching. He remembered his 1980 undefeated
team, ranked sixth in the national, and the Cinderella
squad from ’87.
Upsets? Upon further review, maybe
the newspaper was right. Never in Pierce’s career did his teams play
a “home” game, instead taking the bus down
Highway 9 to Los Gatos High. Today the Falcons have a
stadium on campus. Benny Pierce Field.
back to top
– Golf –
In the words of Sports Illustrated,
Ken Venturi had become a “loser’s loser.” And
really, until that searing hot June day in 1964, who
could have argued the point?
The former San Jose State
golfer from up the Peninsula in San Francisco – the one who once had come closer
than any amateur to winning the Masters, who had been
a regular winner since turning pro in 1956 – was
mired in a three-year winless slump. His prize money
amounted to less than $4,000 in 1963. And he was no longer
on the Master’s invitation list.
But in the ’64 U.S. Open, the slump that had begun
following injuries suffered in an automobile accident
ended suddenly and mysteriously. Gobbling salt tablets
as defense against heat exhaustion on that 100-degree
day at Washington’s Congressional Country Club,
Venturi put together a 66-70 on the 36-hole final day
to win the Open in one of the greatest finishes in tournament
history. He was PGA Player of the Year, and Sports Illustrated
named the loser’s loser its Sportsman of the
Venturi’s return to the top of competitive golf
didn’t last long. Carpal tunnel syndrome forced
him off the tour in 1967 with 14 career victories. So
he began a 35-year career as CBS Sports’ lead golf
analyst that represented a comeback every bit as unlikely
as his Open championship. As a youngster, Venturi had
played round after round alone at San Francisco’s
Lincoln and Harding Park public courses while he worked
to overcome his stutter.
Playing serious golf from the
age of 9 and winning the first of his three San Francisco
city championships at
age 17, car dealer and U.S. Golf Association executive
committee member Ed Lowery gave Venturi a sales job
that allowed him to pursue golf as a career.
gained local notice in 1951 when he won the first of
his two California State Amateur titles, but
it was five years later when he exploded onto the national
golf scene. That year he was invited to the Masters
as an amateur and took the first-round lead with a 32-24 – 66
that included an eagle 3 on the 13th. He held the lead
through the next two rounds but missed becoming the Masters’ only
amateur champion when Jack Burke nipped him by a single
The PGA of America honored Venturi
in 1999 with a Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award
work with CBS.
In 2000, Venturi served as captain of the U.S. President’s
Cup Team that swept to victory.
“It was a great way to cap it all off and wind
down a career,” he said.
back to top