Legends of California: The Golden Bear Quarterbacks

California - Jared Goff
California’s Goff

The 2016 NFL Draft is not considered a great draft for quarterback prospects. There are no ‘can’t-miss’ talents like there are in some years, and that fact was highlighted by the 2015 Heisman Trophy vote when two running backs slugged it out for the trophy. From 2000-2014, the award went to a quarterback 13 out of 15 times, and 39 of the 61 finalists during that timeframe were quarterbacks. If USC’s Reggie Bush had been disqualified prior to the 2005 vote rather than after the fact, it would have likely been 14 out of 15 winners in that span.

Of the top 10-15 quarterback prospects entering the 2016 NFL Draft, only one was a Heisman finalist – Michigan State’s Connor Cook. He’s certainly among the highest-regarded quarterbacks in the draft, but the first quarterback off the board this spring is likely to be California’s Jared Goff.

Goff definitely has the stature that scouts drool over standing 6-foot-4 at a relatively trim 215 pounds, and many projections have him going No. 2 to the Cleveland Browns – provided that the Tennessee Titans don’t trade down and give some other team the option to take him at No. 1. The possibility of Goff being drafted with one of the top two picks brought to mind all of the other golden-armed greats of the Golden Bears that enjoyed great college careers before heading off to the NFL. Here’s a look at some of the best quarterbacks in California history.

1951-1954: Paul Larson

California - Paul LarsonPaul Larson spent four years in Berkeley in the early 1950’s eventually working his way up to the starting quarterback position for the Golden Bears in 1953. Larson put together two big years as the starter including leading the nation in total offense during his junior season with 1,572 yards. He was selected in the eighth round of the 1954 NFL Draft by the Chicago Cardinals with the 86th overall pick, but instead, he returned to Berkeley that fall for his senior season. He ended up leading the country with 1,537 passing yards and earning First-Team All-America honors while finishing fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Larson didn’t make his NFL debut until 1957 when he appeared in five games, and he only made one more brief appearance in a pro game when he was with the 1960 Oakland Raiders in the first year of the AFL. In all, he only attempted 14 passes in his professional career.

1956-1958: Joe Kapp

California - Joe KappFour years after Larson’s Heisman pursuit, the Golden Bears had another quarterback make a run at the trophy. Joe Kapp arrived on campus two years after Larson’s final season, and he ended up playing three years for the Golden Bears leading the team in total offense each year.

He was considered a superb athlete, and his talents were on full display during his 1958 senior season in which he had a 92-yard run for a touchdown against the Oregon Ducks. He ended up leading the Golden Bears to the Rose Bowl that year although they were beaten soundly 38-12 by the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes. Like Larson before him, his accomplishments were recognized by the Heisman voters as he finished fifth in the voting.

Kapp was then selected by the Washington Redskins in the 18th round of the 1959 NFL Draft, but after the team never contacted him, he ended up accepting an offer to play for the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL instead. He eventually ended up with the B.C. Lions leading the franchise to its first Grey Cup title in 1964 – the Canadian Football League’s equivalent of the Super Bowl.

Kapp made the decision to try his luck in the NFL prior to the 1967 season joining the Minnesota Vikings as a replacement for Fran Tarkenton. After two mediocre seasons, Kapp had a breakout year in 1969 leading the Vikings to a 27-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns in the final NFL Championship Game ever played. The Vikings, however, were unable to handle the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV losing 23-7 in the last game played before the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

Kapp had played the 1969 season in Minnesota on an option year that was exercised by the team, and when the season ended, he became a free agent. He ended up signing with the Boston Patriots right before the start of the 1970 season, but the team was dismal finishing 2-12 while Kapp managed just three touchdown passes against 17 interceptions. Following a contract dispute with the NFL in the off-season, Kapp’s career ended unceremoniously as the Patriots selected Heisman Trophy winning Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett to turn the team around.

As a testament to Kapp’s legend at California, he was hired to coach the Golden Bears in 1982 despite never having coached before. After a fast start to his career in which he earned Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors following a 7-4 debut season, it was mostly downhill as the Golden Bears dropped 5-5-1 in 1983 followed by three losing seasons. It was the only coaching job he ever held in the college ranks, although he did spend one season in 1992 as the head coach of the Arena Football League’s Sacramento Attack.

1962-1964: Craig Morton

Craig Morton began his career at California under head coach Marv Levy and an up-and-coming assistant named Bill Walsh. Both Levy and Walsh would go on to Hall of Fame careers in the NFL in the decades to come, and yet somehow, the combination of Levy and Walsh never yielded a winner at California. The Golden Bears finished just 1-9 in Morton’s sophomore year in which he missed half the season due to injury, but even for a losing team, Morton showed promise with 905 yards passing and nine touchdowns.

His 1963 junior season yielded the best record under Levy and his staff with a 4-5-1 finish, but it wasn’t enough to keep the coach in Berkeley. Instead, Morton played his senior season for Ray Willsey, and despite the Golden Bears’ 3-7 finish, he finished his career as Cal’s career record holder in most major passing categories including passing yards (4,501 yards) and touchdowns (36). His senior season was his best, and despite the Golden Bears’ record, he was named a First Team All-American by several major organizations including the Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America and The Sporting News. Morton even finished seventh in the Heisman voting at the conclusion of the season.

Morton was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys with the fifth overall pick of the 1965 NFL Draft, and ultimately, he spent 18 years in the league while becoming the first quarterback in league history to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl. In 1970, he led the Cowboys to Super Bowl V where the team suffered a close loss to the Baltimore Colts before ultimately losing the starting position in Dallas to former Navy Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach. Seven years later during a career resurgence, he led the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl XII – only to find his former team still led by Staubach waiting for him. Morton and the Broncos were soundly beaten by the Cowboys 27-10.

Some of Morton’s best years in the NFL came near the end of his career in a Broncos’ uniform, and following his retirement in 1982, he was hailed by the franchise as one of its best players ever, eventually earning induction into the team’s Ring of Honor in 1988.

1972-1974: Steve Bartkowski

Steve Bartkowski’s time at California overlapped with the career of another solid quarterback named Vince Ferragamo, and the two signal-callers split time before Bartkowski won the competition for the starting job heading into his 1974 senior season. Ferragamo then chose to transfer to Nebraska, and Bartkowski finally emerged as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks leading the nation with 2,580 passing yards and 12 touchdowns that fall. He was named a Consensus All-American at the end of the season and even finished 10th in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. (Ferragamo would also earn All-America honors at Nebraska in 1976.)

Bartkowski then entered the 1975 NFL Draft where he was selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons. He turned in a solid 12-year career in the NFL earning NFL Rookie of the Year honors in 1975 and later playing in two Pro Bowls. In 1985, he was traded part way through the season from the Falcons to the Washington Redskins, but didn’t make any appearances for his new team. He then signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 1986 appearing in just six games before retiring at the conclusion of the season.

Bartkowski held most of Atlanta’s major passing records for nearly 30 years before being passed by former Boston College star Matt Ryan in most categories.

1975-1976: Joe Roth

While Bartkowski was emerging as the nation’s top quarterback in the fall of 1974, California’s next great quarterback was still developing his game at the community college level. Joe Roth was a sophomore quarterback for Grossmont College in El Cajon, California, that fall leading the Griffins to the Mission Conference title, and eventually, an undefeated finish capped by a state championship.

Following the season, Roth transferred to California to continue his career, and he joined a team that included future NFL stars like running back Chuck Muncie of the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers and wide receiver Wesley Walker of the New York Jets. Initially, Roth started his 1975 junior season as the team’s backup quarterback, but with Cal sitting at 1-2 after three games, he took over as the starter in the fourth game. The Golden Bears escaped with a hard-fought 27-24 win over their neighbors from San Jose State in that game, but close calls were mostly over after that as California cruised to a 7-1 finish over the final eight games with Roth at quarterback. The Golden Bears finished 8-3 as co-champions of the Pac-10.

Unfortunately, Roth’s story was not destined to have a happy ending. While Roth was at Grossmont in 1974, he had been diagnosed with melanoma, and doctors had removed cancerous tissue and monitored his condition ever since. For two years, he was cancer free, but just prior to his senior season in 1976, the cancer returned. This time doctors found a spot on one of his lungs, and yet, unbeknownst to the general public at the time, Roth continued to play that fall while receiving treatment for his condition. Toward the end of the season, Roth’s performance started to decline as his health worsened, but he was still named an All-American while finishing ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Unbelievably, Roth also honored his previous commitments to play in two postseason all-star games – the Hula Bowl and the Japan Bowl. The latter was played in Tokyo on January 18, 1976, and Roth and the West team (including his teammate Chuck Muncie from Cal who earned the game’s MVP award) won 27-16 over an East Team coached by former NC State head coach Lou Holtz who was headed to the NFL that fall to coach the New York Jets for one season. Just one month and one day later on February 19, Roth succumbed to the disease that he had somehow played through that fall.

In 2014, a film about Joe Roth’s life called Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story was released.

1977-1980: Rich Campbell

Strictly by the numbers, Rich Campbell was fairly average as a college quarterback during his years leading the Golden Bear offense, but he ended up being one of the highest draft picks in the history of California’s quarterbacks.

Campbell was selected by the Green Bay Packers with the sixth overall pick of the 1981 NFL Draft despite a senior season in which he threw just six touchdowns against 11 interceptions. Teams like the Packers were interested in Campbell’s accuracy (70.7 percent), and the lack of scoring opportunities was mostly attributed to the fact that there wasn’t much talent surrounding Campbell in Berkeley. During his 1980 senior season, the Golden Bears went 3-8 with the only wins coming against Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford.

He is considered one of the bigger draft busts in history after spending four years in Green Bay and a fifth with the Los Angeles Raiders where he never made it to the field. He threw for just 386 yards and three touchdowns during his five-year NFL career despite being selected with the sixth overall pick in his draft year.

1999-2002: Kyle Boller

California - Kyle BollerFor three and a half years, Kyle Boller was the starting quarterback for the Golden Bears, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. He entered his senior season with a career completion percentage of just 45.1 percent and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 36-38. A breakout senior season, however, changed Boller’s future trajectory as he completed 225-of-421 passes for 2,815 yards with 28 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.

Even though he was still considered a project by NFL standards, Boller was selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the 19th overall pick of the 2003 NFL Draft. He was immediately inserted as the team’s starter that fall, and Baltimore was 5-3 at the halfway point with Boller leading the way. He was injured against St. Louis in the team’s ninth game of the season, however, and was inactive for much of the remainder of the season.

Boller played in every game of the 2004 season turning in career highs across the board in all major categories, but from that point on, his career never took off as he played in nine or fewer games in five of the next six seasons. He spent one season in St. Louis in 2009 before moving on to Oakland for the final two seasons of his career in 2010 and 2011.

2003-2004: Aaron Rodgers

California - Aaron RodgersNo doubt the greatest quarterback California has ever produced is current Green Bay Packers starter Aaron Rodgers.

Rogers was lightly-recruited coming out of high school primarily due to the fact that he was still quite small, and he initially had to prove himself at the junior college level. Rodgers chose Butte College in Oroville, California, and he ended up leading the Roadrunners to the NorCal Conference championship as a freshman.

Since Rodgers’ decision to attend a community college was based on his desire to play football rather than being a case of poor academics, he was able to transfer to Cal after just one year when Golden Bears’ head coach Jeff Tedford discovered him while recruiting another Butte player. Rodgers transferred before his 2003 sophomore season, and soon became the starter for the Golden Bears eventually finishing the season with 2,903 yards passing including 19 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His 2004 junior season brought even more success for the Golden Bears as Rodgers led his team to a 10-1 record and a Top 4 finish while passing for 2,566 yards, 24 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. For his efforts, Rodgers finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

By the conclusion of his junior season, Rodgers had worked his way from being an under-recruited high school prospect to one of the top pro quarterback prospects, and appropriately, he decided to forego his senior season and enter the 2005 NFL Draft. Rodgers was selected by the Green Bay Packers with the 24th overall pick in the first round and spent three years as an apprentice to Packers legend and former Southern Miss star Brett Favre. Since becoming the team’s starter in 2008, Rodgers has led the Packers to a win in Super Bowl XLV where he was also named the game’s MVP. He’s also been named the league MVP twice (2011 and 2014), and through the 2015 season, he’s the league’s all-time career leader in passer rating. At this point, it’s clear that Rodgers has already punched his ticket to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Other notable Golden Bear quarterbacks

Pat Barnes – Drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 4th round of the 1997 NFL Draft with the 110th overall pick; spent two seasons in the NFL with Kansas City (1997) and Oakland (1998) before signing with NFL Europe’s Frankfurt Galaxy in the spring of 1999; joined the San Francisco 49ers that fall, but returned to Frankfurt in the spring of 2000; threw 30 touchdown passes during his two seasons in Frankfurt; played for the XFL’s San Francisco Demons in 2001; joined the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the 2002 season; signed with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in the spring of 2003 before returning to Winnipeg that summer.

Dave Barr – Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 4th round of the 1995 NFL Draft with the 119th overall pick; failed to make the team in Philadelphia and ended up with the St. Louis Rams later that season where he threw for the only 42 yards of his career; played one year for the Scottish Claymores in 1997.

Fred Besana – Drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 5th round of the 1977 NFL Draft with the 115th overall pick; played briefly for the Bills that fall and then again for the New York Giants in 1978; five years after his NFL career ended, he became the starting quarterback for the USFL’s Oakland Invaders remaining with the team for three seasons (1983-1985).

Bob Celeri – Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 10th round of the 1950 NFL Draft with the 127th overall pick; played for the NFL’s New York Yanks in 1951 and the original Dallas Texans in 1952.

Mike Pawlawski – Drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 8th round of the 1992 NFL Draft with the 222nd overall pick after being named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year in 1991; he spent one year with the Buccaneers before finding success in the Arena Football League from 1995-2001.

Troy Taylor – Drafted by the New York Jets in the 4th round of the 1990 NFL Draft with the 84th overall pick; he spent just two years with the Jets attempting a total of just 20 passes in his NFL career.





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