From Pesky Sprott a century ago to Evan Weaver last fall, The Best of the Bears series has identified the top Cal athlete from each of the past 101 school years.
Often the selection was obvious. Other times we struggled to single out just one. And in 1943-44, owing to World War II, we threw up our hands and decided no one deserved inclusion on our list.
We recognized 11 multi-sport athletes, ranging from Brick Muller to Tony Gonzalez. Not surprisingly, football led the way with 31 selections, not counting the two-sport stars. And we highlighted 12 women, despite the fact that women’s sports didn’t take hold at Cal until the 1980s.
In addition to the yearly winners, we listed 159 more “honorable mention” choices, meaning that we identified a total of 259 elite Cal athletes.
*** In the video below, softball pitching ace Michele Granger (1992-93) tells us how she truly expected to strike out EVERY batter she faced:
Just for fun, Jake Curtis and I decided we’d choose our No. 1 athlete from each decade. The lists below were assembled independently, and we found consensus on just four of 10 — tennis legend Helen Wills, two-sport star Jackie Jensen, running back Chuck Muncie and swimmer Natalie Coughlin.
-- Jeff’s best by decade:
1920s: Helen Wills over two-sport wonder Brick Muller. Wills was regarded as the greatest women’s player through the first 60 years of the 20th century.
1930s: Sam Chapman powered Cal to its most recent football national championship and was a good enough baseball player to forge an MLB career.
1940s: Jackie Jensen might be Cal’s greatest two-sport athlete. Probably could have played professionally in baseball or football. Even Tony Gonzalez couldn’t say that.
1950s: Joe Kapp quarterbacked the Bears to their most recent Rose Bowl, now 61 years ago. Close over Les Richter and Don Bowden.
1960s: Darrall Imhoff by a hair over Craig Morton. Back-to-back Final Fours and a national title provide the difference.
1970s: Chuck Muncie . . . think Beast Mode, 1970s style.
1980s: Matt Biondi won 12 NCAA titles, set 12 world records, won 11 Olympics medals. Even Madame Butterfly bows to that.
1990s: Jason Kidd got a new basketball arena built. No doubt, a great decade: Russell White, Michele Granger, Tony Gonzalez. Tough crowd.
2000s: Natalie Coughlin never lost a dual-meet race. Ever. Won 12 NCAA titles, was three-time collegiate swimmer of the year. Plus the Olympic resume. Out-touches Aaron Rodgers at the wall.
2010s: Jared Goff set Cal passing records that may out-live your kids, was the No. 1 NFL draft pick and reached a Super Bowl in his third pro season.
-- Jake’s best by decade:
1920s: Helen Wills over Brick Muller.
1930s: Archie Williams, for gold in ’36 Olympics, just ahead of two-sport star Sam Chapman.
1940s: Jackie Jensen by a bit over Ann Curtis, because Jensen excelled in two sports that academic year.
1950s: Rod Franz, because he was a standout on both sides of the ball.
1960s: Craig Morton, first-team All-American by several services.
1970s: Chuck Muncie, second in the Heisman, just head of Bartkowski, who did not have his best football and baseball seasons in the same academic year.
1980s: Mary T. Meagher, over Matt Biondi, because Meagher had her Olympic success during her time at Cal, less than a month before the 1984-85 school year.
1990s: Tony Gonzalez, consensus first-team All-America in football, and starter on Cal’s 1997 Sweet 16 team.
2000s: Natalie Coughlin. I downgraded swimmers because Cal has had so many, but three-time national swimmer of the year is hard to beat.
2010s: Andrew Vaughn, with golfer Michael Kim second. Vaughn is the only Cal athlete to win the Golden Spikes award as the best player in the country.
THE BEST OF THE BEARS: SPORT-BY-SPORT
FOOTBALL (31): Babe Horrell (1923-24), Roy Riegels (1929-30), Arleigh Williams (1934-35), Bob Herwig (1936-37), Vic Bottari (1938-39), Rod Franz (1949-50), Johnny Olszewski (1050-51), Les Richter (1951-52), Ray Willsey (1952-53), Matt Hazeltine (1953-54), Joe Kapp (1958-59), Craig Morton (1964-65), John Garamendi (1965-66), Ken Wiedemann (1967-68), Ed White (1968-69), Chuck Muncie (1975-76), Joe Roth (1976-77), Harvey Salem (1982-83), Ron Rivera (1983-84), Hardy Nickerson (1985-86), Russell White (1990-91), Mike Pawlawski (1991-92), Dameane Douglas (1998-99), Deltha O’Neal (1999-2000), Aaron Rodgers (2003-04), J.J. Arrington (2004-05), Marshawn Lynch (2006-07), Jahvid Best (2008-09), Jared Goff (2015-16), Davis Webb (2016-17), Evan Weaver (2019-20).
BASKETBALL (20): Vern Corbin (1928-29), Joe Kintana (1931-32), Hal Eifert (1933-34), Merv LaFaille (1945-46), Bob McKeen (1954-55), Darrall Imhoff (1959-60), Bill McCliintock (1960-61), Dick Smith (1962-63), Russ Critchfield (1966-67), Jackie Ridge (1971-72), Ansley Truitt (1971-72), Colleen Galloway (1980-81), Mark McNamara (1981-82), Leonard Taylor (1988-89), Jason Kidd (1993-94), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (1995-96), Leon Powe (2005-06), Ryan Anderson (2007-08), Jerome Randle (2009-10), Kristne Anigwe (2018-19).
MULTI-SPORT (11): Pesky Sprott (1919-20), Brick Muller (1920-21), Taylor Douthit (1922-23), George Dixon (1926-27), Sam Chapman (1937-38), Grover Klemmer (1942-43), Jackie Jensen (1948-49), Earl Robinson (1955-56), Jack Yerman (1957-58), Steve Bartkowski (1974-75), Tony Gonzalez (1996-97).
SWIMMING (11): Ann Curtis Cuneo (1947-48), Peter Rocca (1977-78), Graham Smith (1978-79), Par Arvidsson (1979-80), Mary T. Meagher (1984-85), Matt Biondi (1986-87), Uger Taner (1994-95), Anthony Ervin (2000-01), Natalie Coughlin (2002-03), Ryan Murphy (2013-14), Missy Franklin (2014-15).
TRACK & FIELD (10): Jack Merchant (1921-22), Kenneth Churchill (1930-31), Archie Williams (1935-36), Marty Biles (1939-40), Guinn Smith (1940-41), Hal Davis (1941-42), Don Bowden (1956-57), Roger Olsen (1961-62), Eddie Hart (1969-70), Sheila Hudson (1989-90).
BASEBALL (5): Kenneth Gustafson (1944-45), John Fiscalini (1946-47), Mike Epstein (1963-64), Xavier Nady (1997-98), Andrew Vaughn (2017-18).
SOFTBALL (3): Michele Granger (1992-93), Jocelyn Forest (2001-02), Valerie Arioto (2011-12).
WATER POLO (3): Peter Schnugg (1972-73), Doug Healy (1973-74), Kirk Everist (1987-88).
ROWING (2): Varsity 8 (1927-28), Varsity 8 (1932-33).
TENNIS (2): Helen Wills (1924-25), Bud Chandler (1925-26).
GOLF (1): Michael Kim (2012-13).
SOCCER (1): Alex Morgan (2010-11).
Note: No athlete was selected for 1943-44
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