Tell a Californian that his favorite movie hero puts his hair up at night and he'll laugh with you. Tell him his favorite starlet wears dungarees and drives a pickup truck. Joke about his clothes, his smog, his cars, the algae in his swimming pools, all of it. Just don't kid around about the California junior-college transfer system that turns out his Dennis Dummits and transforms his UCLA from a tired old 3-7 to a serious Rose Bowl contender.
This gets the Californian mad, this Eastern and Midwestern complaint about the so-called deepfreeze of football talent out on the West Coast. Everybody knows someone who was once a Jaycee. Your best friend was a Jaycee, your neighbors were Jaycees, your dentist, doctor, lawyer, psychiatrist and cleaning lady were all Jaycees, and it's one hell of an educational system. So what's the big deal every now and then if a Jackie Robinson or a Bob Water-field or a Mel Farr or a Hugh McElhenny or an O.J. Simpson or a Dennis Dummit happens to come out of one of those Long Beach City Colleges?
Academically, the Californian will argue that two years in one of his Jaycee plants, en route to UCLA or USC or Cal is probably a whole lot better than two years in Ole Miss majoring in how to beat Alabama. There are 79 of these institutions sprawled all over the country's most populous state (almost twice as many as the next highest state) and only the top 12% of students make it into the big schools whether they can throw a pass like Dennis Dummit or not. The Jaycees, or community colleges as they are called, are part of California's master plan to get everybody some kind of higher education, and it is only natural that a good many talented football players come out of them. Out of 500,000 students in the community colleges, there couldn't help but be a few throwers and runners, could there?
What makes outsiders sort of sneer at the situation is, first of all, the fact that West Coast teams go around beating other people with all of their legendary transfer stars. In the spring they seldom know what kind of teams to expect, because it isn't September and the transfers haven't shown up yet. O.J. graduates, so USC might not have a runner, but along comes Clarence Davis out of East Los Angeles College and all is well. UCLA tries it a year without a Gary Beban, and Tommy Prothro is very unhappy with his 3-7 record. So in comes this Dennis Dummit from Long Beach City College, who can throw the football, and all of a sudden the Bruins are 6 and 0, averaging 37 points a game, exploding for 570 yards in total offense every Saturday, and, just like in the good times with Beban, the grandstands are shouting, "We're No. 1."
October 27, 1969
Another thing that encourages the wrath of outsiders is the fact that it is possible for a transfer athlete to play two or three games of varsity football before he has ever attended a class. UCLA had four such players do this very thing this season. Before the autumn semester began the four Bruins in question had helped Prothro's team put it on Oregon State, Wisconsin and Northwestern.
"This may strike some people as being unusual," said Prothro last week. "But is it any more unusual than an athlete helping his school win an NCAA championship in track and field in June after he's graduated? The rules permit both things."
Californians argue strongly that no such thing as a deepfreeze exists, the implication of that phrase being that the big schools put good athletes who are poor students into junior colleges for a year or two to keep them on hold.
"I don't know a coach who wouldn't rather have a kid come to him as a freshman than as a junior," Prothro said. "He would certainly know more about what you're trying to accomplish. But the Jaycees play good football, and everybody recruits them the way you recruit high schools. They have to be good students to get in. And they don't always help you. For every great one you can name there are many more who never do the job. It used to be that a coach was hesitant to take a Jaycee kid. He figured the kid wouldn't fit in, but that's old-fashioned."
Actually, Prothro has not depended on Jaycee help at UCLA nearly as much as John McKay has at USC. There are only nine transfers on the Bruin squad right now. Only four transfers are starting on defense, and Dummit is the only transfer on the offensive unit. Only Dummit! It is Dummit who has turned UCLA around. But as transfers go, he is hardly what anyone could describe as having come out of the freezer.
First of all, nobody wanted Dummit when he got out of high school in Long Beach. Everybody wanted the guy who played ahead of him, a thrower named Bob Gritch. UCLA signed Gritch. But so did the Baltimore Orioles, and they paid him money. Gritch still went to UCLA and played baseball in the Texas League instead of football in West-wood. Dummit, meanwhile, was talked to by Utah, Navy and Long Beach State and offered nothing. So he went to the community college to prove himself as a player, hoping to be offered a chance at the big time when he was a junior.
A good-looking, yellow-blond 6-footer, who wears a sweatband around his head to make his headgear fit, Dennis developed in the Jaycees as a passer, a cool, accurate thrower with what Prothro calls "the best anticipation" of any passer he's coached. Last December Prothro knew he wanted Dummit—needed Dummit—and he got him. Dennis enrolled in the spring quarter and had the spring drills to try and learn UCLA's multiple, highly-sophisticated offense, which features just about everything from pro spreads to triple options, with no doubt the widest spacing of any line in the country.
"We had to find a quarterback, and I went to the Jaycees to get one," said Prothro. "I'm happy I found one with a 3.6 grade average as well as an arm."
There can be no question that Dummit has made UCLA the biggest surprise among the nation's undefeated teams. If he can be as good as he was against California last Saturday in what was supposed to be UCLA's first stern test—good enough to make it a 32-0 laugher—then he just might hurl the Bruins past Stanford this week. Then the whole Rose Bowl thing, not to mention something to do with the national rankings, will come down once again to that stroll through the zoo known as the USC-UCLA game. Even should UCLA lose to Stanford—and it could—the USC game would be decisive, for a UCLA victory would throw the conference into a three-way tie and give the Rose Bowl nod to the Bruins for having a better overall record.
Prothro is still not sure how good UCLA is. There was no way for him to know after the Bruins had whipped only Oregon State (37-0), Pitt (42-8), Wisconsin (34-23), Northwestern (36-0) and Washington State (46-14). These were have-not teams. But he thought the Cal game would tell him something. Cal had lost to Texas in its opener, but it had come back to beat Indiana and then romp past Rice and Washington. It had a good defense.
Cal either told him nothing or it told him he had the best UCLA team of his career. "We have a chance to be better than either of our good Beban teams," Prothro said.
If UCLA is truly this good, Dummit's passing mixed with the running of Greg Jones and Mickey Cureton—strong, strong running—and Prothro's usual swarm 'em defense will be the reason. Last week on a pleasant fresh-air day in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Dennis Dummit, with marvelous poise and confidence, hit five of the first eight passes he threw, two for touchdowns. The UCLA defense permitted Cal only one first down during the first two quarters and there was nothing much left to decide.
Dummit, who saw UCLA play only one game in the two years he was at Long Beach, ran the offense as if he had installed it instead of the coach. Mixing his passes to Gwen Cooper with the inside traps and counters of Jones and Cureton, the Bruins moved at their own pleasure and leisure. The game lolled along at 18-0 for most of the afternoon, with the suspense limited to whether both Jones and Cureton would gain over 100 yards. In the last few minutes, however, another guy got in the act. He was Bill Bolden, who was once Beban's sub at quarterback but has since become a runner. His modest feat was to break through the Cal defense for touchdown runs of 65 and 41 yards and wind up with more than 100 himself.
Other teams have their Steve Owenses, like Oklahoma, and their Clarence Davises, like USC—these being ballcarriers who are making assaults on yardage records—but one has to wonder whether a combination of them isn't the best thing. Jones, a rangy and powerful senior, and Cureton, a zippy, medium-sized junior, give UCLA a ground attack. In six games now Jones has piled up 542 yards, and Cureton has shot into the secondaries for 496 yards. Combined, they have ripped off 1,000 yards, and there are two of them to look out for instead of just one.
Put this running with Dummit's splendid passing performances, and what you've got is surely the most high-powered offense on the West Coast. Dummit hit on nine of 13 against Cal for 202 yards, and in his six games he has thrown for 61 completions out of 107 tries for 1,201 yards and 11 touchdowns. Equally important, he has thrown only three interceptions.
Dummit is no Gary Beban. He may well have a more accurate arm and just as thorough an understanding of Prothro's offense, but he is about as much of a threat as a runner as Prothro himself. But his accuracy is devastating, and he runs the offense the way his coach wants it run, and the team follows him.
"I've always wanted to play major college football, to be a quarterback, to be a thrower," Dummit says. "I've had only two things in my hands for the last few years—a football and a golf club. Three or four days a week in the off season I throw and practice dropping back."
"Some kids have the knack of anticipating the route a receiver will take, of knowing just when to throw," Prothro adds. "Dennis has that knack. He's developed it, and he has the pure style of a good passer. I don't think he's great, and he doesn't either, although he's got confidence. But he's darn good. Better than most in the country."
And junior college did it. "My experience was invaluable," Dennis says. "I got to play a lot and learn something. If you're not a blue chipper out of high school, I'd recommend it."
So, of course, would Tommy Prothro. UCLA just might be headed for Pasadena this year by way of Long Beach.
Transfers are not new: Jackie Robinson helped lead UCLA to glory in 1938-39, Bob Waterfield guided the team to its first Rose Bowl in 1943 and Mel Farr was a hero during 1965-66.