Occidental Football Celebrates 20th Anniversary of National TV Appearance
Former players from Occidental’s 1982 football team, which upset the University of San Diego 34-20 on national television during an NFL players’ strike, will reunite on Saturday, Oct. 19 to relieve their 15 minutes of fame.
Members of the ’82 squad, including former Los Angeles Raider Vance Mueller, will meet in Occidental’s Alumni Gymnasium at 4 p.m. to watch a tape of the CBS broadcast on big-screen television. They also will be recognized at the 103rd playing of the Oxy-Pomona-Pitzer game –Southern California’s oldest intercollegiate rivalry -- at 7 p.m.
Their story goes something like this: In 1982, the National Football League Players Association staged a 57-day work stoppage that left the major television networks scrambling to fill air time on Sunday afternoons.
Three weeks into the strike, and needing to get some football on TV, CBS decided to point its cameras at the Occidental-San Diego game. What happened next, says veteran head coach Dale Widolff, made for some great memories.
“I was sitting in my office the day after my second game as head coach and this guy from CBS called and told me they were looking to broadcast some games in our area. He asked if we could move our next game from Saturday to Sunday and after talking with our athletic director, I said ‘Absolutely!’”
The game itself created a lot of buzz, but so did the week leading up to it. Several local TV stations interviewed coaches and players while CBS erected a 10-foot scaffolding for the broadcast. Extra preparation time was spent helping the announcers, Dick Stockton and Hank Stramm, glean as much info as they could on the players.
“Those guys were phenomenal,” remembers Widolff. “They took the game seriously and talked to as many people as they could to get themselves ready.”
It also helped that the Tigers won. Everything had to break perfectly for Oxy to have a chance and it did, including two trick plays that set up the final score. Mueller, a 1986 graduate who went on to play six seasons for the Raiders, scored three touchdowns and was named the “Chevrolet Player of the Game.”
The Tigers ended up 5-5 that year and went to the NCAA Division III playoffs the next three seasons.
“We weren’t totally shocked that we won,” says Widolff. “We enjoyed all the things around the event but did a great job of focusing during the game. For a group of 18-19 year olds, that’s not easy to do.”
And so it was that Occidental defeated San Diego 34-20 on national TV, right after the gripping West Georgia vs. Millsaps game. It might not have shattered the Nielsen ratings, but to Occidental players, fans, and alumni it was pure magic.