Eddie LeBaron was worldly wise.
Emotion crackled in his voice when he spoke about combat and heroism, having been decorated with the Purple Heart and Bronze Star from his tour in the Korean War. He could debate about law, politics and business, and he especially enjoyed talking about football.
The late Bill Conlin, a decadeslong Bee columnist, once said LeBaron, “knows more about football, college or pro, than any other human being.”
LeBaron, who died April 1 at 85 and was remembered Tuesday at a reception at the University of the Pacific, once grabbed me softly by the arm and said with conviction: “Listen, you tell those high school and college players you cover every day that body size doesn’t matter. It’s how big you play.”
LeBaron played big at 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds. He had big stories, too, spanning 12 NFL seasons and four Pro Bowls. LeBaron enjoyed the stage, small and large. He played twice at Hughes Stadium, once each with the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, when the NFL played exhibition games on the West Coast at non-pro venues to drum up interest.
And LeBaron reveled in recalling a famous night in NFL history, tied to Sacramento.
In a 1989 column by Conlin, LeBaron detailed a Redskins’ 30-7 exhibition loss to the 49ers at Hughes and the firing of a coaching icon – all unfolding in the lobby of the old Senator Hotel.
“That was when our owner, George Preston Marshall, got into an argument with our coach, the famous Curly Lambeau, who was a pioneer along with George Halas in the league,” LeBaron said then. “The upshot was that George fired Curly about 1 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, and the impact of the story was wasted nationally, particularly in Washington. It was like (George) Steinbrenner firing one of his Yankee managers in a hotel closet and without a press conference.”
LeBaron was pained to learn of his beloved Pacific football program folding in 1995. The official word from the Pacific Board of Regents then was to “suspend football on a temporary basis.”
Said LeBaron then, “Football there is gone for good, and it’s so sad.”
LeBaron knew tradition couldn’t fill cavernous Stagg Stadium, a who’s who of greats that included Amos Alonzo Stagg himself, and LeBaron’s 1949 team – “The Black Knights of the Calaveras” – that went 11-0. Tom Flores led the nation in passing efficiency in 1956 and Dick Bass led the country in rushing in 1958.
By the 1990s, Pacific was hanging on by a thread with thinning crowds and losing teams.
CRC coach moves on
James Giacomazzi, who coached the Cosumnes River College men’s basketball team to two conference championships in the past five seasons, has accepted the same post with Las Positas College in Livermore, where he and his family live. Giacomazzi had six playoff berths in his 10-year stint with CRC. Longtime CRC assistant coach Nicholas Podesta, an on-campus coach with a reputation as a strong local recruiter, is in the running as a replacement.
Cal’s big boost
Having signed McDonald’s All-American Ivan Rabb to a letter of intent this week, Cal basketball just jump-started a new era.
Rabb, a 6-11 center, led Bishop O’Dowd High School past Bee No. 1 Capital Christian in the 2014 Northern California Open Division playoffs and eliminated Bee No. 1 Folsom from Open play last month. Rabb won the CIF State Open title by beating Mater Dei of Santa Ana with a free throw with a half-second remaining in front of a delirious, pro-O’Dowd crowd at Cal.
Cal’s other top recruits in recent decades include Kevin Johnson of Sacramento after he led the state in scoring in 1983; Jason Kidd of St. Joseph’s of Alameda in 1992 after he played his final prep game at Sleep Train Arena; Shareef Abdur-Rahim in 1995 after an All-America career in Georgia; Leon Powe of Oakland Tech in 2003 after earning State Player of the Year honors, and Ryan Anderson of Oak Ridge in 2006.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.