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Coming to Terms with 75

I turned 75 on Saturday.

That sounds very old to me.

In the last year or two, so many famous contemporaries of mine have passed away.

Lots of them in sports. Jim Brown. Dick Butkus, Vida Blue, Dick Fosbury, Willis Reed and Bobby Hull. Same in entertainment,  Ryan O'Neal, Tina Turner, Jimmy Buffet, Gordon Lightfoot, Raquel Welch and David Crosby.

It makes you realize, your time could come at any moment. The old saying, "you're only as old as you feel" holds true to a certain extent, but you can't escape the fact that the clock has ticked for 75 years and there are only so many ticks left.

With that in mind, I spent some time over the weekend reflecting on my life, on the things that have marked my time on the planet, both good and bad. 

I've been lucky. There are lots of great memories and highlights.

* My timing was great. I went to Stanford and worked in the Athletic Department during the iconic years when Jim Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy and the Indians, as we were known in those days, upset Ohio State and Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

* I worked under a great mentor, Bob Murphy, who taught me so many valuable lessons about sports and PR, but most importantly, about life, friendship, loyalty and doing what's right.

* I was the staffer assigned to get quotes from the losing Rose Bowl coach in '71. Everyone figured it would be Stanford. Instead, I had to interview a furious Woody Hayes in the losing locker room. He was so mad he spit all over me as he raged about the "mad dog pass" from Plunkett to Bob Moore

* I was down on the field when Rod Garcia kicked the game-winning field goal to beat Michigan in the '72 Rose Bowl. 

* I had the chance to know and become friends with eight Stanford head football coaches--John Ralston, Jack Christiansen, Bill Walsh, Paul Wiggin, Jack Elway, Denny Green, Tyrone Willingham, and David Shaw.

* All good coaches and better men.

* I was there for the opening of Maples Pavilion in January, 1969. 

* Six years later, I was in my first year as SID (sports information director) when Rich Kelley led Stanford to the first Maples Miracle...wins over No. 2 UCLA and No. 6 USC on successive nights.


* Athletic Director Joe Ruetz was a great boss, a wonderful man, and an under-appreciated AD who really provided the impetus for Stanford's unparalleled women's sports program.

* After I left the athletic department, I bought second row seats in Maples near midcourt, a perfect vantage point to watch Mike Montgomery's great teams and my daughter's stint as a Stanford dollie.

* We had loge seats for the women's games. Tara VanDerveer's dynasty was part of the inspiration for Anne Cribbs, Steve Hams and I when we started the ABL.

* The ABL's opening night in October of 1996 was one of the most emotional days of my life. Standing at midcourt with Steve, Anne, Jennifer Azzi and Teresa Edwards, two of our founding players, realizing the dreams of thousands of young women by launching a pro basketball league in their country, when so many people said our league would never see the light of day, was pretty gratifying.

* We broke down some barriers and showcased the best players in the world--Azzi, Edwards, Dawn Staley, Nikki McCray, Katrina McClain, Valerie Still, Yolanda Griffith, Katie Smith, Edna Campbell, Taj McWilliams, and so many others who previously had to go overseas to earn a living.

* Closing down the league two and a half years later was heartbreaking. Maybe we were ahead of our time, but when the WNBA decided to follow in our footsteps, we couldn't compete with their deep pockets and leverage.

* In 2000 the San Francisco Giants hired me as a consultant to explore other uses for their new ballpark, and it wasn't long before club executive Pat Gallagher, SF Convention & Visitors Bureau President John Marks and I hatched a bowl game in AT&T Park.

* The first bowl game between Virginia Tech and Air Force Academy, known as the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl, was played in a downpour on New Year's Eve 2002. 

* After two years of struggling to gain a foothold, we were able to recruit Navy to play in our 2004 game, by then known as the Emerald Bowl. The Midshipmen, ranked in the top 25 with a 9-3 record, were being courted by many major bowls. Getting them to come to our new, little enterprise was quite a coup. 

* We brought in temporary bleachers to fill the gap in the outfield and let the Midshipmen have all 3000 seats, which created a dramatic image for the TV cameras on the other side of the stadium.

* The near sellout was the turning point for the bowl game; I'll always be grateful to Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk.

* We later had four sellouts during the years from 2006-2011 (Florida State-UCLA, Cal-Miami, USC-Boston College and Nevada-Boston College). The first three also ranked among the highest-rated bowl games ever aired on ESPN.

* The key to our success was a cadre of amazing volunteers who made sure the teams enjoyed a fantastic week in San Francisco.

* As legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden told me, "you really took great care of us and showed us a good time, but you also understood we had a football game to play."

* Favorite coaches from the bowl era included Mike Riley, Oregon State; Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech; Randy Shannon, Miami; Jeff Tedford, Cal; and Pete Carroll, USC.

* Other memorable highlights: meeting then Vice-President Joe Biden on the field after the Army-Navy game in 2012; talking Stanford (where her daughter had just enrolled) with first lady Hillary Clinton when our ABL champions Columbus Quest visited the White House in 1996; spending some time with Senator John McCain when he handled the coin flip at the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Navy vs. Arizona State); recruiting Boston Celtics' great K.C. Jones (above) to coach in the ABL; conducting bowl pep rallies in Union Square; hosting the Council of Chiefs booster breakfasts and dozens of team banquets; doing the Stanford highlights TV show with Bill Walsh, Ron Barr; Niels Melo, Gordy Ceresino and Don Bunce.

* I worked alongside talented colleagues like Nancy Peterson, Bob Rose, Anne Cribbs, Rich Nichols, Tracey Williams, Terri Lyon, Annette Shelby and Doug Kelly, and was supported by great volunteers like John Marks, Ron Kovas, Steve Steinhart, Jim Caylor, Chuck Hayes, Chris Johnson, Evan Combs, Heather Jones, Mike McElligott, Desiree Hemmelgarn, DeWayne Barnes and the late greats, Sam and Adele Goldman.

*  I was very blessed to love my work and enjoy going to work each day.

* Eight years ago, we retired and moved from the Peninsula to Danville's Blackhawk community. These days I'm enjoying retirement, spending time with my family, and writing this blog.

* Most of all, I'm blessed to have my incredible wife, Christy, three beautiful daughters, and four special grandchildren.

* 75 years. Regardless of what tomorrow brings, life's been good to me so far.

1 Comment

John Macaulay
John Macaulay
May 13

Happy birthday, Gary...great career, great life!

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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