George Allen’s Last Game
With time on my hands, I was looking through some old programs and came across this one: Cal Sate Fullerton at Long Beach State in a Big West Conference football slobberknocker from 1990.
I went to Fullerton and Long Beach was our football rival. Sure, USC/ UCLA got all the publicity in Southern California, but each year, this game was a fierce one.
Honestly, neither program had much to hang a hat on. Fullerton had some good years and sent some players to the NFL. For a while, Titans’ running back Mike Pringle (a future Canadian Football League Hall of Fame player) held the single-game, Division 1-A rushing record of 357 yards. Luckily, I was there to see it live in a home game vs. New Mexico State.
However, both schools played in glorified high school stadiums off campus and usually averaged about 3,000 fans per game. They were Division 1 in name only because of basketball (this was during UNLV’s hey day) and Fullerton baseball.
Long Beach State was just not very good, but the 49ers administration made an effort to jump start the program. They hired legendary NFL head coach George Allen for the 1990 season.
Allen came in and promised the 49ers, which were 11-24 the previous 3 years, a winning season.
It didn’t look very good at the start, as Long Beach was blown out at Clemson en route to an 0-3 start. The Beach got back to 3-3, then dropped to 3-5, which put the Niners in a spot where they had to win the last 3 games to finish with a winning record.
Long Beach beat my beloved Titans 37-35, then Cal State Northridge to set a chance to finish above .500. It came down to the final game at home vs. UNLV (Nevada-Las Vegas).
With Fullerton not at home – we only had 3-4 home games a year – I went to that game in mid-November. It was a raw, misty day with a cold wind coming in off the Pacific – perfect football weather. The Beach hadn’t beaten Vegas in a long time, but the 49ers pulled it off 29-20.
The win put Long Beach State at 6-5 to finish the season. The old ball coach had held to his promise to bring a winning record. Elated, the players doused the 72-year-old Allen with the Gatorade bucket filled with, not Gatorade, but ice water. I remember seeing that moment and thinking, wow, that had to be cold on such a miserable day outside.
Allen stayed in the field to do post game interviews before his players carried him off the field on their shoulders.
The sad part: Allen came down with a cold after that game and… He never recovered. Allen, who was put in the pro football Hall of Fame posthumously, died 6 weeks later.
Long Beach State football lasted one more season, then shut down for good.