Mark Patton: A tag-along son takes a stroll through the memory lane of sport | Sports

Bob Dylan declared in 1964 that times would change. When I was a teenager, I finally got the news.

It was struck home with a sledgehammer last Saturday exactly 50 years ago … October 9, 1971.

UC Santa Barbara lost a heartbreaking football game that night, aged 15-14, to a school called San Fernando Valley State on the infield of a rickety old racetrack known as Devonshire Downs.

But for John Nadel, the Santa Barbara News-Press sports writer who started the action for KTMS Radio, the real heartbreak of the game came when he had to announce the death of his “boss, mentor and dear friend” editor Philip Patton.

My father.

Most of us have to face the tragic moment of losing a parent at some point, but it was way too early for Dad’s seven children. Pop was only 45. Mom had given birth to my youngest sister, Maureen, just six months earlier.

Phil Patton fought cancer for three years. He amazed his doctors by holding out even so long after evoking his innate Irish determination to spend a little more time with his little girl.

Much of the sports world my father knew and wrote about was also coming to an end. UCSB dropped football like a greased pig after that 1971 season after losing eight of eleven games and hundreds of thousands of dollars from the gauchos’ budget.

The San Fernando Valley State changed its name to CSU Northridge after the same season, then bought and mined Devonshire Downs for other campus purposes. It fought its way through another three decades of football before dropping the increasingly expensive sport too.

My father’s life had other parallels to UCSB besides the sudden death of gaucho football. The News-Press had lured him away from the Merced Sun-Star in 1954. That same year, the university moved from its cramped space on the Santa Barbara Riviera to its new excavation on the sprawling mesa above the Goleta Slough.

UCSB’s grand plans for the new campus included an exercise program at major colleges to rival those of their UC brothers in Westwood and Berkeley.

It built Robertson Gym with a state-of-the-art, spring-loaded floor. It even persuaded defending NCAA Champion Cal to become his first opponent at the new facility, playing against the Golden Bears on December 14, 1959.

Phil Patton became the first “voice of the gauchos” that evening and called up the radio play-by-play for KTMS. I was only 5 years old at the time, but I still remember exactly how I accompanied him in the overhanging press box of the fitness studio. It was the first of a thousand times that he let me be taken away.

The game was close the entire time, stirring the sold out crowd to roar with every gaucho basket. Dad laughed out loud when he noticed that I covered my ears. During a commercial break, he took off his headset, leaned over and said, “Take everything with you, son … you have to remember that night.”

Papa’s workload as a sports journalist soon included the radio play for all UCSB basketball and soccer games. After all, the gauchos weren’t just a sporty beat to Dad, they got his heartbeat going.

A SHORT TIME IN THE GREAT TIME: A few years later, in 1966, UCSB added a new football stadium to its growing sports complex. John Keever, a tight end who got a touchdown pass during the first game at the facility, once recalled the pageantry of the day:

“The band marched through Isla Vista and the students followed the band into the stadium,” he said. “And then the students lined up and built a tunnel in front of the locker room, and we came out of the tunnel to the tune of ‘The Lonely Bull’.”

Nobody was lonely that day. The game drew 11,500 fans, just a few hundred less than the stadium’s capacity at the time.

The hustle and bustle in the city moved my father to write: “Nov. 12 must go down in the sports history of UCSB as a significant day in its further development as one of the coming great universities in the West. “

Click to enlarge

Phil Patton, left, was the first “voice of the gauchos” to play play-by-play of UCSB football and basketball games on KTMS radio. (Photo by the UCSB Athletic Hall of Fame)

There were already plans to add a 4,000-seat section beyond an end zone. The master plan envisaged a possible expansion to 33,000.

Jack Curtice, the gaucho’s well-traveled coach, was encouraged enough to arrange football trips to Washington and Tennessee for 1971. Contracts were also signed for future games in Wisconsin and Northwestern. He’s even got power conference schools like Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Air Force to agree to play at UCSB.

“And should the day come when the seating capacity of the new stadium is tripled,” Dad wrote, “then UCSB could offer a sufficient guarantee to bring a Big Ten, Southeastern or even Pacific-8 Conference here to Santa Barbara. “.”

That would actually prove to be true, except for another sport. The soccer stadium, opened by UCSB in 1966, became home to a national men’s soccer team exactly four decades later.

FOUR STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT: That was also the case with Santa Barbara’s touch of professional baseball. It took four separate swings over the course of 26 years, beginning in 1941 with a Brooklyn Dodgers farm club called the Santa Barbara Saints.

The city’s final twists and turns came when Dad and several local businessmen, led by Caesar Uyesaka and Jerry Harwin, persuaded the expansion of the New York Mets to place one of their new farm clubs in Santa Barbara’s historic Laguna Park in 1962.

However, an incident that summer pissed my father over at the new residents of Laguna. He informed me after reading his article on Rogers Hornsby, a baseball hall of famer who had come to town to give punch lessons to several interested parties.

I pointed to a picture of my favorite player, the team’s 18-year-old prodigy, and asked, “What does he think of Paul Blair?”

Dad paused with a grimace before deciding that his 8-year-old son needed to learn about the ugly side of the world.

“He said they were going to let Blair go,” he replied. “He said the Mets didn’t have colored players.”

He said he passed Hornsby’s racist comments to Uyesaka and Harwin – and that the Mets would not have a home in Santa Barbara either. They got the Los Angeles Dodgers to replace them at Laguna Park in 1963 with their own California League Class A team.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers didn’t last long in Laguna Park either. The crowd was throttled by too many humid evenings. The club eventually rolled out of town in fog and moved to Bakersfield after the 1967 season.

Three years later, the city tore down Laguna Park and filled the four city blocks with various office buildings, a maintenance yard and affordable housing.

Phil Patton watched one of the last baseball games there at the end of the 1970 Junior League season in Santa Barbara. A few months later, in his last column, he wrote about the devastating loss of such a sporting landmark “in terms of both prestige and economy for our community”.

The ever resilient Santa Barbara, however, could fill the void the Dodgers had left without a ballpark. The Santa Barbara Foresters college summer team would win its ninth National Baseball Congress World Series championship just two months ago.

THE MOST DIFFICULT TO WRITE: But Dad didn’t get into sports journalism to absorb the thrill of someone else’s success. He explained this in his farewell column “Patton’s Press Box” from January 24, 1971. It was under the heading “The Hardest One to Write”.

He described his “16 years, four months, and 23 days” on the Santa Barbara sports beat as “a labor of love,” but declined to mention any of the major victories and championships he had recorded. In the end, that didn’t really matter to him.

Instead, he emphasized the “friendships made … the joys of observing and reporting athletes despite all the excitement of the competition … and the simple but meaningful associations with other people who are also committed to everything that is good and valuable in athletics. It is the people and not the events that are so fondly remembered. “

Phil Patton would be thrilled to know that a sports institution he helped found here in 1968, the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, is still successful today. He would be particularly pleased about the recognition given to young athletes for their scholarship and their athletic achievement as well as their athletic achievements.

He would have disapproved of the phenomenon of smack-talk sports journalism spawned a few decades ago by UCSB graduate Jim Rome. He would, however, have smiled at Rome’s incessant expansion of all gaucho.

Dad would also have loved to see his eldest son Greg play tennis for UCSB and become the youngest head coach in its history at the age of 24 in 1976 … or his granddaughter Megan the gaucho softball court in 2002 … or another granddaughter , Chelsea, joining UCSB’s sports administration in 2020.

And that weekend, Greg’s son, Garrett Philip Patton, turned 50.

And of course the fellow traveler son just had to try it out.

– Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports journalist. Contact him at (JavaScript must be activated to display this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook. The opinions expressed are his own.

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