Want to win a bar bet in these parts? Ask the person at the next stool to name the only football coach immortalized by a statue in the Bay Area.

Unless your bar-stool buddy is more than 70 years old or has a 1949 Rose Bowl game program handy, you'll almost surely win the bet. The answer isn't one of the local legends such as Bill Walsh or John Madden or Pop Warner -- or even Jim Harbaugh.

Give up?

The correct name is Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf, who coached Cal to three straight Rose Bowls from 1948-50. He left the school after the 1956 season with a 67-32-4 record and was so beloved that his former players formed an organization known as "Pappy's Boys." They raised money for the Waldorf statue near Memorial Stadium.

"To me, he was the image of everything a football coach could be," said Jack Hart, a sophomore on Waldorf's last Golden Bears team. "I think he was Cal football."

Makes you wonder: Why isn't Waldorf more celebrated around here on the same level as those other Bay Area coaching icons? Perhaps it's because in this day and age, our historical knowledge generally consists of the last "SportsCenter" update. Waldorf also never coached pro football, so there are no funny NFL Films highlights of him yapping at referees or reciting limericks, one of Waldorf's trademarks.

Instead, there's the statue. This weekend is the biggest weekend ever for that statue. Cal's season opener is Saturday night at home against Northwestern. You might call it a Waldorfapalooza.


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The reason: Waldorf was a celebrity at both schools. In 1947, Waldorf arrived at Cal immediately after 12 seasons at Northwestern, during which he set the Big Ten school's record for coaching victories (49). His mark there stood until last New Year's Day, when Northwestern won the Gator Bowl and allowed current Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald to win his 50th game.

And now -- in one of those romantic interfaces of lore and tradition that seem to occur only in college football -- Fitzgerald's next game is in Berkeley.

I've examined the football archives carefully. No coach has ever set a university's all-time winning record in one game, then coached his very next contest on a visiting campus where there's a monument to the coach who used to hold the record.

(Actually, I'm lying. I didn't check any archives. I just consulted with Cliff Clavin on the next bar stool, and we both agree that it must be true.)

Fitzgerald, reached by phone before a recent Northwestern practice, also was struck by the coincidence.

"I've studied Coach Waldorf, obviously," he said. "Quite frankly, it's a great honor to have passed his record. ... The success he had, it's up there on the Mount Rushmore of college football."

So does Fitzgerald plan to visit the Waldorf statue while he's in Berkeley?

"Is it close to the visiting locker room?" Fitzgerald asked. "This is my first time on that campus."

In truth, the statue is a few hundred yards away from the locker rooms, down in the faculty glade. That probably would have made Waldorf happy. He loved academics, made certain his players graduated (at a 90 percent rate, according to Pappy's Boys) and was a renowned Civil War buff. He established a similar standard at Northwestern, which to this day usually is among the national leaders in players' graduation rates.

Philosophical question to ponder: If the lips on Pappy's statue could speak, which team do you think he would root for this weekend?

"Oh, no question about it, he'd root for Cal," said Frank Brunk, who played on Waldorf's Rose Bowl teams in Berkeley. "I think he had a great affection for the university. I think this was a pretty important time in his life."

The statue might also root for revenge. Northwestern and Cal have met in football just once before -- at the 1949 Rose Bowl, when Waldorf and Cal lost 20-14 to his former Wildcats team. The game is remembered for several controversial plays, including a Northwestern touchdown that might have been a lost fumble by running back Art Murakowski before he crossed the goal line.

"We felt screwed," said Brunk, admitting he is still a little bitter. "A bunch of guys ran back to the bench and were angry about the call. Pappy just said: 'That was the call that was made, and we've got to play on.' That was Pappy."

Not that Waldorf was a mellow intellectual. He was regarded as an energetic innovator. In 1935, he was the first coach to have his defense shift before every play, in reaction to the offense's alignment. A year later, he unveiled a new unbalanced offensive line that is now recognized as the first slot formation, allowing four receivers to run downfield rather than two.

Ultimately, that's how Waldorf ended up in Berkeley. His success at Northwestern earned him a coaching invite to the 1936 East-West Shrine All-Star game in San Francisco, where he fell in love with the Bay Area and vowed to seriously consider any promising opportunity to coach here. Cal called Waldorf a decade later.

His fresh-idea reputation endures at both schools, however -- as evidenced by the answer Northwestern's Fitzgerald gave when I wondered about the one question he'd ask if he could go back in time and speak to Waldorf.

"Wow," Fitzgerald said, then paused to think. "I guess it would be: From a creativity standpoint, what gave you your inspiration? When you were making those innovations, what was the genesis? Because we have a lot of copycats in football right now, you know?"

Waldorf, who became the 49ers' director of college scouting after leaving Berkeley, retired in 1972 at age 70. He died in 1981. The rest is statuesque. Saturday night, if anyone on either team needs advice or strategy (or a limerick), Pappy is down there in the faculty glade, ready for kickoff.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com.

Saturday's season opener
Northwestern at Cal, 7:30 p.m. ESPN2