Tradition, history and San Jose State football

Dr. Mary A. Papazian

It has been just days since San Jose State’s football team earned one of the biggest victories in its long and illustrious history. The campus is still abuzz!

Coach Brennan continues to build a great program, and the win against Arkansas might be just the beginning of more good things we see from the team this season. This continues momentum that started to build with the groundbreaking ceremony we held this summer that kicked off (no pun intended) the process of preparing the east side of CEFCU Stadium for a facility that will be known as the Spartan Athletics Center. This is a long time in coming and represents the next step in our ongoing rehabilitation of our South Campus athletic facilities for our entire campus and community.

Colleagues and peers who have gotten to know me over the years know how much I value tradition and history. Perhaps that is the Renaissance scholar in me. Fortunately, we have a great deal of tradition and history to draw upon at San Jose State, from our publishing the west’s oldest college literary magazine, Reed Magazine, to our longstanding football program. In fact, San Jose State’s first football game was played in 1893, almost 130 years ago, and Saturday night’s big win shows we are still going strong!

I firmly believe that a successful athletics program can play a positive role in raising the visibility of our university, just as can successful arts, innovation and other outward facing programs. We have seen this time and again nationally, where the success of a high-quality collegiate sports program elevates the school’s stature, both statewide but sometimes even nationally.

So the successes of our athletics program and our student-athletes are important components of the educational experience we are trying to achieve at San Jose State. And we are seeing the fruits of our leadership in the athletics department with its strong focus on academics and athletics, from athletics director Marie Tuite, through her coaching staff, student success staff and others who support the success of our more than 540 student-athletes.

In the fall, for example, Spartan women’s soccer won the Mountain West tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Championships. Our women’s and men’s golf programs both earned berths in their respective NCAA Championships this spring, with the women advancing to the national finals.

On the academic side, 86 student-athletes—an athletics department record—were recognized either as a President’s Scholar (4.0 GPA) or Dean’s Scholar (3.65 GPA or higher) at our most recent Honors Convocation.

In addition to following our current team, I have enjoyed learning about the storied names in San Jose State football history. Names like Claude Gilbert, Terry Shea, Bill Walsh, Dick Vermeil and Jeff Garcia, and going back even further, to the early days of Bob Titchenal and the ultimate Spartan, Bob Bronzan. We lost two of the greats in Spartan Football history recently in Dick Tomey and John Ralston, legendary figures who will never be forgotten.

SJSU alum and legendary coach Dick Vermeil (’58 Physical Education) speaks with Spartan football players

Remembering and honoring these alumni, these legends of San Jose State football and other sports, represent an important part of our institutional legacy. I know that pride in our past, pride in our previous and current sports glories, translates into civic pride for the university.

We have witnessed this very thing this week, with an early-morning “welcome back” gathering as the football team returned from Arkansas, a pep rally on campus yesterday to celebrate the victory and many news articles locally and even nationally that documented the historic nature of the Spartan upset win. The team even won “Reveal Suits National Team of the Week” honors from the Football Writers Association of America for its impressive and unexpected performance. What a great time to be a Spartan!

Photo by Justin Truong

One of the most historic and poignant of all Spartan Football stories is celebrated in late November and early December each year. During that period in 1941, the SJSU football team traveled to Hawaii, where they were to square off against the University of Hawaii on Dec. 13 and against Willamette University on Dec. 16. The games were never played, of course, due to the attack against U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor.

Spartan players, in the midst of chaos and tragedy, responded admirably and made us all proud. For their service during this period, and for facing the shock of war unexpectedly but with great bravery, the team received a commendation from the U.S. Secretary of the Navy.

We are proud to be associated with San Jose student-athletes like these who got their start here at our university, and we want to continue to nurture more of them. Their experience in our athletics programs often leads to careers in leadership, whether in business or in civic life.  Our commitment is to student-athlete welfare and success, and, as part of our newly released strategic plan Transformation 2030, we will be focusing this coming year on reviewing all we do to support student-athletes as we set the stage for our athletic and academic success in the next decade.

This, in fact, is one of the many reasons why I am honored to have been selected as a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Board of Directors. While the NCAA manages and governs intercollegiate sports for more than 1,100 colleges and universities, the first page of its website notes that “providing opportunities to earn a college degree is at the heart of our mission.”

That remains my focus, and it is the student-athlete focus where I believe I can contribute most in my NCAA Board of Director role.

No matter your sport of choice, I hope to see you throughout the year, cheering on your favorite SJSU team. Go Spartans!