By James L. LambertForty-three years is a span of time that feels like an eternity to most people. However, for a number of participants in La Jolla Country Day’s first important high school football victory, it could have happened yesterday.
In the early ‘60s, La Jolla was still a village. Access to the small La Jolla beach community was reached by driving along a steep, winding road passing Camp Matthews down to the shores, or from the south through Bird Rock. In those days, there was still plenty of open land along the hills above La Jolla’s fabulous beaches.
Country Day School, known as the Balmer School from 1926-55, once occupied a mix of buildings on Fay Avenue and Bishops Lane. Wisteria Cottage was its home base. By 1955, it had become La Jolla Country Day School.
Beginning Year 5In 1966, LJCDS was only in its fifth year of football. The Torreys football field was adjacent to the old Camp Matthews Marine gunnery range.
Bob Kennedy, a graduate of Bowdin College in Massachusetts, took over as the school’s head football coach in fall 1965. Just five years removed from a promising professional baseball career in the Cubs organization that was cut short by injury, Kennedy believed that the new football season showed promise for his ’66 team.
The 28-year-old head coach counted on a core of athletic seniors, and with talented junior running back Kevin Murphy returning, he knew his team would be competitive.
Fast startSupported by assistant coach John Fahey, the team got off to a high-speed start with lopsided scores. It didn’t take long for the players to realize the big test they would face that next Saturday.
The team from Mt. Empire High School was ranked No. 1 among all small schools in Southern California that fall. Mt. Empire featured three players that ran “the 100 in 10 flat … and they were fast,” recalled Murphy.
Country Day defensive lineman Duke Warren remembered his opponents as well. As one of the bigger players on the ’66 team, Warren recounted how big his opponents’ wrists were.
Facing the undefeatedMt. Empire had just come off an undefeated season, including a lopsided win over Country Day, averaging more than 40 points per game. Kennedy had scouted the team and said that it was “the best small high school football team he had ever seen.”
Mt. Empire featured a strong running game that was difficult to defense. By the end of the first half, the teams were tied 14-14. The score so far was amazing considering the loss of Murphy, Country Day’s leading scorer, early in the first quarter with an ankle injury.
During much of the game, Kennedy instructed his players, including two-way starter David Burton, to key on Mt. Empire’s pulling guard. Warren and other defenders, including Peter Murphy, Lee Benjamin and Robin Woods, had the tough assignment of containing Mt. Empire’s running game.
But the coach attributed his team’s success that day to the strong protection his offensive line gave Murphy, quarterback Burton, wide receivers Jim Jamieson and Jon Grout. The line - consisting of John Meanly, Doug Harvey, Duke Warren, Lee Lambert and Jim Dow - faced an opponent that averaged 25 to 40 pounds larger, per man.
Gaining confidenceAs the third quarter was winding down, Warren remembers his team drawing confidence from quarterback Burton.
“He never panicked. … He was confident in the huddle.” By midway in the fourth quarter, “Murphy sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown to give the (CD) football team a 28-21" lead, according to a La Jolla Light postgame report.
Then things really got tense.
As time was running out, Mt. Empire’s quarterback, Bill Richards, got his team close to the Torreys’ goal line.
Murphy remembers it well. With a bad ankle and helplessly sitting on the sidelines, he thought the situation looked bleak. “I thought we were going to lose the game.”
As a senior two-way starter, Warren had a feeling of desperation as his fellow defenders were holding on to the very end.
Off the deflectionIn Mt. Empire’s last offensive play from scrimmage, Richards threw a quick pass to his receiver that was deflected at the very last moment by defender Woods. “It was a terrific play by Robin Woods,” Kennedy said.
The Torreys finished 1966 with a 6-1-1 record.
James L. Lambert regularly writes for a number of Web sites and is also the host of the cable show “Night Lights TV.” Presently, Lambert is working on his second book, “Seventeen Lives.”
Where are they now?
- Coach Kennedy left teaching to pursue a career as a defense attorney. Today, he is retired but continues his passion as an artist. His art was recently featured in American Art Collector magazine.
- Assistant coach John Fahey took over the reins as head coach of the Torreys the following year. He eventually left the school to become a Catholic priest.
- Duke Warren, now a Point Loma resident; Jim Jamieson; David Burton; and Kevin Murphy all went on to play freshman football in college (at Cal; Stanford; Dartmouth; and University of Nevada, Reno, respectively). Only Murphy played varsity college football.
- Longtime La Jolla resident David Burton died in 2008. His widow, Sarah, was a cheerleader for the Torreys team in 1966.