Let Them Play: Santa Clara University Football
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1938 Sugar Bowl Santa Clara Football
History & Tradition

Santa Clara University played American football from 1896 through 1992. Her first and last games were played against traditional arch-rival St. Mary's College.

Santa Clara played on the major college level until 1952. During that time the Broncos competed favorably on the national level and locally with the likes of Stanford, California, and St. Mary's. From 1929 to 1942, Santa Clara was blessed with a succession of talented coaches, all Notre Dame alumni, who brought the Broncos to the pinnacle of national glory. Adam Walsh, Joe Boland, Maurice "Clipper" Smith, Lawrence T. "Buck" Shaw were worthy disciples of Rockne and the Golden Dome. Home games were played in Kezar Stadium in San Francisco with the "Little" Big Game against St. Mary's, drawing 60,000 plus capacity crowds.

In the seven years under "Buck" Shaw, SCU teams went 47-10-4 with impressive wins over Auburn, Arizona, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Michigan State, Purdue, Oklahoma, UCLA, Oregon State, California and Stanford. Under successive coaches Buck Shaw and Len Casanova, Santa Clara would triumph in three major bowl games, 1937 Sugar Bowl over Louisiana State, 21-14; 1938 Sugar Bowl over Louisiana State, 6-0 and the 1950 Orange Bowl over Kentucky, 21-13. Due to the advent of the professional San Francisco 49ers, two platoon football, and increased costs, Santa Clara dropped football following the 1952 season.

The sport was reinstated on the small college level in 1959 with George "Pat" Malley as head coach. Until 1982, the Broncos played as an independent, establishing rivalries with regional schools such as Nevada (Reno), California Davis, Portland State, UNLV, Cal State-Northridge and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Upset victories over Hawaii, UOP, UC, Santa Barbara and Fresno State and strong intersectional small colleges Florida A&M and Montana State helped establish Santa Clara as a Division II power on the West Coast.

Under Pat Malley the Broncos went 141-100-3 in 26 seasons. For his efforts Pat was awarded Northern California Coach of the Year honors four times and District IX Coach of the Year in 1979. The "modern era" was highlighted by the Broncos going 8-2 in the 1980 regular season and upsetting highly favored Northern Michigan in the NCAA Division II playoffs before a capacity crowd of over 10,000 fans in Buck Shaw Stadium.

In 1982, SCU joined the Western Football Conference as a charter member competing with other Division II scholarship awarding institutions. It was during this period that the Little Big Game with St. Mary's again became a major event for both Catholic campuses, marked by hard hitting contests, close scores, inspired play and unprecedented rival student body enthusiasm and reciprocal college stunts. The Little Big Game Bell, awarded to the victor, again became a coveted prize. The annual affair was televised for the first time in 1991 with SCU coming out victorious 44-14.

Terry Malley assumed the head coaching reigns upon his father's untimely passing in 1984. From 1985 to 1992, Terry posted a 49-38-1 record including five winning seasons and the Western Football Championship in 1985.

Santa Clara football athletes consistently distinguished themselves on and off the field garnering numerous Academic All American and NCAA post-graduate awards.

In 1988, Fr. Richard Coz, S.J. conducted a study of the modern era football student-athletes. Over 40% had gone on to become attorneys, medical doctors, educators and business executives (not including engineers and CPAs). Twenty-three players from 1963-1985 were selected Little All America with 64 players being selected All-Western Football conference from 1982 through 1991. Santa Clara players having distinguished themselves in the National Football League include Dan Pastorini, Doug Cosbie, Jim Leonard, Don Brown, Bryan Barker, and Brent Jones.

In 1992 the NCAA legislated that Division I schools could no longer field Division II or III football teams, and would henceforth be required to maintain Division I-A or I-AA programs. The legislation affected 27 schools, 26 of which opted to retain football and upgrade to the Division I-A or I-AA level. Only Santa Clara, citing financial pressures on the university as a whole, opted to discontinue the sport, much to the bitter disappointment of many students, alumni, friends and long-time supporters.

The Let Them Play Foundation was organized as a non-profit organization in 1994 dedicated to bringing back American football to the Mission Campus. The Foundation will continue to keep the flame alive: to educate, inspire and rally loyal alumni and friends in a positive and constructive way to the cause.

With hard work and dedication, Bennie Bronco will ride again!

© 2008, Let Them Play Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization incorporated in the state of California. Not affiliated with Santa Clara University. Use of the words 'Santa Clara', 'Broncos', or other descriptions and accounts of Santa Clara Football are used solely within a fair use of same and is provided solely as a means of historical information and context to the public domain. All rights reserved.