FOOTBALL MEETS GOLF AT BENEFIT TOURNEY
Football royalty converged upon Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club Monday to participate in the fifth annual Dave and Dan Classic.
A dozen Pro Football Hall of Famers were among the several dozen former NFL players who lent their celebrity to charity in the tournament co-hosted by Dave Wilcox and Dan Fouts.
Monday's event on a gorgeous summer afternoon had 276 participants, making it the largest independent fundraising golf tournament in the Northwest.
One team claimed the title in the scramble format, but the real winner was the Credit Union for Kids, which benefits Children's Miracle Network hospitals.
The 2017 event, bolstered by contributions from more than 100 corporate sponsors, raised a record $1,273,530 to help children in a number of hospitals, including Portland's OHSU Doernbecher.
"It's amazing what they raise here," says Fouts, 66, the former Oregon star who quarterbacked the San Diego Chargers from 1974-87. "It's mind-boggling, really."
For 25 years, the tournament was called the "Hank and Moose Open." It was hosted by former New York Yankees Hank Bauer and Bill "Moose" Skowron.
For 15 years, one of the celebrity participants was Wilcox, the former Oregon linebacker who went on to a storied career with the San Francisco 49ers from 1964-74.
"After Hank and Moose passed on, they needed someone to take it over," says Wilcox, 74, who played in seven Pro Bowls, was five times first-team All-Pro and was inducted into the Hall of Fame 2000.
Wilcox called Fouts — who had never played in the tournament — and asked him to partner with him. Fouts' father, Bob, was the 49ers' broadcaster during Wilcox's years with the club.
"A big guy named Wilcox twisted my arm, and that's all I needed," says Fouts, who led the NFL in passing yardage four straight years, was the first player to throw for 4,000 yards three consecutive seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. "I've known Dave since I was 15. He's a good friend, and he said this is a real successful tournament. I took his word for it, and he was right."
Many of the recipients of financial help through the Dave and Dan Classic are children with cancer. That's a special cause for Fouts, who lost a son, Dominic, to the disease at age 34 in 2012.
"This tournament has been generous enough to donate money to our foundation (the Dominic Fouts Memorial Cancer Fund), which has helped us a lot," Dan Fouts says. "We raise money for families of cancer victims for bills that are not covered by insurance."
Two common denominators in Monday's celebrity field: Chargers and Ducks.
Among the ex-Chargers who played were Hall of Fame receiver Charlie Joiner, Hank Bauer (not the former Yankee), Rolf Benirschke, Bob Horn and Louie Kelcher.
"I wish I could get more (ex-Chargers)," says Fouts, who will begin his 30th season as a TV analyst for NFL games in September. "But we had a really good turnout this year. You rely on your friends sometimes, and they come through for you."
Among the ex-Ducks who took part were Hall of Fame defensive back Mel Renfro, Mike Walter, Greg Moser, Wes Mallard, Tony Graziani and Wilcox's sons, Justin and Josh. Also on hand was former UO coach Mike Bellotti.
Dave Wilcox says he plays in about a dozen charity golf events every year.
"This is one of the best," says Wilcox, who lives in Junction City. "We know so many of the guys who come to this. We know the guys who need to be here."
Among those guys was Renfro, 75, the Jefferson High grad who has several family members living in the area. Sons Melvin Jr. and Tony live in Portland, and daughter Cindy is in Seattle.
"This is home," says Renfro, who now lives in Dallas. "It's fun to see my kids, relatives and former classmates who live up here. It's fun to be able to see my old football buddies and tell some stories.
"But really, it's about being here to help the sick kids. We've been given so much as athletes, we want to do what we can to give back."
That's the way Joiner looks at it, too.
"This is my seventh straight year playing in this tournament," says Joiner, 69, who had 750 career receptions — many of them thrown by Fouts — for 12,146 yards in a career that lasted from 1969-86. "I wouldn't miss it. Whenever you can help children, it's a great cause. Plus, one of the great rewards you get for still being alive is seeing your old teammates."
Joiner retired as the NFL leader in career receptions and receiving yardage. Now he ranks 38th and 22nd, respectively. It's a different game these days.
"They throw 50 passes a game," says the 5-11 Joiner, who now weighs 165 pounds, 20 fewer than in his playing days. "Back when I was playing, it was 25, maybe. You had to run the ball back then. If I could stay at my 20s and early 30s physical shape, I'd do pretty good in today's game, I think. I might have over 1,000 catches."
That could be true, too, for Fred Biletnikoff, who finished with 589 receptions for 8,974 yards during his 14 seasons with Oakland (1965-78). The 6-1, 190-pound Biletnikoff led the NFL with 61 catches in 1971 and was the 1977 Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
"It's so much more wide open now," says Biletnikoff, 74, who lives in Roseville, California, and still does public-relations work, appearances and speaking engagements for the Raiders. "I enjoy it. When they started bringing four wide receivers in, it gave more (receivers) a job. Rather than running the ball, you have one guy in the backfield and the two slot receivers have replaced a running back. That's given guys like Wes Welker a chance to do their thing."
Biletnikoff, a close friend of Wilcox, was participating in his first Dave and Dan Classic.
"To be part of this is really terrific," Biletnikoff says. "And to get to play this golf course is unbelievable."
The Biletnikoff Award now goes annually to the nation's outstanding college receiver.
"For a slow white guy, it's a hell of an honor," he says. "I'm so proud of it. I get to be part of it every year. I get to talk to college kids who are just really excited to win the award."
Biletnikoff stays close to his old team and thinks it has found the right coach in Jack Del Rio.
"For years, the organization needed somebody to come in who was a no-nonsense guy and was going to hold everybody accountable," Biletnikoff says. "With Jack, it's, 'Listen, we're here to win games. I don't want any BS. This is how it's going to be done. If you don't like the program, go somewhere else.'
"Jack treats the players great, but they know who's the boss. The organization hasn't had a boss for a number of years. I love it."
Bellotti, too, was taking part in his first Dave and Dan Classic.
"I've been invited many times and felt bad about not being able to be here," says Bellotti, 66, who has homes in Bend and LaQuinta, California. "This year it worked into my schedule. Anything I can do to help Children's Miracle Network and Doernbecher, I'm excited about."
Belotti won't be back with ESPN this season but is in discussion with the Pac-12 Networks about doing analyst and/or studio work. He spent time Monday talking with Justin Wilcox, who played for Bellotti at Oregon and has taken over as head coach at California.
"Justin is an outstanding coach," Bellotti says. "He has been a great coach everywhere he has been. He has the right personality and temperament to be a coach at Berkeley. You have to be somewhat of a politician. He understands football, understands defense and has hired a tremendous staff. I'm anxious to see what he can do with his kids on the field."
Fouts feels much the same way.
"Justin is a good coach," Fouts says. "He'll get his guys playing hard, I know that. It's been an uphill battle for them through the years, though. Cal has always been a difficult place because of a lot of factors."
Dave Wilcox, Fouts and Bellotti will be watching new Oregon coach Willie Taggart with interest this fall. Wilcox is concerned with Taggart's early missteps with the media, and with his handling of the three UO players who were hospitalized after strength-and-conditioning workouts.
"I hope he does well," Wilcox says. "He started off on the wrong foot and created problems for a whole bunch of people. I hope that's done. That was not good."
"We'll see how it goes for Willie," Fouts says. "He's off to a good start in the recruiting process. Teams with the better players seem to win."
Bellotti says he has visited with Taggart three or four times at events since his hiring.
"Willie is a very personable guy and a great recruiter," Bellotti says. "He has hired a very good staff. (Coordinators Mario) Cristobal and (Jim) Leavitt are household names and will be very good at what they do.
"I don't know if he can fix that defense in one year, but they have a lot of offensive firepower. (The Ducks) should win eight games next year. If they get really good and the defense improves, they can maybe win nine."