SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Sixty years ago, the San Francisco Saint Ignatius Wildcats football team took the field at Kezar stadium during a historic season. "We were pretty successful back in those days," said Ray Calcagno, quarterback and captain of the ’63 team. "We were fortunate to have great coaching and good players."
Dating back to the 1962 season, the Wildcats racked up a perfect record of 19-0. During that run, a national committee voted them the top high school team in the country, tied with a team from Florida. The Wildcats were led by legendary coach Vince Tringali who had just begun his head coaching career. Former players shared their thoughts on him. "He was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and he prepared us very well," said Calcagno.
"Vince was known for being such a winning coach, but he never really put any pressure on us to win," said John Deschler, who played tight end on the team.
"He had the ability to create goals in all of us as individuals and as a team," said Jim Nevin, a backup quarterback on the ’63 team.
On November 22, 1963, the team was set to play Lincoln High at Kezar to decide which team would move onto the title game. Then, news came that shook the nation. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. "It was a very devastating experience in the history of the United States," said Deschler.
1963 Champions from SF St. Ignatius H.S. football team reunite.
While the team joined the nation in mourning, their semifinal game was postponed to the following Thursday, Thanksgiving. "We went back to the classroom," said Calcagno. "We knew the implications and knew that was the most important thing that had happened that day."
The team remained focused, winning the Thanksgiving game, setting up a championship against Washington. The game scheduled for December 7, a rare occurrence that the title game would not be played on turkey day. "We got that winning streak," Deschler recalled. "We kept that winning streak going at 19 games, and we actually beat Washington here 21 to nothing."
Sixty years to the day of their victory, many of the 1963 Wildcats returned to Kezar, marking the intersection of their history with the nation’s. Calcagno huddling his team together for the occasion, even making sure each player had their old number back. "It shows we haven’t lost the camaraderie and the bonds that we had," said Calcagno. "It’s a team sport."
St. Ignatius H.S. 1963 champions.
The men celebrated, reminisced, and even walked back old plays. They also paid their respects to members of the team who have passed, including Coach Tringali. They said the lessons he and this family taught them have lasted a lifetime. "You become less and less and the team becomes more and more," said Greg Kolar, a guard and linebacker. "Which means all of a sudden you’re just a piece but the whole team is now the object, or the purpose."
These teammates are all now in their late 70s, decades removed from their historic season. But, the thrill of coming out of the tunnel at Kezar, is a feeling that never fades.