Lincoln's field, unfortunately, had seating on only one side, so spectators from both schools, seated near each other, began brawling, too. Several people were stabbed. Police tore through the stands, rousting troublemakers and arresting the most vicious of the attackers. The melee went on for at least 20 minutes and is still remembered as one of the worst high school riots in city history.
At first we doubted that the game would continue, but after assurances from captains Valero and Holmgren, the teams ran back onto the field. There the football slaughter continued, and Lincoln won 51-3, having racked up 460 yards in offense.
Washington eventually won the 1964 city championship. Lincoln finished with a 7-2 record, and Balboa ended the season 4-5, never having recovered from the beating by Lincoln.
As the decades passed I never forgot Holmgren, as one never forgets anyone who ran over him in life. I often talk about that Lincoln-Balboa game when I see old high school friends, and we compare it to other events in our lives, seeking some kind of cosmic meaning. "Just one of those things," we eventually agree, believing that the real value of our athletic experience at Balboa was having learned teamwork.
"What I've loved about playing football at Balboa," said Valero at a team meeting at the end of the '64 season, "is that we have nearly 40 different guys—black, white, Mexican, Irish, Italian, Filipino, Puerto Rican, even a Cajun—who work as a team and get along together. This is something that we can take with us all through life: Knowing how to work with and get along with all kinds of different people. That's what we've really learned on this team."
I lost track of Holmgren after he and Simpson made the all-city prep team in 1964. While Simpson went on to win the Heisman Trophy at Southern Cal in 1968 and star in the NFL, Holmgren faded from memory. But I knew exactly what happened to my teammates.
Valero, Frank, Yanez, Caracter and I went into the Army, as did many of our 1964 teammates. Most of us couldn't afford college, even if we had been able to get into one. There were no football scholarships for the Balboa team of 1964.
Yanez and I were drafted on the same day in 1968 and went to basic training together at Fort Lewis, Wash. Yanez had become Balboa's quarterback in 1965 after top jayvee prospect Rodney Garcia was gunned down in a drive-by shooting a block away from campus. The killer randomly fired at a crowd of us eating lunch at a drive-in restaurant, killing Rodney, wounding another student and scattering the rest of us.
The last time I saw Yanez, we were at the rifle range. "Well, Toland," he said, "I guess we're on a winning team this time." A year later, already a decorated infantry sergeant, Yanez died in a jungle in Vietnam.
Holmgren, as it turned out, coached high school football until 1981. When he landed a spot as an assistant coach at San Francisco State, our paths crossed again. I had just been hired there as a part-time journalism lecturer.