Tell a Californian that his favorite movie hero puts his hair up at night and he'll laugh with you. Tell him his favorite starlet wears dungarees and drives a pickup truck. Joke about his clothes, his smog, his cars, the algae in his swimming pools, all of it. Just don't kid around about the California junior-college transfer system that turns out his Dennis Dummits and transforms his UCLA from a tired old 3-7 to a serious Rose Bowl contender.
This gets the Californian mad, this Eastern and Midwestern complaint about the so-called deepfreeze of football talent out on the West Coast. Everybody knows someone who was once a Jaycee. Your best friend was a Jaycee, your neighbors were Jaycees, your dentist, doctor, lawyer, psychiatrist and cleaning lady were all Jaycees, and it's one hell of an educational system. So what's the big deal every now and then if a Jackie Robinson or a Bob Water-field or a Mel Farr or a Hugh McElhenny or an O.J. Simpson or a Dennis Dummit happens to come out of one of those Long Beach City Colleges?
Academically, the Californian will argue that two years in one of his Jaycee plants, en route to UCLA or USC or Cal is probably a whole lot better than two years in Ole Miss majoring in how to beat Alabama. There are 79 of these institutions sprawled all over the country's most populous state (almost twice as many as the next highest state) and only the top 12% of students make it into the big schools whether they can throw a pass like Dennis Dummit or not. The Jaycees, or community colleges as they are called, are part of California's master plan to get everybody some kind of higher education, and it is only natural that a good many talented football players come out of them. Out of 500,000 students in the community colleges, there couldn't help but be a few throwers and runners, could there?
What makes outsiders sort of sneer at the situation is, first of all, the fact that West Coast teams go around beating other people with all of their legendary transfer stars. In the spring they seldom know what kind of teams to expect, because it isn't September and the transfers haven't shown up yet. O.J. graduates, so USC might not have a runner, but along comes Clarence Davis out of East Los Angeles College and all is well. UCLA tries it a year without a Gary Beban, and Tommy Prothro is very unhappy with his 3-7 record. So in comes this Dennis Dummit from Long Beach City College, who can throw the football, and all of a sudden the Bruins are 6 and 0, averaging 37 points a game, exploding for 570 yards in total offense every Saturday, and, just like in the good times with Beban, the grandstands are shouting, "We're No. 1."
Another thing that encourages the wrath of outsiders is the fact that it is possible for a transfer athlete to play two or three games of varsity football before he has ever attended a class. UCLA had four such players do this very thing this season. Before the autumn semester began the four Bruins in question had helped Prothro's team put it on Oregon State, Wisconsin and Northwestern.
"This may strike some people as being unusual," said Prothro last week. "But is it any more unusual than an athlete helping his school win an NCAA championship in track and field in June after he's graduated? The rules permit both things."
Californians argue strongly that no such thing as a deepfreeze exists, the implication of that phrase being that the big schools put good athletes who are poor students into junior colleges for a year or two to keep them on hold.
"I don't know a coach who wouldn't rather have a kid come to him as a freshman than as a junior," Prothro said. "He would certainly know more about what you're trying to accomplish. But the Jaycees play good football, and everybody recruits them the way you recruit high schools. They have to be good students to get in. And they don't always help you. For every great one you can name there are many more who never do the job. It used to be that a coach was hesitant to take a Jaycee kid. He figured the kid wouldn't fit in, but that's old-fashioned."
Actually, Prothro has not depended on Jaycee help at UCLA nearly as much as John McKay has at USC. There are only nine transfers on the Bruin squad right now. Only four transfers are starting on defense, and Dummit is the only transfer on the offensive unit. Only Dummit! It is Dummit who has turned UCLA around. But as transfers go, he is hardly what anyone could describe as having come out of the freezer.
First of all, nobody wanted Dummit when he got out of high school in Long Beach. Everybody wanted the guy who played ahead of him, a thrower named Bob Gritch. UCLA signed Gritch. But so did the Baltimore Orioles, and they paid him money. Gritch still went to UCLA and played baseball in the Texas League instead of football in West-wood. Dummit, meanwhile, was talked to by Utah, Navy and Long Beach State and offered nothing. So he went to the community college to prove himself as a player, hoping to be offered a chance at the big time when he was a junior.