Not that anybody at Long Beach State cares, but the 49ers might have had a pretty good team this season if the school hadn't dropped football in December 1991. Look around and you'll find former Long Beach players making significant contributions at Arizona, Central Michigan, Georgia, Howard, Louisville, Miami, New Mexico State, Pacific and Utah. "We always had a lot of good athletes," says Mike McCoy, a former 49er quarterback who's now throwing for 263.5 yards per game at Utah. "We just didn't have the money, support or facilities everyone else had."
Long Beach rarely came close to filling 12,500-seat Veterans Stadium in the late '80s, but the 49ers experienced a brief revival in 1990, when George Allen, the venerated former NFL coach, took the team to a 6-5 record. The comeback under Allen brought the 49ers national attention, boosted attendance and even generated talk of building a new stadium. But Allen died on Dec. 31, 1990. Under his replacement, Willie Brown, Long Beach slumped to 2-9 in '91, and attendance dipped to an average of 3,893 for only three home games. For financial reasons the 49ers played eight road games.
When the university pulled the plug on football, players had a choice: stay, and those with scholarships would have them honored, or transfer without losing any eligibility. Of the transfers, more than a dozen are still playing in Division I. One of them, scatback Terrell Davis, leads Georgia in rushing, all-purpose yardage—and perspective. "Being at Long Beach first made me appreciate what we have [at Georgia]," says Davis. "Football is a well-known fact here. At Long Beach some people didn't even know we had a football team."
Although they're spread around the country, the former 49ers stay in touch. "I talk to Chad Wilson at Miami and to Terrell Davis every week," says Jay Walker, who's now starring at quarterback for Howard. "We offer support, compare old times, brag about how our teams are doing. How would Long Beach be now? We ask each other that all the time."
IT'S BETTER TO RECEIVE
UCLA's J.J. Stokes (page 48) isn't the only receiver who's having a superb season. Wyoming's Ryan Yarborough, who leads the nation in receiving yards with 154.71 per game, seems to break a record every time he touches the ball. Alabama's David Palmer may be the best all-around player in the country, as he proved in the Tide's 19-14 win over Mississippi by grabbing eight passes for 76 yards, running seven times for 38 yards and throwing a 54-yard pass. Charles Johnson of Colorado, Jermaine Lewis of Maryland and Bryan Reeves of Nevada are all having outstanding years too, but the one who may be Stokes's equal plays just across town from him.
In Southern Cal's 31-13 loss to second-ranked Notre Dame last Saturday, Trojan senior wideout Johnnie Morton caught six passes for 109 yards. And that's not counting the diving reception the six-foot, 190-pound Morton made in the end zone with 4:14 left; officials ruled he had trapped the ball. After the game Morton smiled and said, "I'll have to look at the NBC tape on that one."
Morton, who has 60 catches for 988 yards in eight games this year, might be just as happy next season at NBC as in the NFL. He's a communications major and two summers ago worked as an intern on The Arsenio Hall Show. He has long been more interested in TV than in sports, which helps explain his ignorance about his predecessors at USC. Morton couldn't understand why he was often compared to former Pittsburgh Steeler star Lynn Swann. Then someone informed him that Swann had been a pretty fair wideout at Southern Cal.
Morton did know enough about sports to be concerned when he heard last January that John Robinson was going to return to coach Southern Cal this season after nine years in the pros. Robinson had presided over a potent ground game during his first stint at USC and had vowed to reestablish the school's reputation as Tailback U. Morton wanted to convince Robinson that Southern Cal was a lot closer to being Wideout U. In the spring Morton improved his running technique by working out with USC's track coaches, and over the summer he built up his stamina by running hills with Philadelphia Eagle receiver James Lofton and world-class sprinter Bryan Bridgewater. Now, Morton says, "I can pretty much run all I want during games because I don't get tired anymore."
So far this season Morton, who owns the Trojan records for both catches and receiving yardage, has had seven games with at least six catches and six with at least 100 yards in receptions. "I came out here in 1973 and saw Lynn Swann," says coach Jerry Pettibone, whose Oregon State team allowed Morton seven catches for 157 yards. "Morton is in the same class. He's probably the best receiver in the country."