In 1946, the Cleveland Rams football team moved to Los Angeles. I was 16 years old and in the 10th grade at Venice High School. I played football for the Venice Gondoliers and was a fan of the sport but being interested mostly in cars and girls, I did not become an immediate “Ram Fan”.
To me professional football was not that important; however, I did have an interest in the West Coast colleges and how their sports programs were doing. I was fascinated with the amazing statistics that were in the news of a black football player named Dick Bass from The College of the Pacific (now University of the Pacific). The touchdowns and yards gained by Bass were staggering (source – articles.sfgate.com). In 1958, after running for 700 yards in six games and becoming the seasons leading NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) ground gainer, Time Magazine called him a “One-Man Show” (source – time.com).
Having played the game and knowing what it took to be as athletic as he was, I was in awe and he became a hero of mine. In 1959, the Rams chose him as their first-round draft pick (2nd overall) for halfback and Richard Lee Bass became an L.A. Ram . He would eventually be picked three times to the NFL Pro Bowl. His teammates nicknamed him “Scooter” – I was thrilled and because of him I became a fan of the team.
“I’m Dick Bass”
In 1988 with our memories of football past but not forgotten, my son Daryle and I owned a classic car restoration and collision repair business in Norwalk, Calif. Having owned a business before in another city, I knew the advantages of becoming a member of the Chamber of Commerce . I contacted them. Then one day when my son was out running errands and I was in the office looking up parts in a catalog, a black gentleman came to the window and said he was from the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce and would like to talk to me about joining. He said his name but a body shop can get downright noisy at times and I missed it. I walked over to the window thinking that maybe I had seen this person before, shook his hand, introduced myself, apologized for the noise and asked his name, he replied…. “I’m Dick Bass”.
I was stunned. Through pictures and team programs I knew it was him, so with a few goose bumps on my arms I had to ask, “Are you the same Dick Bass that played for the Rams”? He answered, “That’s me” – I was speechless, I just stood there and stared at him, as I didn’t know what to do. After all these years, I had just met my all-time football hero and one of the best players to ever grace a stadium. A little shaky and with a tear in my eye, I invited him in and we began to talk.
He was polite and friendly – it was like we had been friends for a long time. We talked about his college days and how the 49ers and Hugh McElhenney were his team as a kid and how he wanted to play professional baseball and be a two-sport pro but the Rams wouldn’t allow it. We talked about his involvement with the NFL Alumni Association (clanram.com), his escapades and travels after football and of course the Chamber of Commerce. He was cordial and wanted to know what I had been doing all these years. I explained I was a retired Los Angeles City fireman involved in drag racing at the time and he liked both, so we talked about my time with the FD and racing. Shortly after my football idol, who was now my friend left the shop, my son returned. When I told him who I had just spent the last half hour with, he was both shocked and elated. A few days after that, Dick returned, met my son and the three of us became close friends over the next several years ( for more, check here ).
After his retirement as President of the Chamber, we stayed in touch via telephone and had lunch now and then. It was always enjoyable to meet with him. On Feb. 1, 2006 at only 67 years old, the famous “Scooter” Dick Bass passed away.
It was a sad day in my life but I had met my hero and will feel his friendship forever.