The first time I heard the names of USF athletes, I had just told my dad that I was going to the University of San Francisco. He had just returned from Lackland AFB's Wilford Hall where they confirmed his multiple myeloma diagnosis. We lived in upstate NY. He said, "Burl Toler, Ollie Matson, Gino Marchetti, Bill Russell, KC Jones. Then he proceeded to tell me about USF sports.
I introduced myself to Burl Toler at a political event in San Francisco long before I had the privilege of meeting him on the USF campus. He was larger than life - a gentleman clearly defined by how he treated everyone - with respect, with equality, with kindness. He moved with agility and grace as well as the confidence of an athlete even in his 70s. He embraced everyone with his words and with his hugs. He did not know a stranger. He spoke to everyone.
He attended numerous basketball games and often he would visit the players before a game. MJ Nodilo was inspired by this football player because he spent time with the team before a game. Even though our great basketball players were not there, one of the men who recruited them was acting in their stead.
At USF events, people would be anticipating Burl's arrival and when he walked in the door, his fans flocked to him. There was no hubris or no conceit. Burl was just a gracious man. He took time for people and when he asked how things were going, he listened to the answer. His smile ignited the room and his eyes said that he was pleased to see you.
His death devastated many.
Bill Henneberry, one of the team, returned to work as an Associate Athletic Director. Bill engaged people with his Irish American charm and he welcomed all of us with warmth, sincerity, and genuine interest. A smile seemed to be perpetually engraved on his face. Bill was one the catalysts who has religiously preserved the team's unity.
There were others from that team that I met over the years. When they greeted each other, you saw the true meaning of friendship. They were more than teammates. They were lifelong friends who cherished each other. If you met one, you truly met the others. They shared a common core - great humanity. They liked and loved each other as family.
When you observed them at functions, you felt alive and you witnessed how their goodness radiated to everyone around them. They were and still are the embodiment of the mission of the University of San Francisco. They make me so very proud of USF. They enriched my life and I know that their legacy will continue to enrich the lives of future Dons.
I grew up in Los Banos, down in the Central Valley. When I told people that I was going to USF most mentioned Ollie Matson and those 1950 -1951 football teams before talking about Bill Russell and KC Jones. On times when I at functions they attended they were always perfect gentlemen and extremely friendly.