Cal Honors Joe Roth's Legacy with Annual Memorial GameQuarterback Only Golden Bear Football Player to Have His Jersey Retired
Oct. 9, 2011
Each year since 1977, Cal has designated the home contest against either UCLA or USC as the Joe Roth Memorial Game. The designation honors the memory of the former Cal quarterback who passed away from cancer in February 1977.
Roth starred for the Golden Bears during the 1975 and '76 seasons, helping Cal to a share of the 1975 Pac-8 championship. Below are some anecdotes about Roth. For more information, visit joeroth12.com.
The 2011 Joe Roth Game is this week's battle between Cal and USC that kicks off at 6 p.m. Thursday at San Francisco's AT&T Park.
Just like former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Joe Roth was not recruited out of high school. He attended Grossmont Junior College before being recruited by Mike White at Cal.
Also like Rodgers, Roth did not start right away; he didn't crack the opening lineup until the fourth game of the 1975 season. Five weeks later, he won the AP-UPI Player of the Week Award after throwing for 380 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 27-24 victory over Washington.
Two more things Joe Roth had in common with Rodgers: 1. Both followed a first-round NFL draft pick at Cal. Roth came after No. 1 overall pick Steve Bartkowski and Rodgers after Kyle Boller (No. 19 in 2003); 2. Both finished ninth in Heisman Trophy balloting.
Roth wore No. 12 and white cleats because of his hero, Joe Namath. Roth's release/throwing ability was frequently compared to Namath's back in the day.
How good were the Bears? The 1975 team that beat defending national champion USC, 28-14, sent six players to the NFL - Ted Albrecht, Fred Besana, Chuck Muncie, Tom Newton, Steve Rivera and Wesley Walker. Cal tied UCLA for the Pac-8 tile and also led the nation in offense, gaining exactly 2,522 yards passing and rushing.
Roth was first diagnosed with melanoma in 1974. It returned during the '76 season, but was not confirmed via a biopsy until December 1976. At that point, Roth was told he had 90 days left to live. He chose not to disclose the diagnosis, nor leave school. Instead, he took his final exams and then signed up for 17 units of class in the next term.
After finals in December 1976, Roth participated in the three All-Star games to which he was selected: East West Shrine Game, Hula Bowl and Japan Bowl. His Cal head coach, Mike White, coached all three.
Roth played his last game, the Japan Bowl, 34 days before he died. In it, he completed 5-of-6 passes for 75 yards. On that same field were future NFL players such as Ricky Bell, Gary Jeter, Robin Earl, Ted Albrecht, Don Hasselbeck and Tony Dungy.
The Japan Bowl later named its MVP Award after Roth, an award won by, among others, Jimmy Cefalo, Bo Jackson, JC Watts, Irving Fryar, Gale Gilbert and Bill Musgrave.
Roth maintained a normal life and his commitment to academics as long as possible during his struggle with cancer, handing in a paper 10 days before he died and maintaining a 3.1 GPA as a student.
Roth died in his apartment surrounded by family and friends on Feb. 19, 1977.
Roth's No. 12 is the only football jersey retired by Cal. The University offers a scholarship in his name and the football team has an annual Joe Roth Award. Former winners include Gary Plummer, Troy Taylor, Ken Harvey, Todd Steussie, Tyson Alualu and Mike Mohamed.
As a University of Minnesota senior, Tony Dungy played against Joe Roth in all three postseason All-Star games in 1977, and they became friends. He sent this telegram one day before Joe died.