They were far removed from their prime, but when former football players from Saddleback College—the ones who laid the foundation for the stellar program that exists today—gathered together at Ballpark Pizza Team in Mission Viejo a few months ago, the memories returned as fast as a speedy tailback.
Among those who showed up was the head coach, George Hartman. As he exited the restaurant, he left his players with a few words, and they left him with a standing ovation.
"It means I had a helluva bunch of guys play football," Hartman said of the day that so many reunited. "They worked real hard, and when you work hard you'll be successful."
There's no doubt about the level of success of the football program under Hartman. When Saddleback launched its football program in 1968, a handful of schools—Foothill, Laguna Beach, Tustin, Mission Viejo and San Clemente—fed into the junior college but only Foothill had much of a winning program. The other players were known as losers, but that changed under Hartman.
"He created a program that was ship-shape, with coaches who had military experience and went into battle with equipment that was second to none," said Jim Poettgen, owner of Ballpark Pizza and a member of the 1973-74 teams. "There were stories being told about games, before games, during games and after games."
As impressive as the turnout was for the first group of teams at Saddleback on May 11, it was small compared to the gathering expected tonight for a private party in San Clemente to include all teams through 2010.