Sports

Stanford's football bowl game has some family ties

 

When the Stanford football team takes the field Tuesday night against Maryland in the Fosters Farm Bowl at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, it will have special meaning to Gary Cavalli. Not only does he serve as the bowl's executive director, few have more connections or knowledge of Cardinal athletics than Cavalli, who graduated from The Farm in 1971.

"My whole life for the last 40 years has had a number of ties to Stanford," Cavalli said. "Stanford has been really important to me and my family. We have eight family members that have gone to -- or are attending -- Stanford. I'm thrilled to have my school here."

Cavalli enrolled in 1967 and became sports editor of the Stanford Daily. The following year, he asked Bob Murphy, Stanford's sports information director, if he needed any help.

"He was a one-man sports information department at that point," said Cavalli. "I'm kind of a positive person by nature and was fortunate to work there my sophomore, junior and senior years. I was even given the title 'assistant sports information director' my junior year."

Murphy, a former All-American pitcher at Stanford, handled many roles at the university, most notably as the play-by-play announcer for Cardinal football and basketball games, and master of ceremonies for countless banquets, fundraisers and alumni gatherings.

In 1970, with Cavalli's help, Murphy helped promote senior quarterback Jim Plunkett for the Heisman Trophy. With only a small budget, they produced a four-page, two-color brochure that was mailed to the national media and voters.

"I wrote it; Murph approved it," said Cavalli.

Plunkett faced stiff competition from Archie Manning and Joe Theismann, but won Stanford's first and only Heisman Trophy.

"Jim certainly deserved it, but it was a time when it was extremely competitive," Cavalli said. "That may be the best quarterback class of all time. It was hard for Stanford to compete against the guys from the bigger schools because we didn't get nearly the coverage and television exposure those guys did."

Murphy lobbied to get Stanford on national television for the season opener against Arkansas, and Plunkett made a great impression by sparking his squad to a win. He also led Stanford to victory against long-time nemesis USC and beat Washington in front of a national television audience.

"It was an amazing experience for me," said Cavalli, who wrote the Rose Bowl press guide. "I was supposed to be working 10 hours a week and I was working 40. I think I calculated they paid me 19 cents an hour."

Stanford drew heavily favored and previously unbeaten Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, and Cavalli hatched an idea he ran by Murphy.

"What do you think about asking NBC if when we introduce the kids we can give their major?" he said. "It would be really great to say, 'I'm Don Bunce, quarterback, pre-med.' I suspect some of the majors on the other team won't be quite as impressive."

Murphy loved the idea and presented it to NBC, which agreed.

"A couple days later when our game was televised, I was watching our guys talk about pre-law, biochemistry and aeronautical engineering majors and the other team was physical education and general studies," said Cavalli. "It was pretty cool."

The 22-year-old Cavalli was assigned to collect postgame quotes from the losing coach, which bowl officials figured would be Stanford's John Ralston. But Stanford won, 27-17, and Cavalli reported to the Ohio State locker room to speak with Woody Hayes.

"I'm wet behind the ears with a pencil and notepad trying to get Woody to say something," Cavalli said. "He was so mad, he was spitting at me."

After graduation, Cavalli was hoping to stick around, but changed gears.

"I thought they might have a job for me, but those were the days when the athletic department was about six people, so they didn't," he said. "I went over and got a job at the Stanford Medical Center and worked there for three years. It was a fantastic experience writing about heart transplants and cancer research."

In 1974, Cavalli was homesick one day when he received a phone call from the athletic department that Murphy was leaving and was offered the job of sports information director. He jumped at it, holding down the post about six years and was promoted to associate athletic director.

"One of my jobs was to coordinate the trip to the Sun Bowl in 1977," said Cavalli. "Bill Walsh was the coach. The second year, we went to the Bluebonnet Bowl, so I got really interested in bowls. Those were the days when teams courted bowls and bowls courted teams. It's not the way it's done today where you sign an agreement with the conference and you are sort of locked in."

Cavalli left Stanford in 1983 and founded Cavalli & Associates, a public relations and marketing company. He maintained close ties with his alma mater and worked on various projects.

His daughter, Erin, attended Stanford and became a Dolly. In 1997, athletic director Ted Leland asked if he would consider underwriting travel expenses for the five Dollies to attend the Liberty Bowl, and he agreed. He also sponsored men's basketball coach Mike Montgomery's annual fundraising golf tournament.

He remains close to many former student-athletes and coaches including Plunkett, Bob Moore, Darrin Nelson and Tyrone Willingham.

Cavalli has been a guest lecturer in professor George Foster's sports marketing and management classes in the Stanford Business School for more than 10 years, and has taught "Inside Football" and "Inside Baseball" classes for Stanford Continuing Studies since 2011.

In 2002, Cavalli started what is now called the Fosters Farm Bowl and is president of the San Francisco Bowl Game Association.

"A lot of people thought we were crazy," he said. "But here we are. It's a fantastic job and I have so much fun."

Cavalli is especially proud of the way his bowl treats participating teams and their families. Players stay in San Francisco and this year's activities include a visit to Alcatraz Island, a pep rally and battle of the bands in Union Square, cable car rides, and a luncheon at the St. Francis Hotel. Both teams will also distribute food at Glide Memorial Church.

"We try to do something for the whole traveling party," said Cavalli. "Give them a true taste of San Francisco. Hopefully they're going to have a great time and a great game."

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