|Palo Alto Centennial
by Diane Sussman
For diehard football fans in Palo Alto, September, October and November are the cruelest months. For all its charm--a gentle climate, smart people, great cafes--Palo Alto's reputation as a football town is pretty dismal. This hasn't always been the case. From 1921-'51, Palo Alto was a formidable football town, with a record of 221 wins, 24 ties and 63 losses. And for two of those years--1950 and 1951--Palo Alto was more than just formidable, it was downright glorious. Those were the years the Palo Alto High School Vikings crushed, maimed, stomped, massacred and trounced their way through two perfect seasons to win the Peninsula Athletic League championship.
That success wouldn't have been possible without the work of Howard "Hod" Ray, the coach at Palo Alto High School for 30 years and the man for whom the high school playing fields are named. Ray, known for his jaunty walk, booming bass voice, twinkling blue eyes, informal manner and great golf scores, began coaching at Paly in 1921. During the next 30 years, his grid team took eight Peninsula Athletic League championships.
In addition to football, he coached basketball, track and field, swimming and baseball. Contending that "only one in 100 understands football," Ray wrote "Football Facts and Fun," a 64-page book filled with clear-cut facts about the game and explanatory cartoons. Despite his huge success as a football coach, he maintained that basketball, the sport he played in college, was his favorite.
Ray died of a heart attack on Dec. 15, 1951, just a few weeks after the jubilant Vikings carried him across the field at the end of their second perfect championship season.
"He never let success go to his head or failure go to his heart," said Ivan Linder, former principal of Palo Alto High School. For Linder and others, Hod Ray is remembered as the man who, for a few glorious years, made September through November halcyon days for football fans in Palo Alto.