There must some something in the air around San Francisco Bay that stimulates quarterbacks—at least college quarterbacks. Nearly every fall in that area there are more footballs flying around than sea gulls. Frankie Albert, Jim Plunkett, Guy Benjamin, Steve Dils and a few dozen others have flung for Stanford. Dan Pastorini played for Santa Clara. But nowhere do air-traffic controllers get dizzier than in Berkeley, where the University of California has produced Joe Kapp, Craig Morton, the late Joe Roth and Steve Bartkowski. And now there is a new Golden Bear with a golden arm: Rich Campbell.
Campbell is a big junior for the Bears in more than one way. He is just a bit under 6'5", weighs 215 pounds and can float the ball into his fullback's hands out in the flat, drill it into a receiver's navel at 30 yards or throw it clear out of the stadium. Through 10 games this season he has connected on 193 of 289 passes—an impressive 66.8% completion ratio—for 2,304 yards. No wonder that a die-hard fan of the 5-5 Bears says, "Why don't we forget all the fancy stuff and just throw the thing?"
Cal's coaching staff seems to agree. The playbook consists of Campbell throwing short, Campbell throwing medium long and a fullback draw. Campbell throwing long, a sizable section, has been sealed temporarily because injuries have knocked down wide receivers Floyd Eddings (a reinjured knee) and Holden Smith (a bone spur), both greyhound-fast when healthy. There are good receivers left, to be sure, particularly junior Matt Bouza, who is now ranked sixth in the country, averaging 5.1 catches a game. Campbell's next-favorite targets are senior Fullback Paul Jones and senior Joe Rose, who have had 3.8 and 3.3 receptions a game, respectively.
There is no telling how good Campbell's stats would be if Cal's attack had more diversity. Not only is there little in the way of a deep pass-catching threat, but the Bears are weak at tailback, too, because freshman John Tuggle is still learning the position.
In five of the Bears' 10 games, Campbell's arm has been good enough to win. Campbell's brain isn't too bad, either. Cal's coaches send in all the plays, but Campbell is free to change the calls at the line of scrimmage. In the opener at Arizona State, he called 15 audibles, which resulted in 11 pass completions and a 17-9 upset victory.
"Rich knew going into that game that they were going to blitz us," said Cal's offensive coordinator, Al Saunders, "and he changed plays at the line of scrimmage and picked 'em apart throwing the ball."
Cal won at Arizona the following week, and if Heisman Trophy votes were taken only in that state, he'd be a cinch winner. In the two games, he hit 45 of 56 passes for 471 yards and an 80.4 completion percentage.
He has cooled down only slightly since. He threw the winning touchdown pass against San Jose State with 47 seconds left on the clock. And he hit 16 of 23 in a one-point loss to UCLA and 21 of 35 as Cal was edged by Washington, 28-24, two weeks ago. Then in last week's 45-13 defeat of Washington State, Campbell connected on 7 of 11—he played mostly in the first and third quarters—to break Cal's career completion (355) and yardage (4,501) records that had been held by Craig Morton.
"He's a good athlete," says Cal Coach Roger Theder. "He could run if he had to, but we don't do that with him. And the kid is tremendously physical. He bench-presses about 325-335 pounds. So he's got all the tools that you look for in a player."
Even his feet come in for praise.
"One thing he's really developed here in the last year, I think, is his ability to move," says Saunders. "He can adjust his body, enabling him to throw on balance in almost any situation. We've worked extremely hard on that."
Campbell's soul seems to be in prime condition, too, for he is an ardent member of the Campus Crusade for Christ and gives the Lord all the credit for his arm, brain, feet and other finely tuned parts. He is majoring in religious studies. But lest he be thought of as too good to be real, there is one serious flaw in his otherwise blameless character.
Rich Campbell chews tobacco. Buys a pack every Thursday.
During practice, when there's no danger of getting sacked and swallowing a plug, he can be seen lifting his face guard up a bit and spitting ugly brown tobacco juice on the turf.
Several other Bears chew (and spit), including Theder, who has never had a cigarette in his mouth but finds that chewing relaxes him.
Campbell is engaged to be married in June to Janice Lombardo, a student at nearby Hayward State and also a Campus Crusader. She is not thrilled by her fiancè's habit. "It just doesn't look very nice at all," she says, "but my mother's the one who goes a little wild. She saw it once. Rich and my next-door neighbor got together and they were sitting watching a game on TV with my father, and they were chewing.
"I think what really grossed my mom out was that they were spitting into two of her mugs."
Campbell lived in various places around the world—Guam, Florida, San Diego—before he went to high school in San Jose. His coach there was Chon Gallegos, once a star quarterback at San Jose State and the national passing leader in 1961. Earlier, as an assistant coach at Lick High in San Jose, Gallegos had helped develop Jim Plunkett.
After hearing recruiting pitches from several colleges, Campbell narrowed his choices down to two long-playing aerial circuses, Stanford and Cal. When he finally decided on Cal, his father put up a fuss. Berkeley's image as a haven for hippies and other radicals did not sit well with a man who had spent 21 years in the Navy. But finally he gave in and Rich signed up to be a Golden Bear.
Mike White was Cal's head coach at the time, and Campbell remembers White saying he "wanted to work me in slowly at the beginning of the season and then start me by the fifth game." Well, Campbell not only didn't start as a freshman, he got in for only 12 plays all season, and they all came in a 52-3 stomping of San Jose State. But for those 12 plays, Campbell would be a sophomore in eligibility this season.
"I'd stretch before workouts and then I'd just stand around for two hours," Campbell recalls. "I went through a whole season getting worse. That's what bothered me. It wasn't so much that I didn't start or that I didn't play at all—I didn't even get to practice!"
Strange, but at the school where the atom was first split and where future lawyers are taught to find subatomic loopholes, a pro-size quarterback went unnoticed on the football sideline.
In late 1977 White was fired and replaced by one of his assistants, Theder, who has started Campbell ever since. In Rich's debut as a soph, against Nebraska, he threw two TD passes. And to show he wasn't just a passing fancy, after his second game, a 17 for 23 performance against Georgia Tech, he was named to UPI's Backfield of the Week.
His All-America chances evaporated, however, when Cal was chewed up by UCLA, 45-0, on national TV. In that game, Campbell fired five passes to Bruins instead of Bears.
"It would take quite a nightmare to make something worse than that UCLA game," he says. "I've never even dreamed anything that bad.
"I did lose some confidence. Up to that game I really believed in myself. After that, I began questioning how good I really was."
There's no question in anybody's mind now. This season Campbell has thrown only 10 interceptions, despite averaging more than 29 passes a game.
Theder says, "I put Rich in the Bartkowski-Roth class. Joe didn't have the arm that Rich has, wasn't as physical. Bart had it all as far as the arm strength—I don't know if there'll be another one like him—but he didn't have quite the great feet.
"Rich is smoother than any of 'em we've ever had." The best thing, however, might be that Cal has him for another year.
In an exercise session at a weekday practice, Campbell limbers up while plugging away at a chaw.