Aug. 5, 2011
By Bill Bennett
"Coaches from UCLA shaped me as a young man, taught me lessons on and off the field and helped in life long after I left Westwood. I owe those men - Steve Butler, Moe Freedman, Terry Donahue, Pepper Rodgers, Dick Vermeil and Bob McKittrick - more than I can ever repay."
-- Randy Cross
"Born to be a Bruin" is an honored phrase echoed by many an avid UCLA supporter. Few fit into that category better than UCLA football great Randy Cross. His mother, Rita, was the manager at Dkystra and Sproul Residence Halls on the UCLA campus. His late father, Dennis, was an actor who moved his family from Brooklyn, NY to Southern California and raised and influenced Randy to be a Bruin.
So once the Cross family moved to Tarzana in 1962, Randy was destined to attend UCLA. One of the most versatile offensive linemen in college and NFL history, with an elite ability to play both guard and center, Cross would earn All-America honors as a senior at UCLA in 1975. It was then on to the National Football League for 13 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, starting on three Super Bowl championship teams.
Following his playing career, Cross established himself as one of the nation's top professional and college football analysts, broadcasting from television and radio booths since 1989 with CBS and NBC.
In July, he was inducted into the prestigious National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame, joining 11 other players and two coaches from the best of college football history. He became the 13th Bruin to be inducted. In 1998, Cross was inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame.
Cross now lives in Alpharetta, GA with his wife of 31 years, Patrice. They have three grown children - Kelly, a 2006 University of Georgia graduate; Crystal, who graduated from Auburn University; and Brendan, a quarterback on the Wake Forest University football team.
Q & A
Bruins In The Real World: Your father was an actor and you were born in Brooklyn, NY. What brought your family to Southern California?
Randy Cross: The movie and television business moved to Los Angeles about the same time we did in 1958.
BRW: During the recruiting process, because of your parents' Bruin influence on you as you were growing up, was there ever any doubt that you would be attending UCLA to play football?
RC: I was recruited in both football and track by UCLA and Texas. Kansas, Stanford, USC, Alabama, Nebraska and Notre Dame recruited me just for football. It came down to Nebraska and UCLA with the Bruins getting the call because of their great track & field program.
BRW: You are one of the most versatile offensive linemen in school history, playing both guard and center at an all-star level. The center snaps the football and the guard does not, but what are some of the other differences and similarities between the two positions?
RC: On most offensive lines the center calls most of the blocking schemes and adjustments. The glaring difference between the two positions is the natural disadvantage of having to snap the ball before you block as a center, while guards have more freedom to pull and move. Both are positions that were well-suited to my skill sets and I never minded playing either, but I preferred guard because of the pulling. As a center you could get lost in a pile, as a pulling guard you got out in the open and people could actually see where you were.
BRW: As a sophomore offensive lineman (center), the Bruin wishbone offense produced one of the greatest rushing teams in college football history. What are your memories from that season?
RC: We had two truly great running backs in Kermit Johnson and James McAlister, so our offensive line had an edge against opposing defensive lines. We also had an incredible line coach in Terry Donahue and an offensive coordinator in Homer Smith, both of whom believed in a strict attention to detail. For me, the game at Stanford when we set the school record for rushing yards was the highlight of the season.
BRW: As a senior, the Bruins faced Ohio State twice, losing during the regular season and then beating the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl. What were the team feelings after the first loss to OSU and what was the Bruin attitude before the Rose Bowl game, knowing you were going to face Ohio State for the second time?
RC: There was no fear involved, just a real healthy amount of respect for Ohio State, as well as a knowledge of how slim our margin for error was. By the time we played OSU for the second time though, we were a different team and Dick Vermeil and his staff prepared us flawlessly. By the time we entered the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, we had no doubt in our minds we were the better team.
BRW: UCLA has been a Rose Bowl champion five times in school history, and you played on the first UCLA Rose Bowl Championship team. What are your favorite memories from that season?
RC: I will always cherish the tight-knit nature of that team and the special focus that a young Dick Vermeil gave a lucky group of football players.
BRW: You played for two head coaches at UCLA, Pepper Rodgers and Dick Vermeil, and Terry Donahue was your position coach throughout your Bruin career. What did you learn from these men, both on and off the field?
RC: From my first head coach Pepper Rodgers, I learned confidence in myself and my team. From fellow Bruin Terry Donahue, who was the man that recruited me to Westwood and my offensive line coach, I learned the importance of the fundamentals of the game. I also got my first lessons in how to prepare for and defeat, mentally and physically, an opponent. I learned more things than I can list here from Dick Vermeil about football and life. He taught us passion -- passion about life, football and passion about everything we did.
BRW: In your fifth year with the San Francisco 49ers, you earned All-Pro honors. Describe the transition from college to professional football.
RC: I was drafted as a center by Monte Clark, 49er head coach in 1976 and stayed there till game nine of 1978 when I broke my ankle. I went on injured reserve and missed the rest of that season. When Bill Walsh arrived in 1979 (my fifth head coach in four years), he moved me to guard to take advantage of my running ability and that move enabled me to blossom as a professional. I owe everything I became as a professional football player to Bob McKittrick, my 49er offensive line coach. He was a Hall of Fame level assistant who continued my association with Bruin coaches. (McKittrick was a Bruin assistant football coach from 1965-70.)
BRW: In 1982, the 49ers won their first Super Bowl, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals. What do you remember about playing in your first Super Bowl?
RC: We called ourselves "Happy Dummies," because after so many years of losing, going 16-3 overall and winning a Super Bowl was like a six-month dream, and none of us ever wanted to wake up.
BRW: San Francisco won the Super Bowl in 1985 defeating the Miami Dolphins, then four years later, won in the 1989 Super Bowl. In that game, the 49ers once again defeated Cincinnati. It was your last professional football game. Did you know entering the contest that it would be your final appearance in a 49er uniform?
RC: Yes, I knew that was it for me. I had told Bill Walsh on the plane to Miami. I know I could have played three or four more years, but it wouldn't have been at the level I wanted. So I chose to end it on the perfect stage.
BRW: During your 13 years with San Francisco, you played for one of the NFL's greatest head coaches (Bill Walsh) and some of the game's greatest players were your teammates: quarterback Joe Montana, wide receiver Jerry Rice, defensive back Ronnie Lott. What did it mean to you to be a 49er?
RC: We also played for the greatest owner in NFL history in Eddie DeBartolo. He's the only owner to win five Lombardi Trophies, and, in my opinion, he richly deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We held ourselves to a higher standard, our standard was simple, only a championship was acceptable. I'm so proud to have been associated with some of the game's all-time greats.
BRW: In your 13 years in the NFL, you missed only eight games and stayed relatively injury free. How were you able to do that, and what are your views on the many older and retired NFL players who are now dealing with debilitating head injures and other chronic football related ailments?
RC: My durability was a gift from God; there is no other way to look at it. Sure I worked hard, but the nature of post-career afflictions for other players taught me long ago part of it was genetics and part of it was out of my hands.
BRW: Was broadcasting your first career choice once your professional football career ended, and what was your first break into the broadcasting field?
RC: I always wanted to get into broadcasting, but I had no idea it would span over two decades. My first break came when I was broadcasting the Oakland Invaders of the USFL with Barry Tompkins. I also started my own production company for my radio and TV shows while I was still playing for the 49ers.
BRW: During your football broadcasting career, what fellow broadcasters have you admired, and which ones have helped you advance your career?
RC: I've been lucky enough to work with some of that game's greats: Tim Ryan, Dick Stockton, James Brown, Charlie Jones, Tom Hammond, Marv Albert, Verne Lundquist, Jim Nantz, Kevin Harlan, Don Criqui, and the one and only Dick Enberg. How does an analyst NOT sound good working with these broadcasting greats!
BRW: Over the years you've broadcast both professional and college football games. It's all football, but from a broadcasting standpoint, what are the differences?
RC: The obvious difference is the size of the rosters, but also I think college has an energy and enthusiasm that the NFL rarely matches. The NFL counters with a precision and quality that is unparalleled.
BRW: In your opinion, what are the highlights of your football broadcasting career?
RC: I've worked several playoff games and Super Bowls, as well as BCS level bowl games. Picking out a single highlight or group of highlights is impossible. I'd like to think the highlight is still to come.
BRW: Giving back to your community has been an important part of your life, both during and after your football career. Why is this important to you?
RC: We all owe it to our communities to help those less fortunate whenever it is in our ability to do so.
BRW: What were your feelings when you found out you were going to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame?
RC: When I saw the list of finalists and my fellow Hall of Fame inductees, I felt humbled to be among them. I truly do share this honor with all my teammates through the years.
BRW: You were a Bruin football player, attended UCLA and in 1998 were inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame. When someone asks you what it's like to be a Bruin, what is your reply?
RC: Being a Bruin to me is all about your chance to be a part of something very special that few ever get to experience. It wasn't about promises, it wasn't about gifts and it wasn't about arrogance or honors. For me, being a Bruin was the perfect place, at the perfect time and being around the perfect kind of people.