One of the most treasured newspaper clippings I’ve saved is a sports column dated January 24, 1971. It was the last time “Patton’s Press Box” appeared in the News-Press. It begins, “This will probably be the hardest column I’ve ever attempted.” In conclusion, the writer says he achieved “all the fulfillment ever wanted or needed by a man just doing his job to the best of his ability. And for that, we have each of you — friend and associate, athlete and reader — to humbly thank!”
Philip Patton’s last printed words were a true reflection of the man — unaffected, straightforward, and humble. He loved covering sports in Santa Barbara, especially in his dual role as the first play-by-play announcer of UCSB football and basketball, as well as the Gauchos’ beat writer. On many an occasion he would call a game over KTMS radio, write a detailed game story, and throw in a column or a sidebar.
As sports editor of the News-Press, Patton was my first boss when I began my career in 1968. His work ethic rubbed off on my colleagues John Nadel and Dave Kohl and me. We did not complain about working both early mornings (to get the afternoon paper out) and nights (to cover games), or coming into the office six days a week from September to April.
But the boss was not such a slave to the ringing phones and chattering AP and UPI sports teletypewriters that he would skip meal breaks. We would lunch at Caesar Uyesaka’s café on State Street. He took me to dinner at the Heidelberg Inn on Victoria Street and introduced me to Löwenbräu, when it was imported from Munich and had the taste of a craft beer decades before craft beers became the rage.
Saturday nights on the desk were pressure-packed because the Sunday paper was a morning edition. The top story might be a late UCSB game in Long Beach or San Diego. Patton would dictate his story over the phone, often having written just the opening paragraphs and composing the rest on the fly as the deadline approached. It was with respect and apprehension that I typed my first dictation from him.
The tone of his writing, win or lose, was always positive about the hometown teams. Having gotten his master’s degree at Northwestern, he was a Chicago Cubs fan, and as such, he learned to accept failure as an essential part of the athletic experience.
As Santa Barbara’s most dedicated fan, Patton harbored a vision that the community could not sustain. In his last column, he lamented the demise of minor-league baseball and car racing, two sports that he felt enhanced the city’s prestige. On the other hand, during his 16 years on the job here, he noted there had been “more teams to be covered and growing interests to be satisfied.” He had seen the Gaucho football team play in a bowl game and UCSB sports advance to University Division status. He played a part in the founding of the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table.
It was not, tragically, a long-awaited retirement that brought this solid journalist to the end of his active career. It was throat cancer. On the night of October 9, 1971, Nadel — who had taken over the Gaucho beat — announced to listeners of the UCSB-Cal State Northridge football broadcast that Patton, his “friend and mentor,” had died. He was 45 years old. He was survived by a lovely wife, Rita, and seven children, one of whom, Mark Patton, became a fine sports writer.
UCSB’s venture into big-time football also died, from a financial hemorrhage, at the end of the 1971 season. It is gone but not forgotten. Many Gaucho gridders of the ’60s have become supporters of their alma mater’s athletic programs. The man who faithfully reported their exploits is not forgotten either. Philip Patton, the original “Voice of the Gauchos,” will be inducted into the Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday, April 26.
UCSB’s Hall of Fame Class of 2014 (new selections are announced every two years) also includes some pioneering teams and two outstanding athletes:
• The women’s volleyball teams of 1972-74: They reached three consecutive AIAW national championship Final Fours and finished third twice. The AIAW was the highest level of women’s intercollegiate athletics before the NCAA embraced the sports.
• The 2004 men’s soccer team: It established UCSB as a national power, setting the standard for the NCAA title that came two years later. The ’04 Gauchos boast the school’s best season record (21-1-3) and put on probably its greatest performance, a 5-0 drubbing of Duke in the NCAA semifinals. They tied Indiana 1-1 in the championship match, but the Hoosiers won a penalty-kick shoot-out to decide the title.
• Lindsay Taylor: The 6’8” center, an All-American selection in 2004, is the all-time leading scorer and shot blocker for the Gaucho women’s basketball team. She was a force in four NCAA tournaments, including her senior year, when the Gauchos reached the Sweet 16 and gave Connecticut its toughest game.
• Andy Sheaffer: The Carpinteria native capped his stellar track-and-field career at UCSB at the 1991 NCAA Championships, where he received All-America recognition by placing sixth in the hammer throw with a toss of 210’8”.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony and dinner, part of this weekend’s All Gaucho Reunion, will be held at the Santa Barbara Art Foundry in the Funk Zone on Saturday evening. To make a reservation, call Christina Baglas at 893-5372.