Bob St. Clair is a fixture in Sonoma County. He's a big man who, in his youth, was well known for his flamboyant life style. His 49er teammates called him "Geek" because he ate his meat raw. At 79 he still does. He is still a huge guy with hands the size of Easter hams and a smile that seems as big as a piano keyboard.
It was a bright sunny spring day that my wife Chrissy and I ran into Bob and his wife Marsha at a local resort. Under a sun umbrella amidst the redwoods and vineyards of California's magical wine country, Bob related the story that follows. But first a little background.
St. Clair was born in 1931. His hard-hitting football talents were first acclaimed when he played at San Francisco's Polytechnic High School. High School play was followed at the University of San Francisco where he played on the now famous "Undefeated, Untied and Uninvited" team.
The 1951 USF team had two black players, Burt Toler and Ollie Matson. Despite winning all of its games and being ranked number ten in the nation, the team was not invited to play for the national championship. According to Dr. Kristine Setter Clark, "[Officials of]…the Gator, Sugar and Orange Bowl Committees…decided to avoid [inviting] teams with "Negro Players."' Orange Bowl organizers urged USF to drop the two black players from their roster in return for an invitation. Matson had led the nation in yardage and touchdowns that year. The team members, including St. Clair, voted unanimously to keep the team intact. The team was not invited to play for the national title in any of the bowls.
It was a gutsy move by the fifty odd players. The following year, USF, an urban Catholic Jesuit university, dropped football altogether due to a running deficit which at the time topped $70,000 ($625,000 in 2010 values). Had the team played in any one of the national bowls, the participation money would have erased the deficit and the program would have continued.
Nine players from the '51 team were drafted into the National Football League. Five played in the pro Bowl and three, including St. Clair, were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame-the most ever from a single college football team.* Pete Rozelle, the team's publicist, went on to become Commissioner of the National Football League. Rozelle is credited with inventing the Super Bowl and Monday Night Football. Rozelle was also inducted into the Hall of Fame.
With the team disbanded, St. Clair was forced to leave his native San Francisco and finish his college football career at the University of Tulsa. In 1953 he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. At 6'9", he was the tallest player in the National Football League during his era. He played offensive tackle for the 49ers until his retirement in 1964. He was inducted into the football Hall of Fame in 1990.
The director said he didn't need a script. He told Bob to just act it out like he had seen it in real life thousands of times during the course of his football career.
Bob St. Claire as coach of Minnesota Americans
In 1999 St. Clair was invited to appear in a cameo role in the Oliver Stone-Allan Graf directed movie Any Given Sunday. The movie had an ensemble cast of big-name box office stars including Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Fox, Anne Margaret, Charlton Heston, Matthew Modine, LL Cool J and James Woods. Along with several other retired NFL stars, St. Claire was offered a small role as coach of the Minnesota Americans-one of the fictional teams portrayed in the movie. St. Clair agreed to take the role provided his fictional team won the game. Al Pacino, the star of the movie, was the coach of the Miami Sharks.
Stone decided he wanted a scene in which there was a confrontation between the coach (St. Clair) and a player who had screwed up on the previous play. St. Clair agree and asked for the script.
* Ollie Matson, and Gino Marchetti were inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1972 with St. Clair joining them in 1990. Toler became the first black referee in the NFL. Rozelle was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.
The scene was set and St. Clair stormed up to the offending player and screamed:
"J#%&S C&#!*T what the F%+K are you doing!"
The director interrupted, shouting, "CUT, CUT, CUT!"
Stone took Bob aside and explained that he couldn't use Jesus' name in vain.
The crew reset and reran the scene. This time Bob stormed out on the field screaming "G$D Damit! Are you out of your F!#%KING mind?"
Once again the director shouted, "CUT, CUT, CUT!" Again Stone took Bob aside and explained that he couldn't use "God's" name in vain and he suggested he should drop the "F" word too. Pacino, Woods, Cool and Diaz used the "F" word liberally throughout the movie but apparently it couldn't be used unless it was scripted.
Once again, the crew reset and reran the scene, this time with Bob screaming, "For crying out loud! When did you start wearing a dress?" at the offending player. Once again, as if on cue, the director said, "CUT, CUT, CUT!" Apparently the director thought the quote was too sexist.
After consultation, the directors decided to scrap the scene altogether. There was no politically correct way to portray such a confrontation even though St. Clair's portrayal was accurate and based on decades of his first hand observations.
Early on in the movie, Al Pacino in a scripted line about St. Clair said to one of his assistant coaches, "I know this coach. He's a prick." In the script, at the games end, St. Clair was directed to trot across the field and verbally accost Pacino. Again, there were no scripted lines. So, Bob trotted over to Pacino and yelled " HOW'd YOU LIKE THAT YOU LITTLE DAGO?"
Again Bob heard the familiar "CUT, CUT, CUT!" The directors took Bob aside and explained that he couldn't use an ethnic slur. Bob was taken aback thinking to himself why was it OK for Pacino to call him a prick? Wasn't being a "prick" worse than being a "Dago", he thought to himself? Since when was football about "sensitivity"?
They reset and reran the scene. This time Bob raised his arms and said "IN YOUR FACE!" to Pacino. And the directors said, "CUT. AND THAT'S A PRINT."
America is a wonderful land of contradictions. Every football Sunday, TV camera crews and editors love to zero in on head coaches after a flubbed play, seemingly in order to serve the viewing audience of millions a picture of the coach mouthing some slang cuss phrase-usually the "F" word or reference to the son of a dog's mother. More often than not the "F" word is connected to the son of the dog's mother. And, yes, even the Lord's name is invoked in an unflattering manner. And more than likely, just like St. Clair said, the Lord himself is linked to the reference of the F!#%King son of a dogs mother. The same holds true for major televised sporting events in general. In America, lip reading an obvious string of cuss words is OK-as long as the cussing isn't made audible.
St. Clair was not invited to the Oscars. Nor was his performance nominated.
Worldwide the movie, Any Given Sunday, has grossed $100,000,000 since its debut in 1999.