BY: ZEINAB CHANINE
The Long Beach State 49ers football team that once represented Cal State Long Beach had an indelible course that ended in 1991. It’s been almost 24 years, and the history of the team comes to life now that old film footage of the games has surfaced. What was once lost is revived for former and current fans to relive and witness moments of the past. Starting their course in 1955, the 49ers football team represented CSULB for almost four decades, leaving behind just footprints of their legacy. Much has been lost but the essence of the team remains on the grounds of their home stadium, the Veterans Memorial Stadium in Long Beach. The Long Beach 49er football team has a fascinating history that impacted many generations.
Starting as an independent team represented in brown and gold colors, the team joined the California Collegiate Athletic Association in 1959. The team was lead by their first ever coach, Mike DeLotto, who reached an overall record of 13-10-0 mark.
In 1969 they joined the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, now known as the Big West, which is where they remained until their very last season.
After 37 years of competition, the football team had an all-time record of 199 wins, 183 losses with 4 ties. They were a great team with a respectable performance record on the field. Yet, the reason behind their demise was due to financial crisis that had befallen the university.
The final decision to cut the team was made by University President Curtis McCray who announced the program would be abandoned on December 10, 1991.
About a couple weeks later the 49ers coach, George Allen, who lead the team into an undefeated schedule for the first time passed away on December 31, 1991. Allen coached many teams before coaching the Long Beach 49ers, including the Morningside Mustangs and Whittier College. He was also an assistant coach under Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman in the NFL between 1957 until 1965. He then moved on to be head coach of the NFL coaching the Los Angeles Rams.
In 2008, student leaders campaigned to bring back the team. The Bring Back the 49ers Football campaign gathered 5 percent more votes than they needed with a total of 2,000 signatures in 2010. Unfortunately, a referendum was announced in March of 2011 that involved students voting online with results of 52 percent voting “no” and a 48 percent voting “yes.”
A few years after the team’s final season, a white van pulled up near the school’s dumpsters to salvage what physical evidence was left of the 49ers football game. The athletic department, which was housed in the now PE building, had the films in storage. After relocating into a new building, they decided to throw away the films. The footage taken from the games was not meant for public viewing. They existed for scouting and training purposes, and were then locked away when the film became futile.
Dan Bailey, a staff member at CSULB, started as a trainer for the 49ers in 1971, hired in physical training. He also worked in the student healthcare center part time as a physical therapist. After realizing that the fate of the films was expulsion that would ultimately lead to their destruction, Bailey decided to take matters into his own hands. He collected the films from the dumpsters and loaded them into his van. Bailey had great love for sports as well as a great respect for the 49ers football team.
According to Bailey’s wife, Kay Bailey, Dan played football on a scholarship for four years and graduated from the University of Utah. Dan and his wife moved to Southern California after Dan got accepted to University of Southern California where he got his masters in the physical therapy program. He was 23 or 24 at the time of the move which Kay said made him feel that he could easily relate to athletes. He went on to play club rugby, run marathons, and climb Mt. Whitney many times.
After graduating from USC, he received a job offer as an assistant trainer at CSULB. A couple years later, he got the job of head trainer. He also worked in the Student health Center in physical therapy and taught Athletic Training and Dance Injury classes. For years Dan made sure to attend every Long Beach State event he could as well as travel with the teams.
Dan harbored great memories of athletes he knew and worked with, according to Kay. He wanted to be able to give them something to share with their children, he wanted them to have something they could hold on to, something that would remind them of their time at Long Beach. After getting the films, Dan started to research how to transfer film into video.
Since then, he developed a new ambition that involved the conversion of the films into a digital format before they became useless. Dan planned to work on this project when he retired. He retired in August and passed away in November of 2007. Unfortunately, Bailey passed away without ever giving life to his project. From 1984 to the time of his death, Dan was a volunteer who trained several USA Olympic teams. “He loved sports, enjoyed students and loved his job for 36 years” says Kay Bailey. “Dan appreciated the times of football coach George Allen and basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. We had winning teams and great athletes, he became very close to those competitors.”
After his passing, Bailey’s wife Kay passed the film to her neighbor Dan Olsen, who was a colleague, neighbor and friend to Dan Bailey. Olsen, a technology coordinator at CSULB, grew up in Long Beach in the late 60s and has a profound love for football. This included the 49ers football team, through which he shared a bond with his father who took him to watch the games since a young age. What was once embedded in his past has become part of his present. Olsen is now determined to save whatever is left of the 49ers football team.
“The fun part is, and this is where the passion came in, is how much fun it is taking bits and pieces of games, and like a mystery and a puzzle trying to figure them out and make them complete,” said Olsen.
Through his own finances, Olsen started what would be a long and time consuming project in August of 2014. According to Olsen, he found a researcher and data film processor in South Carolina who has done something similar in film conversion to what he needs.
“16mm film to digital conversion is unbelievably expensive” said Olsen.
It takes around $75 to convert a single reel of film. This means it would take 5 times that amount to convert one complete game. To find a complete set of reels that forms a single game is not easy for Olsen, but he is determined, ambitious and enjoys the project. Troy Ory, a former football player who played for the team in 1984 and 1985, is very pleased with what Olsen has been trying to accomplish.
“I think it is great that Mr. Olsen has taken the time to put past LBST game films on DVD's,” Ory said. “Although it has been over 20 years since the 49ers have fielded a football team let's not forget that at one time we were a school that played against some of the top division I programs at a competitive level. It would have been a shame if video evidence of these feats had been lost forever, but due to Dan's effort they will live on forever and from those of us who put the time, sweat and effort into 49er football, it is greatly appreciated!”
There were over 300 games played, and typically each game consisted of five, seven-inch film reels. So, it’s easy to imagine how much film there actually is to look through. This type of film is not flammable like nitrate-base film.
One of the biggest problems with 16mm film is that it doesn’t last. With age, film goes through a process called vinegar syndrome, also known as “acetate film base degradation.” Vinegar syndrome causes the film to shrink and curl up. It was identified that the problem was the chemical nature of the plastic used for the film.
The degradation of this type of film is inevitable but there are ways to slow down the decaying process. The most effective ways to preserve these films is to store them in a moderately cold environment. But for many of the 49ers football footage, degradation has already begun. This means that it is just a matter of time before the footage of the 49ers football team will become unusable.
A big problem Olsen faces is time, as many of the films are already damaged and some have splices in them which means that part of the play has been cut out and is now missing.
Over the past few months, Olsen has made great progress. He has converted over 40 complete games and roughly has 150 partial games remaining to be converted into digital format. The commitment to his project is of great priority and importance.