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Steinberg: Joe Roth documentary will inspire you

Steinberg Says

April 25, 2014|By Leigh Steinberg

Sunday will be emotional for Cal Berkeley alumni, fans, and anyone who knew the late Cal quarterback, Joe Roth.

"Don't Quit: The Joe Roth Story" will debut at the Newport Beach Film Festival at the Regency Lido Theatre at 2 p.m. It is a film filled with hope and inspiration, directed by Cal alums Bob Rider and Phil Schaaf. The Newport Beach Film Festival has been the launching pad for many successful documentaries. I helped Gregg Schwenk, co-executive director, resurrect the festival some years ago. Gregg and Todd Quartararo have done a brilliant job turning it into a showcase for the best in new feature, documentary, and short films.

Joe Roth came to the Cal football program in 1975. Blue-eyed and blonde, with a great smile and natural people skills, he seemed the natural replacement for his predecessor, quarterback Steve Bartkowski who was the first overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft. Coach Mike White had assembled as gifted a roster, especially on offense, as any college program in the country. Mike is charismatic and warm, a one of a kind raconteur, and has a brilliant offensive mind. He assembled an epic group of coaches. Paul Hackett, offensive coordinator, went on to be head coach of the University of Pittsburgh and USC. Walt Harris also was head coach at Pittsburgh, and later Stanford University. Both went on to hold assistant positions in the NFL. Al Saunders went on to be head coach of the San Diego Chargers. Roger Theder has coached generations of quarterbacks.

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In Joe's first season, he led Cal to a co-Pac 8 Championship. The offense led the nation and was perfectly balanced between the running and passing game, to the exact yard. Imagine a team with Chuck Muncie as the running back, Wesley Walker as a wide receiver, Steve Rivera as the other wide receiver, and Ted Albrecht anchoring the line.

Cal Berkeley was a football juggernaut, all while Joe Roth battled with black mole cancer, otherwise known as malignant melanoma, the most deadly of skin cancers. It recurred during the 1976 season, but Joe didn't talk about it and gamely carried on.

Most draft prognosticators projected Joe as the very first pick in the 1977 NFL Draft. He threw with laser like accuracy and had great field command. He traveled in January of 1977 to the Tokyo Bowl All-Star game, but the cancer had progressed. He actually flew back to Hawaii to the Hula Bowl Game, but clearly couldn't play.

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