Seventy-seven-year-old “Dog” Turner already knows how he is going to die: Cal’s football team will be beating USC by 30 points at Memorial Stadium. He’ll go down. The band will play the California Fight Song, and his ashes will be shot from the cannons.
For Dog, who has had a position with the team since 1969 and who has watched almost every game since the late 1940s, Cal football is more than just some game played by 22 sweat-soaked players. It’s what he thinks about when he wakes up, what he dreams about when he falls asleep.
When Dog, an assistant in charge of field security, stands outside the football stadium, he doesn’t have any light reading to pass the time or any headphones to crank up. With the only noise the sound of young men tackling one another, accompanied by the music of the coaches’ intermittent whistles, Dog waits patiently for someone to approach him, for someone to ask him for a story.
He has plenty of them.
If you want to get to the heart of Cal football, you don’t have to go any further than Dog Turner.
When he talks about the game, his eyes light up with childish excitement. He talks a little faster. He speaks louder. He leans forward.
For Dog, it’s not one play he remembers. He remembers them all.
In 1949, when Cal needed a touchdown to win against USC, fullback Frank Brunk caught the ball two yards deep in the end zone and ran all the way to the USC end zone. USC’s Frank Gifford, a future pro football Hall of Famer, ended the play facedown on the turf, the last player to have missed a tackle.
Dog, born Cyril Turner (“Who would want to go by Cyril?” he asks), describes his first Cal football game, in 1947. The 11-year-old sat in the first row above the tunnel as Cal beat Navy, 14-7.
Invited by a neighbor, Dog had no idea what football was but says, “I got hooked right then and there.”
He couldn’t play football in high school because of rheumatic fever, so he was the student manager for the team. He picked up the nickname “Dog” because of Chicago Bears player Clyde “Bulldog” Turner.
The Cleveland Browns trained nearby, and players weren’t allowed to have cars in those days, so Dog drove them around in his 1937 Plymouth Coupe. One of those players, Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham, sent Dog a Christmas card every year until he died in 2003.
Dog, who worked full time as a soil engineer, got his first “official” job with the Cal football program in 1971, helping with the equipment.
While Dog proudly dresses in Cal athletic gear, the aviators he sports and his rigid posture hint at his years in the military.
“I spent six years jumping out of perfectly good airplanes,” he says.
He once complained to the commanding general of the Air Force: “Sir, I took off in your airplanes 103 times and never landed in a single one of them.”
While Dog loves talking about his experiences on the football field, he’s pretty private about the rest of his life. He talks briefly about his wife, Joan. They saw each other at an Oktoberfest parade when Dog was stationed in Germany, but they never spoke. When Dog came back to San Francisco, he ran into Joan within a month. This time, he spoke to her.
He talks about his three kids and his seven grandkids, including his granddaughter Kylie, who lives with him and is learning to grill a mean hot dog. He talks about his parents — his dad worked for Chevron and Standard Oil for 40 years, and his mom was a homemaker — and then sort of talks about his brother, older by 12 years.
“We didn’t get along until he needed me later in life,” Dog says.
But while talking about his personal life, his sentences are staccato, woven together in a basic narrative. It’s not as if he doesn’t care. In fact, he loves his family very much. But he’d rather talk about how he used to make the best ice bags in the Pac-10.
He’d rather talk about the best Cal football team he ever saw play, the 1975 Bears, led by quarterback Joe Roth and running back Chuck Muncie, whom Dog says is the best player he ever saw.
At the Cal track, someone set the high jump bar at 6’2”, and Muncie, in civilian shoes and clothes, jumped it.
“No problem,” Dog says. “He was just like that. He could do anything in sports. There was no one else like him.”
Dog and Muncie stayed close, with Muncie calling from all over the country to chat. When Dog talks about Muncie’s passing earlier this year, he pauses to collect his emotions.
“He was a very good friend of mine,” he finally says.
He marvels over how much the equipment has changed since the days of leather helmets. He jokes that people now have to come and tell him how each new piece of equipment works.
As much as Dog loves the game, he loves the people more.
There was Mike Pawlawski, quarterback in the early ’90s, who still makes Dog laugh. The day before the Citrus Bowl, Pawlawski went bungee jumping within sight of the coaches at the hotel.
He also remembers some of the more recent Cal greats.
“Aaron Rodgers was unbelievable,” Dog says. “He always made sure he came up and said hello to me before practice. Marshawn Lynch was the same way. Once in a while, they’ll show up for a game here and will still say hi.”
One time at a game, Dog got picked up from behind and was “slammed” into the ground. When he finally got his bearings, he turned around to see Rodgers grinning at him.
“Rodgers is a character,” Dog says. “He can be extremely serious, but he laughed a lot. Nothing ever shook him up.”
Dog walks slowly. For Dog, the world moves at his pace.
He carries an iPhone, but the object seems heavy and foreign in his hand. He only has a few contacts in his phone. After all, he has the team.
This year, a new tradition has been established: When the team comes out for practice, every single player and coach gives him a fist bump before walking out onto the field.
“I want to do this as long as I possibly can,” he says. “Every time I pull into the parking lot and see the stadium, I get a lump in my throat.”
“I wouldn’t call what I do ‘work,’ ” Dog says. “It’s a real love affair. I think I’m the luckiest guy in sports for having a job like I’ve got. I’ve had more fun than should be possible. I just love Cal. I just love football.”
Shannon Carroll covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected]