Rich Strasser dashed to the line of scrimmage and crouched behind the center. Beyond the Cal Lutheran College defensive players, the San Francisco State quarterback saw that one second remained on the clock in last Saturday’s game.
The Gators, who trailed CLC, 28-24, had moved from their eight-yard line to the Kingsmen 41 on a 51-yard completion from Strasser to Ron Teitel. Strasser, touted as a Division II version of Doug Flutie by San Francisco Coach Vic Rowen, appeared to have a chance at a Flutiesque finish.
“After the long completion to Ron,” said Strasser after the Gators’ opener, “I thought to myself, ‘We’re going to win if I can get this pass off.’ CLC had one defender in the middle of the end zone, and two on the 10-yard line. ‘Jeez,’ I thought, the corner of the end zone is clear.”
Cal Lutheran coaches had screamed at the officials to start the clock as soon as the first-down sticks were set. There was no way the Gators could get off a play in one second, the coaches claimed.
Alas, they were right. There was no miracle touchdown pass. There was no play. The referee blew his whistle before the snap of the ball, waving his hands over his head furiously. The game was over.
The loss didn’t diminish the performances of Strasser and Teitel, however, who four years earlier had led Burroughs High of Burbank to the Southern Section Northwestern Conference final.
Strasser, an exciting 5-9 senior who scrambles in more directions than San Francisco’s underground transportation system, completed 25 of 47 passes for 336 yards. Teitel, a 5-9 junior, had five catches for 100 yards.
The pair will lead the Gators when they clash with Cal State Northridge tonight (at 7) at CSUN North Campus Stadium.
In background and style, the Strasser-Teitel combination is comparable to Flutie-Gerard Phelan. A small and moderately swift wide receiver, Phelan was Flutie’s favorite target at Boston College and in high school. Teitel is Strasser’s roommate and they have been friends since junior high.
Strasser, for one, doesn’t bat an eye when asked about being mentioned in the same breath as the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner.
“I could take it as a compliment,” he said. “I felt pressure when Coach Rowen made the comparison. I didn’t want to let him down. Finally, I decided, I’m not Doug Flutie, I’m Rich Strasser and I should go out and play my way.”
Strasser speaks matter-of-factly of his ability. He and Teitel are soft-spoken, but a visitor can sense a confidence in their quietness. They had to believe in themselves to become stars on an NCAA Division II team.
“Northridge, Cal Lutheran, none of the schools where I grew up showed much interest when I got out of high school,” Strasser said. “No one said it, but I think they thought I was too small.
“I liked Rowen as soon as he said my size didn’t matter as long as I did the job.”
Strasser started four games his freshman year, and did most of the quarterbacking the next two years. Teitel, who moved to San Francisco in 1983, has returned kickoffs and shuttled in plays at split end for three years.
“Rich is as good a quarterback as I have coached,” Rowen said, who has coached San Francisco for 32 years. “He makes great plays out of thin air. And often Ron Teitel is on the receiving end.”
Burroughs Coach George Rosales is another man who didn’t sell the small guys short.
“Nothing surprises me about those two,” Rosales said. “They are very competitive high achievers. Rich and Ronnie are great kids from great families.”
Strasser completed 127 of 227 passes for 2,050 yards at Burroughs. Teitel is in the school’s record book for catching an 88-yard pass, second longest in Burroughs’ history.
In 1981, Strasser’s senior year, Burroughs advanced to the Northwestern Conference finals before losing to Antelope Valley. Burroughs was Foothill League champs with a 5-0 record and was 10-4 overall.
It was to be the last winning season for Strasser and Teitel. Burroughs was 4-6 in Teitel’s senior year and San Francisco hasn’t had a winning team in the 1980’s. The Gators play in the tough Northern California Athletic Conference and have been beaten regularly by UC Davis, Cal State Hayward and Sacramento State.
After a record of 4-6 in 1982, Strasser’s freshman year, the Gators were 3-7 in 1983 and 4-5-1 in 1984. Strasser and Teitel believe a winning season is possible this year.
“A minimum of a 6-4 record is our goal,” Teitel said. “If the team plays together, we can do it.”
A career highlight for Strasser came last season when CSUN traveled to San Francisco. The Gators rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit to win, 23-17.
A win today would be sweet for Strasser and Teitel. “I talked to my mom on the phone,” Strasser said, laughing. “She said a bunch of our friends will be there and we have to win.”
The friendship between Strasser and Teitel has endured through the glory days and growing pains of high school and college.
“I decided on San Francisco because Rich was the quarterback,” Teitel said. “I knew he’d find a way to get me the ball.”
Added Strasser: “I can always count on Ron. It seems like I’m always scrambling, and Ron knows when to break his pattern and find the open area. Between Ron and (Division II All-America tight end) Jim Jones, we’ve got a dangerous offense.”
Having already exceeded the expectations of most people by succeeding as a college quarterback-receiver tandem, do Strasser or Teitel have any professional aspirations? The NFL is probably out of the question, but how about the Canadian Football League?
Said Strasser: “I’ll ask Coach Rowen after the season, ‘Can I play at another level? If he says no, it won’t break my heart.”
Added Teitel: “I run the 40 in 4.5 (seconds), but at my size, making the pros is only wishful thinking.”
Whatever they choose to do with their adult lives, the experience at San Francisco has been enriching for the Burbank natives. They share an apartment across the street from Golden Gate Park.
“We’ve been all over the city,” said Teitel. “It’s clean, transportation is easy and there is plenty to do.”
Strasser appears to have adopted San Francisco’s live-and-let-live life style.
“Friends come up from Burbank to visit,” he said, “Look around and say, ‘How can you handle all the weirdos?’ ”
Strasser waved his hand. “I say, ‘Oh, them? They don’t bother anybody. You’ve got to be tolerant.’ ”