Repaying an Old Debt in Full : Lincoln High Finally Blotted Out Memories of That Black Day in 1977 When Wilson Ran Up a Score and Railsplitters Ran Out
For an exorcism, it didn’t receive much attention--a line near the back in the newspaper.
One line for getting a monkey the size of King Kong off the back of an entire neighborhood.
One line for beating humiliation by 20 points, and on his home field.
Lincoln 20, L.A. Wilson 0. Rarely has a victory with so little bearing on a championship or rankings meant so much. Lincoln had beaten Wilson, for the first time since one horrendous day in 1977.
“People were crying, the players were crying, everyone was running onto the field,” assistant coach Albert Carrillo said the other day. “It was like we won the City championship. Probably even better.”
So no matter what the weather was like in actuality Sept. 28--the morning after--the sun was shining brightly and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky for followers of Lincoln High School football. It was a day to be proud of the Railsplitters.
“They (the players) knew it was a payback for what happened,” Carrillo said. “They all have big brothers or fathers who told them what happened in the ‘70s. I think they wanted to do it for the people who were there in 1977.”
Lincoln never had a chance that day in ’77.
The Railsplitters began the season with 33 players, but one was shot to death, eight were pulled out of school or told to leave because of racial tension, four turned out to be ineligible because they were too young and two others were injured.
So when Coach Skip Loera stepped off the bus Nov. 4, 1977, for a game at Wilson, he had a team of 13 that had been outscored, 175-15, and looked every bit its 0-6 record.
Wilson, with quarterback Ron Cuccia on his way to setting national prep career records for passing yardage with 8,804, and total offense with 11,451, and tying the mark for touchdowns with 91, showed no mercy.
Vic Cuccia, the coach and father of the quarterback, was every bit as familiar with lopsided wins as Loera was with loses, the Mules having beaten their first six opponents, 260-60.
But this was something else.
Ron Cuccia threw 39 passes in the first half, completing 34 for 509 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also rushed for 38 yards and another score. The Mules scored 42 points in the second quarter and used at least six onside kicks.
Loera took his team, battered and beaten, into the locker room at halftime down, 63-0. Three more players had been injured, he said, dropping the total to nine.
He looked into their faces.
“There was nothing there,” he recalled. “Period.”
Then, along with Principal Pete Martinez, he made the decision that has followed him ever since. He told the officials that Lincoln did not have enough healthy players and would not come out for the second half.
He sent for the bus, gathered up his players and left.
Vic Cuccia said that Lincoln actually had 24 players and called the walkout “disgraceful” and “ludicrous” and against American ideals.
Loera, a Wilson alum and a former assistant under Cuccia, sticks by his decision to this day and said he would do it again under the same circumstances.
“All I was concerned about was the health of my team,” he said. “I didn’t care about myself and how people looked at me. By halftime, I was counting heads to see who was left.”
With that, the game became national news. The Times put the story on Page 1 of the sports section. Papers across the country got the word from the news services and used it. Lincoln football was suddenly big time.
“They were either the object of nationwide sympathy or they were called wimps, depending on how you look at it,” said Jerry Weiner, the City sports information director at the time.
Either way, there was no debating that the Railsplitters were the object of attention. Letters to The Times on Nov. 12, 1977, indicated that.
Congratulations to Lincoln High School coach Loera, who refused to let his team play in the second half after Wilson High rolled up a 63-0 lead. I was at the game and could not believe that the Wilson coach allowed his first string quarterback (his son) to continue to throw bombs in the last minutes of the second quarter when leading 56-0. I’d love to see Wilson play a good school like Banning or Carson.
What has athletics come to when a quitter such as the Lincoln High team is defended? Vic Cuccia must be an outstanding coach to have developed the teams he has, and since when is excellence something to be embarrassed over? I read where the schools are only a mile apart so it would seem they draw much the same type of potential player. Let Lincoln work and build up its football program with the objective of beating Wilson, instead of throwing in the towel.
Why should Lincoln wait around to be assassinated?
Lincoln lived to play another day, but the wounds were deep. And hardly anyone was against taking a shot at them.
In the next game, against Eagle Rock, Loera led the team onto the field for the third quarter. One of the officials was walking by. “Oh,” he said. “I only expected to work a half.”
No one has had a better view of the catharsis of Lincoln football than Randy Rodriguez, an assistant under Loera in 1977 and the Railsplitters’ current coach. Although he missed the fateful drubbing in ’77 because he had pneumonia, he has been through all of the aftermath, and there has been a lot, from a visit by Joe Kapp, a friend of Loera, who delivered a pep talk about bouncing back a few days after the incident, to the Loera-Cuccia relationship.
“He’s one of my favorite people,” Rodriguez said of Cuccia, who is no longer coaching. “I’ve never had any bad feelings for him. It was a thing between he and Loera. . . . They still never speak good about each other.
“After we beat Wilson this year, (Cuccia) sent a congratulatory note to me. He was congratulating me, but he could care less about everyone else.”
Loera does have some respect for Cuccia, but agrees with Rodriguez on the personal aspect of the rivalry. “I think he was a great coach, but his personality left a lot to be desired,” he said.
Cuccia did not return several phone calls.
Rodriguez knows that there was some good that came out of the two-quarter game. Several Lincoln fans sat in the stands and decided that the 63-0 loss was the last straw.
A Pop Warner-type league was organized to get potential players into a system that would instruct players as they moved closer to playing at Lincoln. That way, everything would be a matter of routine once they were old enough to play in high school.
Several former players coming back to coach youngsters has made a difference, Rodriguez said. But the major change goes beyond that.
“Attitude,” he said. “I look at the whole picture and see it’s the attitude. This is the year the kids would do things asked of them. I’ve been here for the past four years and it’s always been an attitude problem. . . . The Mexican machismo, I guess. They wouldn’t want to go out and do things asked of them by faculty members. But now they will.”
There’s something else different about 1985.
Former doormat Lincoln is 8-1, champion of the Northern League and in the playoffs tonight against Roosevelt (6-2-1).
Wilson finished 0-9.