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Calvin Remains Coolly Confident Despite Current Status : Arena football: Former Cal State Northridge player was released after seven games with San Jose.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not yet a month after thousands of football fans sprayed unbridled affection on Ivy Calvin, two mechanical fans blows hot air throughout his apartment. The warm air brushes against a Northridge helmet, a signed football and a hat on his head that bears his identity:

“IVY.”

Calvin, 23, slides his fingers over the cap’s bill: “I wear it so no one forgets who I am.”

Until July 4, anonymity was hardly a concern of the self-assured former Cal State Northridge linebacker. The leading rusher and starting linebacker for the San Jose Sabercats--a new, prospering entry in the quirky, 9-year-old Arena Football League--Calvin made a name for himself in Northern California.

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The next day, though, he was granted his independence, sans fireworks or fanfare after seven games. The way from San Jose was a simple numbers game--too many players, not enough roster spots. A numbers game, ironically, in a league where scores approach summer temperatures.

“I never thought I would get cut,” Calvin said.

Terry Malley, San Jose’s director of football operations, had a pleasant problem: the Sabercats’ running back-linebacker slot was overcrowded, setting off a game of musical chairs. Calvin was the man not sitting when the record stopped.

“Ivy is a very talented player,” Malley said. “He comes to play every day, and you certainly can’t do everything he has done without being talented. But we just ran out of room.”

Greg Franklin came off injured reserve. Tom Petithomme came over from another position. Ricky Shaw, came over from Orlando.

Calvin came home.

*

“From the time I was old enough to pick up wood until I went to college, I was a lumberjack,” Calvin said. “My family used to bring wood to the paper mill. That’s how we got by.”

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A young Pittsburgh Steeler fan, Calvin didn’t long to be Paul Bunyan--Franco Harris perhaps, maybe Lynn Swann--though he and the frontier legend shared more than larger-than-average body types.

Calvin spent his youth in Ridgecrest with his mother, father and younger sister Tanya. And like Bunyan--always accompanied by his Blue Ox, Babe--Calvin had a constant companion.

A football.

“I started playing when I was 6,” Calvin said. “I was too big to play on the smallest level. Ever since my first game, it’s been a hit for me.”

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After wrestling and playing football for Burroughs High, Calvin moved on to Bakersfield College in 1990. He was voted a preseason All-American running back before his sophomore year.

During that season, Mark Baker, Northridge’s defensive coordinator, called. Baker saw Calvin on film and liked what he saw.

“It was convenient, close to home,” Calvin said. “They play get-at-'em defense. So I came.”

And he got at them. His two years at Northridge were marked by body slams, blocked kicks and braggadocio. All that rivaled Calvin’s on-field exploits--including citation as the Western Football Conference’s defensive player of the week in October 1992--were his off-field boasts.

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He claimed the team would benefit if he played both ways. He also pleaded for 18 months to return kicks. When the coaching staff finally conceded, he took his first return 60 yards. From then on he was the Matadors’ prime kick returner.

After college Calvin hired an agent and worked out privately for--among others--the Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, and Steelers.

“I thought I did what I needed to do, but they liked the guys from the bigger schools,” Calvin said. “I knew I could play at that level. It was obvious.”

When a team isn’t interested, it doesn’t call. Calvin’s phone didn’t ring.

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From San Jose came training camp rumblings of a strange sort of football squad, one that would play indoors on a turf field 50 yards long, 85 feet wide with padded boundaries hugging the sidelines. The Sabercats were set to join the Arena Football League, and Calvin--well-suited for mandatory two-way play--got set to join them.

There was a precedent for Northridge grads to sample Arenaball: Sherdrick Bonner (1990) was the ArenaBowl most valuable player last year for Arizona; Barry Voorhees (1990) is also a Rattler.

Calvin became a Sabercat on April 14 and played in the first seven games, earning $10,000 per each of the four victories, and $6,000 for each of the three losses. He detested the travel, but enjoyed the atmosphere, accommodations and camaraderie.

“We had a real tight group,” Calvin said. “They took care of us really well, too, setting us up in nice places.

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“They try to make it fun for fans, with contests, bells, fireworks, all that stuff. Then the footballs go into the stands. The fans love those footballs.”

They also seem to genuinely like the brand of football, even with its peculiarities like its in-play rebound nets behind the end zones and goal posts, which are only half as wide as those in the NFL. The AFL regularly sells out several of its 13 sites--including San Jose, which averages 14,000 fans--and plans expansion to Anaheim in 1996.

His family, as it often did at Northridge, attended his game in Las Vegas. A hundred or so strong.

Calvin played well offensively that evening, under the circumstances. The AFL is not a runner’s league: Calvin’s 25 carries, which netted 70 yards, were ninth in the league at the time he was cut. Open spaces are sparse on the congested playing surface, even with only eight players on a side.

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Imagine a pinball machine. The 6-foot, 245-pound ball--running uphill, bouncing off tacklers, with bells and buzzers blaring in the background--was Calvin.

“It’s all just football to me, though,” Calvin said. “Everyone told me that playing both ways would be killer, but it was easy.”

Soon it was over. As San Jose marched to an 8-3 record and a Western division title, Calvin repacked his knapsack and lumbered back to Granada Hills, where he lives with his girlfriend of four years, Wendy Steele.

The Canadian Football League and the Anaheim AFL franchise loom as options. Even so, he has yet to toss his primary goal out like so much dead wood.

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“My dream is still to play NFL ball,” said Calvin, who said he runs a 4.5 40.-yard dash. “If I get one shot, I will stay there 10 years.

“If you need a great player, I’m the one.”

His name, in case you forgot, is Calvin. Ivy Calvin.


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