East County Sports

Roth movie set to air here Sunday on Pac-12 Network

“Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story” set to premiere in San Diego on Pac-12 Network

Special airing of the critically-acclaimed feature surround Cal Football’s 38th annual Joe Roth Memorial Game on Nov. 1

Special to EastCountySports.com

Fans can catch the limited airings of Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story on Pac-12 Networks at the following dates/times, so check your programming providers’ listings:

Date                                        Time                            Network

Saturday, October 31             9:00 am PT                 Pac-12 Bay Area (check your provider listings)

Sunday, November 1              7:30 pm PT                 Pac-12 Network (COX CH. 314)

An excerpt of Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story will be featured in the October 26 edition of Pac-12 Sports Report on Pac-12 Networks.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.40.24 PMA native of San Diego, Roth was a 1973 graduate of Granite Hills High School in San Diego, then led Grossmont College to an undefeated season and state title in 1974, and transferred to University of California, Berkeley in 1975. He was the starting quarterback for California in 1975 and 1976, leading the Golden Bears to a share of the Pac-8 Conference title his junior season (1975). Roth’s began his senior year in 1976 as a Heisman Trophy favorite, but the melanoma that he had successfully battled two years prior tragically returned at the beginning of his senior season. Despite the diagnosis and the debilitating toll that the disease took on him, Roth held a remarkable commitment to being a student-athlete at California. He finished the football season as the Cal starting QB, earning All-American honors, as well as turning in a paper just ten days before passing away at the age of 21.

Roth’s indelible legacy has been honored by Cal since 1977 when his #12 jersey was retired during the Bears’ game versus USC. Every season since that day, California’s home game versus UCLA or USC stands as the Joe Roth Memorial Game, where his memory is celebrated.

Produced by JR12 Productions, Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story features interviews with dozens of notable football names, such as Super Bowl-winning head coaches Tony Dungy and Dick Vermeil, Roth’s former coaches Mike White and Paul Hackett, former teammates Chuck Muncie and Wesley Walker, and Cal rugby coach Jack Clark, just to name a few. It also features interviews with members of the Roth family, who have authorized the film.

For more information on Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story, please visit http://www.joerothfilm.com/.

From the San Francisco Chronicle


Athletes are expected to play through pain, but there has never been an athlete like Joe Roth, the golden-haired Golden Bear of California football, who played through the pain of terminal skin cancer.

 A preseason All-America quarterback in the fall of 1976, Roth was diagnosed a few weeks into the season with a recurrence of melanoma that he’d been treated for as a teenager in El Cajon, near San Diego. But he was expected to lead Cal to its first Rose Bowl in 18 years, and week after week he took the field and led, even while thinning and weakening before the eyes of fans at Memorial Stadium.

“If he had been cancer-free, his senior year would have been off the charts,” says his former head coach, Mike White. “None of us will understand the pain and agony he went through just to keep himself going.”

Roth never let on what was wrong with him or made an excuse. He continued to go to class and turn in papers though he knew he would not live to graduate or even see his grades for winter quarter.

And he didn’t. Joe Roth died 34 days after playing his last game, the Japan Bowl. It was Feb. 19, 1977, and he was 21. Since that day, Bay Area sports fans have been waiting for a Hollywood feature or documentary film about Roth’s humble heroics. But it never got made until two former Cal students, who were not even filmmakers, got ahold of the legend and would not let it go.

Now “Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story,” is finally here, 40 seasons after Roth arrived in Berkeley and in the year he would have turned 60. The 85-minute film premieres Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m. on the Pac-12 Bay Area network and will be repeated Saturday morning as a buildup to the annual Joe Roth Memorial Game between Cal and USC, and again Sunday evening.

“It falls in the category of the greatest stories never told,” says Phil Schaaf, 51, of San Francisco, who partnered with Bob Rider, 50, of Menlo Park to give five years to the film. Neither one ever saw Roth play live, but Schaaf saw Roth play on national TV, when he was 11.

Joe Roth on the field for the Cal Bears. Photo: Chronicle File Photo

Joe Roth on the field for the Cal Bears. / Photo: Chronicle File Photo

Memorable upset

He still remembers the day, Nov. 1, 1975, when Cal knocked off fourth-ranked USC.

“I was a Stanford fan and had seen a lot of great quarterbacks, but the composure Joe had,” Schaaf says. “He just looked like a guy you wanted to become. He was cool. He had that ‘it’ factor.”

Schaaf later attended Cal, where he met Roth’s teammate Pat Micco, who was the uncle of Schaaf’s roommate. Micco came to Cal games wearing his Pac-8 co-champion ring from 1975, and the stories started to flow.

“There was reverence for Joe and a patina of sadness because they were buddies and he missed him,” says Schaaf, who filed these stories away for 23 years until he and Rider, another Cal friend, met for coffee in the Presidio of San Francisco.

Schaaf had written two books about sports marketing, and their conversation came around to Roth. Rider had recently lost his younger sister, Kerry Rider, to metastatic melanoma, the same aggressive strain that had killed Roth. By the time they finished their coffees, they’d decided to make a film. Rider and his wife, Blythe Jack, financed it, as executive producers.

Luckily they did their on-camera interviews as the first part of the project. Four crucial people in the film have since died — Roth’s mother, Lena; his sister-in-law Kim, his colorful teammate Chuck Muncie, and Rob Lytle, who’d played for Michigan and met Roth at the Playboy Pre-Season All-American photo shoot.

The poster for “Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story.” Photo: Handout, Phil Schaaf

Also appearing at length in the film is White, who found Roth at Grossmont Junior College and had an assistant coach drive to the San Diego airport and pull Roth off a plane when he was headed to Washington on a recruiting trip. White knew football magic when he saw it.

“He had all the talent in the world, and the perfect temperament for a big-time quarterback. ” recalls White, at home in Newport Beach (Orange County). “Nothing was too big for him. Success didn’t alter him, and failure never bothered him.”

What makes the film move — besides vintage footage of charming old Memorial Stadium on real grass in the light of day games — is the off-field on-campus portrayal of Roth, a regular guy who was approachable and friendly and drank with the underage masses on Thursday nights at McNally’s and Beppo’s on College Avenue.

“For whatever reason, all the things that he had to deal with in his life, he wrote his own story,” says White, who is 79, and coached for 45 years at the college and pro level, including with the Raiders. That’s thousands of players, but “nobody was as proficient technically and also had the human qualities that Joe had,” White says. “He had a plan for his life, and even though it was cut short, he made everyone around him better.”

Ceremony Saturday

White will be at Memorial Stadium on Saturday for a ceremony honoring the 1975 team, which never lost a home game under Roth. That yellow-helmeted co-championship team had great football names like Phil Heck, Paul Von der Mehden, Burl Toler, Wesley Walker, Steve Rivera and Bad News Barnes. But the greatest name was Roth, who would introduce himself only as “Joe,” never wanting to sound conceited.

Joe Roth with Tracy Lagos at a party, circa 1976 Photo: Handout, Tracy Lagos

Joe Roth with Tracy Lagos at a party, circa 1976. / Photo: Handout, Tracy Lagos

Roth was determined to graduate on time, and was carrying 17 units, a heavy load his senior year. By January 1977, word had trickled out that Roth had cancer, but his only public statement was an indirect one, when he read a poem called “Don’t Quit” in Rhetoric 160.

This side of Roth is told largely through former Cal pom-pom girl Tracy Lagos, who had been close to Roth since the day she tripped and fell on her face in front of him at Memorial Stadium.

They dated for a while and continued after that as friends, and when the filmmakers went out to her home in Danville, she had a shoe box full of mementos and letters and sorority party photos. Also in the box was a birthday card Roth sent Lagos on her 21st birthday, postmarked Feb. 12, 1977.

“That was the last independent thing he did,” says Schaaf. By then, Roth was at UCSF Medical Center, hidden in the maternity ward to protect his privacy.

Joe Roth,  Cal Football quarterback, as cover boy for a football guide.
Joe Roth,  Cal Football quarterback, as cover boy for a football guide.

Carried home by team

A doctor wanted to amputate both legs, but Roth did not want to die in pieces. What he wanted was to die among his friends and family at his Berkeley apartment.The ambulance delivered him, and his teammates carried him up three flights of stairs. Two days later, they carried his body back down.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and that night Cal played Washington in basketball at Harmon Gym. Before the game, Athletic Director Dave Maggard made the announcement, and even those who already knew were shocked by its finality.

“Just hearing it like that in the gym was like somebody hitting you over the head with a hammer,” says Lagos, who had tried to run out of the gym in her pom-pom dress. One of Roth’s coaches grabbed her and held on.

Maggard asked for a moment of silence. Then the Straw Hat Band rose in a cappella to sing “Hail to California.”

Paul Chinn / The Chronicle   Above: Phil Schaaf (left) and Bob Rider look at autographs from people who appeared in a film they co-produced about Roth, left.

UC Regents

Paul Chinn / The Chronicle   Phil Schaaf of San Francisco (left) and Bob Rider of Menlo Park spent five years producing “Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story,” about the Cal quarterback and his shocking early


Sam Whiting is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: swhiting@sfchronicle.com

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