Remembering when Leghorns were the king of Petaluma sports

The Butter and Egg Days Parade always makes me nostalgic and a bit melancholy. I admit it – I’ve reached the tipping point in life where you miss the good old days more than you anticipate the future.

The parade itself, and all the hype surrounding it, gives me the opportunity to do both – to remember the times, but also to appreciate what is yet to come for our city (which will not be never, at least in spirit, a “city”).

For me, the parade and celebration will always be tied to another unique Petaluma tradition, the Petaluma Leghorns semi-pro football team.

The Leghorns – and I mean the football variety, not today’s baseball team – were legendary, dominating the Petaluma sports scene from 1946 until they finally gave in to the lure of sports televised in 1958. The team was made up mostly of former high school and college players and many World War II veterans who just wanted to keep playing.

Led by team founders Gene Benedetti, Bob Acorne and Herm Jensen, the Leghorns shaped a team that not only dominated other local semi-professional teams, but also became the #1 sporting attraction in the community. .

In four years under Benedetti, the Leghorns compiled a 40-6-2 record, and a streak that stretched far beyond Petaluma’s borders.

In 1966, Lee Torliatt, who covered the Leghorns for the Argus-Courier and Press Democrat, wrote of the fan enthusiasm: “Fans have been a big part of Leghorn’s success. They cheered for almost any reason. Team doctor Clement Stimson received cheers when he trotted onto the pitch to help a fallen player. Justice of the Peace Rollan (Rollie) Webb, who doubled as the go-to man, was cheered on as he moved the marker after every Livorno win.

The Egg Bowl existed long before Casa Grande High School was even an idea. It was invented by Livorno tackle Butch Burtner in 1949 as a charity game to complete each Livorno season. The game was preceded by a parade with the Egg Bowl Queen and her court.

Over the years, Livorno’s legend has grown and its players have become hometown heroes – Benedetti, Acorne (the team’s general manager), Bill Spaletta, Dante Ridolfi, Mario Ghilotti and perhaps the most great of all, quarterback Fred “The Fox” Klemenok. , Petaluma’s version of Joe Montana before there was a Joe Montana.

After Benedetti left his coaching position, Don Ramatici took over and made the legend grow.

Television and changing times finally caught up with the Leghorns in 1958 as fans shifted their allegiance to professional teams they could watch from the comfort of their own living room.

I came to town almost 20 years after the Hefty Lady sang for the Leghorns, but I was lucky enough to attend a few of their meetings, where I was regaled with stories, memories and even a few songs from yesteryear.

The string that ties me, the Leghorns and the Butter and Egg Parade goes back about a decade. Time dulls my memory – as do the memories of those who have seen and revered the Leghorns – so I don’t know exactly what the year was.

When holidays, absences and illnesses exhausted the Argus-Courier range, I was recruited by then-editor John Burns to provide an entry for the Argus in the next parade. The idea was to round up a few Leghorns and put them in a vintage convertible to wave to the crowd.

It sounds simple. But have you ever tried to collect a Livorno? After more than 30 years, many had moved on to better things and many had left the area. I finally managed to find four of them.

Three agreed to join the parade. The problem was that on the day of the parade, all four showed up. Their ride was a vintage Thunderbird that comfortably accommodated three people plus a driver. Four football players were a call for Bill Soberanes to summon Harry Houdini.

Somehow we made it work, and when I showed up for work Monday morning, I was amazed to find a trophy on my desk. I don’t know for which category. It should have been for the courage and sportsmanship of these four brave Livorno.

After the parade, I drove each of the players home, all but one, who, in Livorno fashion, insisted on being dropped off at Volpi.

Contact John Jackson at [email protected].

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