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October 22, 2021

Looking back after 30 years

Although Dave Clapham is by no means a couch potato, he wanted
to watch the Hall of Fame football game between the Denver Broncos
and the Washington Redskins last week like he has done almost every
year since leaving professional football.
Although Dave Clapham is by no means a couch potato, he wanted to watch the Hall of Fame football game between the Denver Broncos and the Washington Redskins last week like he has done almost every year since leaving professional football.

This year was extra special for Clapham because it is the 30th anniversary of the game he played in with the San Francisco 49ers.

“Time has just flown by,” Clapham said. “It was a great thrill for a young guy to get that opportunity.”

Although many people don’t follow the preseason games, Clapham said he enjoys seeing the young talent.

“I like to see the colleges they represent,” Clapham said. “Sure there are mistakes and penalties. But they are trying to make the team and are right by the veterans. It signals the sign that football is here again.”

Clapham, who retired from the Santa Clara County Probation department on July 2 after 26 years, remembers the Hall of Fame game like it was yesterday.

“It was hot and humid,” Clapham said of the game against the Browns. “I played three quarters and lost about 15 pounds.”

Clapham lined up with several rookies on the line including tight end Keith Fahnhorst, who eventually moved to tackle and played all 14 seasons with the 49ers.

“At about 6-5 and 260, he was the only rookie that they kept on the entire line,” Clapham said.

Straight out of the University of Nevada-Reno, Clapham signed a free agent contract to play for the 49ers in 1974.

Dallas was one of the teams who was interested in signing him and sent a scout out to talk to Clapham after his senior year. He didn’t get signed by Dallas but had the chance to play against the Cowboys in the first game.

In that game, Clapham went against Ed “Too Tall” Jones, who was also a rookie at that time.

“He was a big first-round money player,” Clapham said. “We ran the ball most of the scrimmage, and I was pretty much able to move him anywhere I wanted to.”

In the next game against San Diego, Clapham had the chance to see a good pass rushing team.

“I got a pretty good taste of the speed in the pass rush,” Clapham said. “It was a real eye opener.”

The other preseason games before he was cut were against Kansas City, Denver and Oakland.

After being released by the 49ers, he signed with Baltimore in 1975. Although he played as a tackle behind Len Rohde with the 49ers, he agreed to play the guard position with Baltimore.

“He (Rohde) was 36 years old at the time, so I thought he might retire,” Clapham said. “I think I was better suited for a guard with my quickness.”

In Baltimore, Clapham was competing with another guard drafted in the first round for a spot on the team. After a game against the Redskins, Clapham knew he wouldn’t be able to play.

“I had a good scrimmage, but they ran out of film while I was in there,” Clapham said. “On the bus ride back I was thinking that with the first-rounder coming in, they didn’t even get all my snaps on film. It was kind of an impulsive decision and may not have been the best one as I look back on it.”

That decision ended his professional football career, but didn’t end his love for the game. He later found the draft pick wasn’t even signed.

Clapham had a brief stint with the Honolulu Hawaiians in the World League but quickly left because he wasn’t getting paid and because he knew the league would soon fold.

He went back to Nevada where he begin his career as a probation officer. It was while he was there he continued boxing.

Clapham’s sparring partners were no pushovers. He went against Oscar Bonavena, who was ranked in the top 10 in the world and fought Mohammed Ali twice. He also sparred with Bernard Mercado, an Olympic boxer from Columbia.

Clapham returned to San Jose in 1977 and spent five years with the semi-pro San Jose Tigers. His team took the national title in 1978.

He was later selected to the American Football Association Semi Pro Hall of Fame along with coaches and players like Bill Walsh and Johnny Unitas. There have been 431 players inducted into the Hall of Fame over the past 23 years.

Clapham was honored on the Overfelt Wall of Fame and was also inducted into the Nevada State Hall of Fame to honor his football and boxing career.

“It (playing in the NFL) was a dream come true for me because I never thought I would get that far,” Clapham said. “I was a guy that was always a little under weight.”

Going into college, Clapham was 6-foot-3 and a mere 210 pounds. But by the time he entered the NFL he had gained about 30 pounds. He contributed his weight gain to squats and eating more, but he was still below 260-pounds, which was about the average then, he said.

“Later when I was inducted into the Nevada Hall of Fame, they talked about the great technique and speed I had,” Clapham said. “The guy who presented me said they were looking for physical players to recruit just like me.”

The highlight of his college days was the homecoming game against Santa Clara. Clapham was helped off the field by teammates after hurting his foot. After it was examined and was determined to not be broken, Clapham came back on the field to help his team win the game after he got a shot to kill the pain. But he admits he wasn’t able to walk on it after.

He started off working at the Williams F. James ranch for boys in Morgan Hill before becoming a probation officer specializing in gang related cases.

With the state budget crunch, Clapham, who has lived in Hollister for 18 years, was offered a two-year service credit. He chose to accept it even though he said he felt he was too young to retire.

Although he doesn’t have any plans right now other than coaching the game he loves, he said he hopes to remain in law enforcement and said he would like to find a job near his home.

After Clapham graduated from Overfelt High School in San Jose in 1970, he attended San Jose City College along with his older brother Duane, who lives in Morgan Hill. Clapham received a scholarship to play at Nevada while his brother went to Chico State.

During the 1969 season, his high school team finished with a 10-0 record and won the Mount Hamilton League championship. In addition to football, Clapham was also an All-League player in basketball.

Clapham has been coaching for about 25 years. He coached with Nevada, West Valley, Gavilan, Overfelt and San Benito High.

He was the Barnstormers first coach after the team didn’t have a coach the first year. As head coach, he did everything from taping players to driving them to games. Last spring, he coached the Barnstormer linemen.

At San Benito High, he coached the varsity linemen and then coached the freshmen linemen. Currently, he is helping to coach the Pop Warner Pee Wee team.

“In this community, if you coach a team, you meet 50 families, and they are all appreciative of what you are trying to do,” Clapham said. “If you are in Hollister and you coach, there is always something to do.”

Friends of Clapham and former players are invited to attend a retirement social from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at Paines Restraurant in Hollister.

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