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Nothing compares to the original Leghorns

Their bodies are beginning to show the wear of long and productive lives, but their memories of the glorious days of the Petaluma Leghorn football team remain fresh as if they were yesterday.

The Argus-Courier was privileged to have four members of the original (or near original) Leghorn team ride under our sponsorship in the Butter & Eggs Days Parade. For many along the parade route the opportunity to see Don Ramatici, Bill Spalletta, Bud Chadwick and Ples Crews must have brought back wonderful memories of the days when the Leghorns ruled the local sports scene. That, of course, was when people actually went to sporting events, rather than getting their games filtered through television. It was the days when the community took pride in their own — not teams across a bridge that play in stadiums few can afford to visit.

The Leghorns were in existence from 1946 until 1958, so there are quite a few alumni still around, but not so many who were there during the glory years of the mid '40s to the early '50s, and fewer still who can be called the "original" Leghorns. But, their legacy lives, and should continue to live so long as kids, teens and young adults play sports in this town. People may have forgotten what a leghorn chicken was, but they should always remember what a Leghorn football player was and what he meant to Petaluma.

They are no longer with us, but men like Bob Acorne, Gene Benedetti and Herm Jensen left an indelible mark on Petaluma sports. The irony of the whole thing is that all they started out to do was play football. Many of the players had already used up their college eligibility and many were recently returned from World War II. They were still excellent athletes and skilled football players. They just wanted to play.

With Benedetti coaching and Acorne taking care of administrative duties that included writing up colorful game stories for the Argus-Courier and other papers, and all the players helping, the Leghorns became the community's biggest sports attraction.

As another Petaluma legend, columnist Bill Sobranes, was fond of saying, "You're an old-time Petaluman" if you remember the great teams and the great games against the Santa Rosa Bonecrushers, the South San Francisco Windbreakers and others.

What we now call the Egg Bowl — the annual football game between high school rivals Casa Grande and Petaluma — is a knock off of the original Egg Bowl, started by the Leghorns in 1947. The game was traditionally the Leghonrns' last game of the season and played for some designated charity. It included a parade led by the Egg Bowl queen and her court, followed by the football game that brought out the entire town.

As a quick aside here, it is too bad we can't do something like that today and make the Casa-Petaluma game really something big. Of course, we can't because of the threat of emotions getting out of hand. If we're afraid of an early season game, imagine how administrators at both schools would quake at the idea of a big hoopla game at the end of the season. Times do change. Some people call it progress.

The Leghorn name lives on. The Petaluma American Legion baseball team proudly uses the name, and I know of at least one traveling youth baseball team that uses the moniker. There are probably more. But there was only one true Leghorn team. That was the football team that blazed like a comet over Petaluma for just over a decade, brightening the lives of all who watched and lifting the spirits of a community. Long may their memory live.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)


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