Forty years ago this year, Terra Nova High School won its first Central Coast Section football championship. It had taken the school 21 years since its opening in 1961 to achieve this success.
Coach Bob Lotti was at the helm of this 1982 championship team, and it took the coach nine years to reach this triumph. Prior to the 1982 season, he had missed winning a CCS title four times, losing in the championship game all four seasons.
Terra Nova finished that 1982 season with an 11-1 overall record, and a perfect, 6-0, North Peninsula League record, in first place. The only blemish was a non-league 21-7 loss to undefeated St. Francis High School, the No. 2 ranked team in the state. To cap off the season, Terra Nova defeated Westmoor High School, 27-6, for the CCS Division II North Championship. The team broke 12 school records, both offensively and defensively, and ended up being ranked No. 3 in California Division III. Nine of the players eventually received four-year scholarships and went on to play college football.
For Lotti, who retired after his CCS season, 1982 seems like only yesterday to him.
“I remember everything about that 1982 team; every key play that was called, and even those plays when we made mistakes,” said Lotti.
Now living in Reno, Lotti recently made his monthly trip to Pacifica to visit with five of his six children who still live in the community. I caught up with him at Coach Bob Lotti Field to reminisce about that magical season.
Last year, the Terra Nova football field at Coach William Gray Stadium was officially named Bob Lotti Field, honoring Lotti for his accomplishments both as a coach of five league championship teams, and as a teacher at the school. Following the 1982 season, Lotti joined with Coach Bob Guerrero to coach a frosh-soph team. He also served as the school’s athletic director and was a longtime Peninsula wrestling official.
“I come to the field often,” said Lotti. “Bill Gray did a great job promoting this field in the beginning when they built the facility. I’m just happy to be a part of it. I admire the work people put into it. I’m very grateful for having the field named after me.”
Lotti’s 1981 team was also great. Unfortunately, it lost to Hillsdale High School in the CCS championship game, but that loss was an incentive for Lotti to return for the 1982 campaign, saying, “I knew we would be good.”
With the bulk of the team returning and the athletes having played together since Pop Warner, Lotti felt confident they could do what the prior four teams couldn’t.
“They all knew each other,” Lotti said. “They were almost like brothers. We were primed for the season.”
Lotti said the 1982 team was the best team he ever coached.
“The team had leadership qualities in all parts of the team,” said Lotti. “We were just a total football team believing in each other. We had the personnel and we knew we weren’t going to screw it up.”
The head coach also credits his assistant coaches, Harry Weidner and Bob Guerrero.
“We worked so well together,” he said.
The Tigers opened their pre-season in 1982 with wins over Terra Linda High School and Palo Alto High School. But then came St. Francis, a highly ranked team.
“I knew when we got to this part of our schedule, it would make or break us,” said Lotti. “I thought we could play well. We had them beat.”
The Tigers were up 7-6 at the half when a pass by Bill Byrne over the middle was dropped by the receiver.”
“I’ll never forget it,” said Lotti.
In that moment the momentum changed in St. Francis’ favor, and Terra Nova ended up losing, 21-7.
“We sat down and talked about the loss,” said Lotti. “They said, ‘Coach, this is the last one we are going to lose.’”
They were right, but Menlo High School gave the team a run for their money. At the time, Menlo’s team had one of the country’s top quarterbacks, Stanford-bound John Paye.
Lotti said that when it came time for the game, the playing conditions on the Tigers home turf were horrible.
“We were playing in a driving rainstorm,” said Lotti, who says, of all the games, this game really stood out.
The day before the game, Lotti and his son, Gus, went to the store and bought a barrel and rented a gas heater. They put a screen over it and kept it on the sidelines. During the game he had five ball boys rotating the wet balls through the heater, so the team always had a dry ball.
“We didn’t drop a ball, as they were always warm and dry,” said Lotti, smiling.
After the game, the Menlo coach was upset because his quarterback couldn’t throw in a rainstorm, and the field conditions made it too hard to play.
“I said, ‘That’s too bad. On our side of the field it was beautiful,’” said Lotti.
To get to the championship game against Westmoor High School, the Tigers had to take on Carlmont High School, who they beat handily, 17-8.
When it came time to play Westmoor in the championship game, Lotti said it was shaping up to be a tough one when Westmoor took a quick, 6-0 lead on an 87-yard run.
“Concern started to creep into the minds of the players and coaches,” he said. “For some reason I was calm and at peace with it. I knew we were going to win. I told the athletes to just go play their game. My defensive line was very talented. Dan Pangilinan and my son, Vince, were good linebackers. We were a good team. I knew we were going to win.”
And it did, Terra Nova won, 27-6.
“I knew our plan would work,” said Lotti. “We were not going to be denied the CCS title.”
Lotti was known for his motivational locker room talks.
“I’ve always been a motivator,” he said. “It started when I was in high school.”
Lotti had two coaches, Jess Freitas and Pete Matisi, who he said were his mentors, and he ended up coaching with both of them. While coaching at Westmoor, prior to coming to Terra Nova, his key role as an assistant coach was to be a motivator.
“I had a great passion for it and I carried it over to Terra Nova,” he said. “I had a way of expressing myself and the players understood me.”
“I remember the fiery speeches of Coach Lotti pushing us,” said Jim Buenavista, one of several players from the 1982 team who responded to my request for their memories of the team. “He exhorted us between spurts of chewing tobacco spilling from his mouth. Those years and the achievement as CCS champs affirmed all the hard work we’d done and taught us lessons of humility, perseverance, and whetted our appetite for competitive intensity and excellence that has lasted all my/our lives.”
“I’d let them know when I wasn’t happy with them,” said Lotti. “I never nagged, but I wanted to make a point of what they were not doing well, or things they weren’t doing they could do better. I never let it carry over. I never had a grudge against the players. I said what I had to say and we moved on.”
“We were coming off our only loss our junior years, so our senior year we played with a sour taste in our mouth and a bit of vengeance,” said Alan Seul, who went on to play football at Chadron State College in Nebraska.
“Coach Lotti instilled in us to play hard and always out-execute the other team. We had a lot of good athletes, which caused a lot of competition, which in turn made our team better. We played hard for each other, coaches, family and community because we never wanted to lose again.
“Coach Lotti always motivated us in one way or another,” added Seul, who presently teaches at Ingrid B. Lacy Middle School.“Pregame, our team was already hyped up to play, but Coach always had a pregame speech that had us running through walls.
“The most fulfilling memories were the camaraderie with teammates and the satisfaction of making our coaches, families and the community proud,” said Seul.
Buenavista, who was a member of the wide receiver core with Reuben Anchondo, Mario Ballestrasse, Chris Hary and Jay Hack said, “I was lucky for the opportunity to play with those guys that year under Coach Lotti. I am grateful for what it taught me and the football dream we shared.”
Russ Stanley did not play football, however he was the team manager and kept the game stats.
“I was just too small to play football but I loved the game,” he said. “Coach Lotti saw that in me when I was taking his weight lifting class. We talked football all the time, and one day he said, ‘Come to the game tonight and help with the stats.’”
Stanley became the team manager for the 1981 and 1982 seasons.
“That was the first time I learned there was a way to work in sports even though I didn’t have the size or the talent,” he said. “Working closely with the teams and Coach Lotti led to my 33-year career with the San Francisco Giants.”
Today he works with the Giants as senior vice president of ticket sales and services.
Jon Carte, who from his defensive left-tackle position held the team’s quarterback sack record, was also a champion wrestler, finishing undefeated all four years. He was a CCS champion and placed second at Nor Cal State in 1983.
Carte said his fondest memories will always be with the players. “Each one special in their own right,” he said. “Having what was considered the best coach in our era was, in hindsight, a blessing to our generation. I couldn’t think of a better place than Pacifica to have had the opportunity to grow up.”
Chris Hary hopes the team will reunite soon for a 1982 reunion.
“What a year 1982 was for our team and the Terra Nova community,” said Hary.
“Coach Lotti would always fire us up before our games. Our confidence level was always high before we played our opponents. We were a tight group. Numerous team records and individual honors were achieved that year.”
Michael Vaznaugh, who played nose tackle, said his best memory of the year, outside of the championship game, was getting a sack in the Anchor Game against Oceana.
“Coach Lotti cared about his players,” he said. “He made us a good football team, but maybe even better men.”
Lotti, now 85, says he has been blessed.
“I had a great career,” he said. “I have a great family. I have six children, 16 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I’ve been retired 25 years.”
He said that today his life is golf, and he can be found out on the course nearly every day.
Coach Lotti will be remembered as the coach who changed the fortunes of the Terra Nova football program, laying the groundwork for years of future success through his dedication and hard work. He also laid the ground work for two coaches —Mike Gunning and Bill Gray — to follow in his footsteps.
Horace Hinshaw is Pacifica Tribune sports editor emeritus.