Features & Columns
San Jose Earthquakes Groundbreaking
This Sunday, the San Jose Earthquakes will break ground on a new stadium across Coleman Avenue from the Mineta International San Jose Airport. The club will aim to set a new Guinness World Record for the number of folks participating in a stadium groundbreaking. In order to beat the current mark, the club will need to enlist at least 4,533 participants to dig for two minutes.
Quite a few points will converge when the facility opens in 2014, providing a way for Quakes fans to connect with their roots. For instance, 2014 will mark the 40th anniversary of the first incarnation of the Earthquakes, back when Norman Mineta was mayor.
Soccer-wise, much has folded and unfolded since then, all of which is equally important, but 1974 will live on. Many clubs throughout the world include the year of their inception on their crests or logos, so on the back of the Quakes' jerseys, it now says, "Est. 1974."
For little tikes growing up in San Jose during that time, there was rarely anything to do except go to Frontier Village or Eastridge Mall. Except for a minor league baseball team, the town had nothing close to professional sports.
When the Quakes started, other teams in the fledgling North American Soccer League (NASL) were drawing 4,000 or 5,000 folks, tops; then San Jose started drawing upward of 16,000. Spartan Stadium became the most heralded home turf in the league, for several reasons, one of which was Krazy George, a wild man already known for instigating crowds at SJSU football games.
For every Quakes game, he would enter the field in a different manner: helicopter, ambulance, police car or camel. During the games, instead of standing on the sidelines and thus separated from the crowd, he tromped up into the stands and interacted with the audience to set off cheers, believing that if the crowd experienced a strange man sweating and screaming and bashing a snare drum right in their faces, they would be more apt to join along. It worked.
At the time, San Jose Mercury reporter Fred Guzman wrote a book encapsulating that first season, titled The Great Quake of 1974. On page 21, he describes what it was like having Krazy George on the scene, from the very first home game: "His arrival at the Earthquake opener was to establish a tradition. Just before kickoff, a garbage truck rolled onto the field and took a slow lap around the befuddled players. Out rolled George, and the crowd went crazy. He made a different arrival to each of the Quakes' games during the season and his appearance became a bigger part of the pregame festivities than the National Anthem."
If you were a kid during those years, the games were like stadium-rock shows. There was a raucous buzz right before every match. Everyone made sure to be in their seats before kickoff because they wanted to see how Krazy George was going to arrive and what he was going to do. You didn't see half the crowd trickling in during the first 10 minutes of the game, like now.
George preferred to call himself an "instigator" rather than a cheerleader, which was fine, since the Quakes also had their own cheerleading squad, the Shakers. In what now seems like the vanishing Wild West, back in those days, the Shakers would greet the opposing team at the airport with bottles of champagne (see photo). This was before the existence of security checkpoints, so anyone could just walk up to the gate area. Along with the players, the Shakers would do promotional appearances all over the city.
Debbie Hilpert, seen in the photo at the left, was a Shaker back in the mid-'70s and still lives here. Back in those days, she says, everyone was a member of the same family—the players, the cheerleaders, the fans and the front office staff.
"It was all geared to family," she said. "That's what was so great about it. The players stopped at any given time to sign autographs, pat a kid on the head, and say, 'How you doing?' Even George, he would let kids hit his drum. That's what it was about. It was always about giving back."
With a new 18,000-seat stadium, complete with historical displays, the family will be that much bigger. I'm getting the shakes already.
Sunday, Oct. 21, noon
1125 Coleman Ave., San Jose