Features & Columns

To a Retro-T

A new plan to bring back the Quakes' original logo inspires thoughts about the team's auspicious San Jose start
STRIKE LIKE LIGHTNING: Jimmy Johnstone crosses the ball for the Quakes, circa 1975. From the History San Jose collection, donated by Brian Holmes. Photographer unknown. (2010-46-2).

LAST WEEK, the San Jose Earthquakes soccer club posted a note on its Facebook page stating that it would begin selling retro T-shirts from the '70s with the old red-and-black logo that tens of thousands of us grew up with. Within a few days, more than 150 people had hit "like," giving their support. Many of those leaving comments hadn't seen the old logo in 25 to 30 years.

Unbeknownst to many, the scenario behind the inception of the original Earthquakes in 1974 still resonates, because it highlights arguments that exist today, arguments far beyond the sport of soccer: Is a team that prides itself on street-level connections with an entire community better for the fans than a team with high-priced, spoiled-rock-star players? Is the business bottom line more important than the product on the field? Is San Jose a major-league city or a hick town?

To make a long story short, officials and other franchise owners in the North American Soccer League (NASL) did not want a team in San Jose. They wanted any new Bay Area franchise to be located in San Francisco. They considered that city more prestigious and more elegant—one that would lift the league's status. They claimed San Jose was a hick town.

Earthquakes owner Milan Mandaric had hired Dick Berg away from his previous position as promotions director for the 49ers. Together, they convinced NASL officials that San Jose deserved a major-league sport. Berg, admittedly a nonsoccer person, then orchestrated a guerrilla marketing campaign to saturate the general public with player appearances and promotional events in order to introduce San Joseans to all the Earthquakes players. Sports Illustrated reporter Tex Maule wrote a story and interviewed five families. Each family had met one of the players before attending their first game—something unheard of in pro sports.

In what now seems like a brief moment in time, during that first 1974 season—before the New York Cosmos were known for anything—San Jose led the league in attendance. During their first four seasons, the Quakes outdrew the Giants and the A's, the latter of which had just won the World Series three years in a row.

Since I was destined to hang out in basements of libraries anyway, there I was at the main branch, laughing out loud as I pored through microfiche issues of the Mercury-News from back in those days. In this case, laughter was a form of unabashed applause.

No one could have predicted that the league would quickly degenerate in quality and then collapse a mere 10 years later, so folks at the Merc were wholeheartedly supportive. For example, when the Quakes played their first game 37 years ago, sports editor Dan Hruby wrote: "San Jose is the largest area of its size in the United States without a major professional sports franchise. Well, it was until today."

Staff writer Fred Guzman wrote: "San Jose has finally become a Major League City." California Today, the Sunday magazine of the Mercury-News, ran a six-page cover story titled "San Jose Goes Big League." The subtitle read: "They laughed when the Earthquakes sat down to play. Well, baby, who's got the last laugh now?"

In another story, the Merc's John Lindblom quoted Quakes promotional maestro Dick Berg, who said: "What we want to do is cater to the youth. The 49er crowd was mostly 45-year-old World War II veterans, and we're not going to get away from that altogether, but we want to present a more youthful appearance."

Beginning with the team's inception in 1974, now-legendary after-game parties took place at Lou's Village, a celebrated old-school San Jose restaurant on San Carlos Street. Their ad in the Mercury-News coinciding with the team's debut home opener featured encouragement from family member Frank Muller, who played in the German League of New YorkNew Jersey from 1930 to 1942. "We Love soccer too!!!" the ad exclaimed.

Retro T-shirts are a good start. Since Lou's Village will soon reopen on Lincoln Avenue, fans of the current Quakes should demand that afterparties be reinstated. If owner Lew Wolff knows anything about San Jose, he will be more than happy to pay for such a thing.

Earthquales vs. LA Galaxy

Saturday, 3:30pm, Shaw Stadium