Philip Patton
Philip Patton served as the sports editor and columnist at the Santa Barbara News-Press for more than 16 years before passing away at the age 45 on Oct. 9, 1971. (Patton family photo)
Mark Patton

Bob Dylan declared that times were a-changin’ in 1964. I finally got the message when I was a teenager.

It was sledge-hammered home precisely 50 years ago last Saturday … on Oct. 9, 1971.

UC Santa Barbara lost a gut-wrenching football game that night, 15-14, to a school called San Fernando Valley State on the infield of a rickety, old racetrack known as Devonshire Downs.

But for John Nadel, the Santa Barbara News-Press sports writer who was calling the action for KTMS Radio, the real heartbreak of that game came when he was tasked with announcing the death of his “boss, mentor, and dear friend,” sports editor Philip Patton.

My father.

Most of us must eventually face that tragic moment of losing a parent, but it came way too soon for Dad’s seven children. Pop was only 45. Mom had given birth to my youngest sister, Maureen, just six months earlier.

Phil Patton battled cancer for three years. He baffled his doctors by lasting even that long, having summoned his innately Irish resolve to grind out a little more time with his baby girl.

Much of the sports world that my father knew and wrote about was coming to an end, as well. UCSB dropped football like a greased pig after that 1971 season, having lost eight of 11 games and hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Gauchos’ budget.

San Fernando Valley State changed its name to CSU Northridge after that same season, buying and then bulldozing Devonshire Downs for other campus purposes. It soldiered on through another three decades of football before it, too, dropped the increasingly expensive sport.

My father’s life had other parallels to UCSB beyond the sudden death of Gaucho football. The News-Press had lured him away from the Merced Sun-Star in 1954. That same year, the university moved from its cramped quarters on the Santa Barbara Riviera and into its new digs on the expansive mesa above the Goleta slough.

UCSB’s big plans for the new campus included a major-college athletic program to rival those of its UC brethren in Westwood and Berkeley.

It built Robertson Gym with a state-of-the-art, spring-loaded floor. It even talked defending NCAA champion Cal into becoming its first opponent at the new facility, playing the Golden Bears on Dec. 14, 1959.

Phil Patton became the first “Voice of the Gauchos” that night, calling the radio play-by-play for KTMS. I was only 5 at the time, but I clearly remember joining him in the gym’s overhanging press box. It was the first of a thousand times that he would let me tag along.

The game was close throughout, stirring the sold-out crowd to roar with each Gaucho basket. Dad laughed out loud when he noticed me covering my ears. He removed his headset during a commercial break, leaned in close and said, “Take it all in, son … You need to remember this night.”

Dad’s workload as a sports journalist soon included the radio play-by-play for all UCSB basketball and football games. The Gauchos, after all, weren’t just a sports beat to Dad, they primed the pump of his heartbeat.

A SHORT TIME IN THE BIG-TIME: A few years later, in 1966, UCSB added a new football stadium to its growing athletic complex. John Keever, a tight end who caught a touchdown pass during the first game in the facility, once recalled the pageantry of the day:

“The band marched through Isla Vista, and the students followed the band into the stadium,” he said. “And then the students lined up and made a tunnel outside the locker room, and we came out of the tunnel to the tune of ‘The Lonely Bull.’”

Nobody was lonely that day. The game drew 11,500 fans, just a few hundred short of the stadium’s capacity at the time.


Phil Patton, left, was the first “Voice of the Gauchos,” doing play-by-play of UCSB football and basketball game on KTMS radio. (UCSB Athletic Hall of Fame photo)

The buzz around town moved my father to write: “Nov. 12 has to go down in UCSB sports history as a momentous day in its continuing development as one of the coming great universities in the West.”

Plans were already in motion to add a 4,000-seat section beyond one end zone. The master plan called for an eventual expansion to 33,000.

Jack Curtice, the Gauchos’ well-traveled coach, became emboldened enough to arrange football trips to Washington and Tennessee for the 1971 schedule. Contracts were also signed for future games at Wisconsin and Northwestern. He even got such power-conference schools as Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Air Force to agree to play at UCSB.

“And should the day come when the new stadium’s seating capacity is tripled,” Dad wrote, “then it might well be possible that UCSB could offer a sufficient guarantee to bring a Big Ten, Southeastern or even Pacific-8 Conference here to Santa Barbara.”

That would actually prove true, except for a different sport. The football stadium that UCSB opened in 1966 wound up becoming the home of a national championship men’s soccer team exactly four decades later.

FOUR STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT: That was also the case with Santa Barbara’s whiffs at professional baseball. It took four separate swings at it over the course of 26 years, beginning in 1941 with a Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm club called the Santa Barbara Saints.

The town’s last turns at the plate came when Dad and several local businessmen, led by Caesar Uyesaka and Jerry Harwin, coaxed the expansion New York Mets into placing one of its new farm clubs at Santa Barbara’s historic Laguna Park in 1962.

An incident that summer, however, soured my father on Laguna’s new residents. He clued me in after I read his article about Rogers Hornsby, a baseball Hall of Famer who’d come to town to give batting instruction to several prospects.

I pointed to a picture of my favorite player, the team’s 18-year-old wunderkind, and asked, “What did he think about Paul Blair?”

Dad paused with a grimace before deciding that his 8-year-old son needed to learn about the ugly side of this world.

“He said they were going to let Blair go,” he replied. “He said the Mets didn’t have colored players.”

He said he relayed Hornsby’s racist comments to Uyesaka and Harwin — and that the Mets wouldn’t have a home in Santa Barbara, either. They got the Los Angeles Dodgers to replace them at Laguna Park with their own Class A, California League team in 1963.

Sadly, the Dodgers didn’t last long at Laguna Park, either. The crowds were tamped down by too many damp evenings. The club finally rolled out of town with the fog and headed to Bakersfield after the 1967 season.

Three years later, the city demolished Laguna Park and filled the four city blocks with various office buildings, a maintenance yard and affordable housing.

Phil Patton watched his tag-along son play one of the final baseball games there at the end of Santa Barbara’s Junior League season of 1970. A few months later, in his final column, he wrote about what the crushing loss of such a sporting landmark meant “both in the terms of prestige and economy to our community.”

Ever-resilient Santa Barbara, however, was able to fill the void left by the Dodgers even without a baseball stadium. The Santa Barbara Foresters summer collegiate team would win its ninth National Baseball Congress World Series championship just two months ago.

THE HARDEST ONE TO WRITE: But Dad didn’t get into sports writing to absorb the visceral thrill of someone else’s success. He explained this in his “Patton’s Press Box” farewell column of Jan. 24, 1971. It ran under the headline “The Hardest One to Write.”

He described his “16 years, four months and 23 days” on the sports beat of Santa Barbara as “a labor of love” while declining to mention any of the great victories and championships that he had chronicled. In the end, that wasn’t what really mattered to him.

Instead, he emphasized the “friendships made … the pleasures of observing and reporting athletes in all the excitement of competition … and the simple but meaningful associations with other people who are also dedicated to all that is good and worthwhile in athletics. It is the people, and not the events, that one so fondly recalls.”

Phil Patton would be thrilled to know that one sports institution that he helped start here in 1968, the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, thrives to this day. He would especially appreciate the recognition that it’s been giving young athletes for their scholarship and sportsmanship as well as their athletic accomplishment.

He would’ve frowned upon the phenomenon of smack-talk sports journalism that was spawned a few decades ago by UCSB graduate Jim Rome. He would’ve smiled, however, at Rome’s ceaseless aggrandizement of everything Gaucho.

Dad also would’ve enjoyed seeing his oldest son, Greg, play tennis for UCSB and then, at age 24 in 1976, become the youngest head coach in its history … or seeing his granddaughter, Megan, take the softball field for the Gauchos in 2002 … or seeing another granddaughter, Chelsea, join UCSB’s athletic administration in 2020.

And this weekend, Greg’s son, Garrett Philip Patton, spent the 50th anniversary of our father’s passing by mentoring and encouraging young men as the new assistant tennis coach at UCSB.

And of course, the tag-along son just had to check it out.

Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook. The opinions expressed are his own.

Mark Patton

Mark Patton, Noozhawk Sports Columnist

Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at The opinions expressed are his own.