Nov. 10, 2005
By Jeremy Herb
The Santa Clara
Santa Clara's football community reunited Saturday to honor a beloved friend whose life tragically ended playing the sport he loved 20 years ago.
Approximately 200 of David Cichoke's (pronounced Chih-COKE-ee) closest friends, teammates and their families gathered at Kerr Alumni Park for a Mass and barbeque held by the Alumni Association.
"I think it's a true testament to the power of the friendship we all had together," said Jim Tanner, a Santa Clara graduate and close friend of Cichoke's, who also helped organize the event. "Throw out a couple of e-mails and say we're going to have a get-together, and next thing you know, we have 200 people responding."
Former players yelled out to teammates as soon as they walked into sight, embracing friends they hadn't seen in years. The Santa Clara graduates reminisced over drinks and hot dogs, chatting about children, jobs and of course, football.
In order to make the task of finding former friends simpler, everyone wore name tags. And while the festive atmosphere never waned, Cichoke's name remained on everyone's lips.
"He was a very inspiring type of guy," said Cichoke's father Tony. "He was the type of person who tried to bring the best out in everyone. Not only himself, but everyone with whom he communicated."
Cichoke died the morning of Nov. 15, 1985, two days after making a game-saving tackle in a 21-19 victory over Cal State Northridge. However, he suffered a head injury that lead to a fatal brain hemorrhage on the same play that earned the Broncos a share of the Western Football Conference title.
"They ran a little option play and he was responsible for the pitch guy," said former teammate Kevin Collins, head football coach at Lincoln High School. "Dave came up and just drilled the guy at the 1 ½ yard line. He was a little bit dazed, but pretty excited because he had made the play, and we just went nuts."
Cichoke was taken to a Northridge hospital and held overnight. The next day he flew back to Santa Clara and seemed fine to his teammates, celebrating the victory with them that night.
"He was his normal joking self, but he had a headache, said he didn't feel right," Collins said.
A headline in the San Jose Mercury News the following morning said, "Cichoke's OK." Collins said that he went to Cichoke's apartment "to give him a bad time that his name was in the paper."
When Collins and teammate John Faylor arrived at Cichoke's door, they found the sophomore lying face down on the floor, hand stretched towards the telephone.
"That was a tough time, I couldn't believe it," Director of Sports Medicine Mike Cembellin said. "When you see one of your players come out of their apartment in a body bag, it just throws you back a little bit. But everyone has come back to share those memories. It's like a great little reunion."
Kids who were born long after Cichoke's death tossed around footballs on Stanton Field, where their fathers once practiced. As the former Broncos watched their children, they remembered they once shared the field with Cichoke.
"We all got to experience the joy of his life and we all had to experience the pain and sorrow and tragedy of his death," Tanner said. "I think it forged a bond between all of us that's something you can never break."
Cichoke's father explained that the death ran deeper for those at Santa Clara than simply losing a teammate.
"This is a family and it goes very deep," he said. "They were so close; they loved each other so much and that just hasn't been lost. This is an example of how deep the love is."
Cichoke arrived as a freshman at Santa Clara without any football experience. In high school, he ran cross country and swam instead of football.
Tony and Bill Cichoke, David's older and younger brothers, turned him onto football. Bill Cichoke said that David was determined to take up the sport after the two football-playing Cichokes got press in the local paper, leaving out the middle child.
"A lot of people say he had a natural gift. I disagree. He had a drive," the younger Cichoke said. "You could see that in his face. That intense look. That was David."
After walking onto the team, Cichoke remained on the practice field long after the team finished, making up the ground he lost not playing in high school.
"He was sort of what you were looking for as a coach because it was important for him to play and be as good as he could be," said former Broncos head coach Terry Malley. "He stayed around and put endless hours in so he could be a good football player."
As a sophomore in high school, Cichoke weighed 145 pounds. "I thought he had a great amount of potential," said former Bronco and San Francisco 49er Brent Jones. "With his attitude and some of the skills that he had as a natural athlete, who knows what his limits would have been."
Cichoke's brother said the relationships Cichoke forged at Santa Clara lasted long after his death.
"Some aspects of his personality have influenced people and they still show it," he said. "You know him halfway decently and look at the people that were his friends -- you can see little bits of that through all of them."