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Matador Football

Matadors’ defense brings down opposition, ca. 1982. University Archives Photograph CollectionCalifornia State University, Northridge began its life as the San Fernando Valley campus of Los Angeles State College in 1956. Two years later the campus gained its independence as San Fernando Valley State College, often called VSC or Valley State. That same year the VSC student body voted to make us all Matadors. Then in the summer of 1960 Sam Winningham was named VSC’s first head coach, and Matador football was born.

The Matadors played their first football game fifteen months later with a junior varsity schedule in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA). On Saturday, September 30, 1961 Valley State met the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in Goleta. In a defensive battle VSC emerged victorious by the narrowest of margins, 7-6. The Matadors hosted their first home game against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, one of only two varsity teams the Matadors were to face in the 1961 season, at Granada Hills High School. There were no big headlines after the home opener where the Mustangs beat the Matadors, 43-8. 

The Junior Rose Bowl was a contest between the California Junior College football champions and a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) team, but in 1967, junior colleges were banned from bowl play. Sanctioned by the NCAA, the Valley State Matadors made their college bowl debut against West Texas State in an unfortunate 35-13 loss. The Matadors played a full varsity schedule for the first time in 1962 and Sam Winningham continued as head coach until 1968, when he moved on to the chair of the Physical Education Department. In November 2017 Matador Spirit Plaza was renamed the Winningham Spirit Plaza.

Quarterback Jack Caprio in action, 1981. University Archives Photograph CollectionQuarterback Bruce Lemmerman (1965-1967) set career passing records for most passes attempted (880), completed (369), intercepted (46), most yards passing (4,473), and most touchdown passes (37). He also set the career offensive record for most yards gained (5,640). Lemmerman also held single game records (either alone or tied with others) for most touchdowns/rushing (4), most touchdown passes (5), most points scored (24), and most extra points/rushing (2) as well as the season record for most touchdown passes (27). He also held the record for the longest punt (77). These twelve Matador records stood until at least 1989, the last year of records noted in the University Archives.

Following a long self-study, former CSUN president Jolene Koester cut the football program citing significant annual financial losses and arguing that redistributing the football budget would make Title IX compliance substantially easier. Matador football played their last home game at North Campus Stadium (now the site of the Northridge Medtronic campus) on November 3, 2001. beating Sacramento State by a score of 49-36. Matador football finally concluded with a 50-43 loss at Portland State on  Saturday November 17, 2001. Supporters of the team were not pleased at it being cut, speaking during a 20-minute open forum to the LA City Council November 2, 2001. The idea of bring football back to campus comes up every so often, as can be seen in a supportive Sundial op-ed from 2013, "Reinstating football at CSUN: A pro, con standoff."

Additional information on our football team can be found in several distinct collections in University Archives and Campus History. This includes the records of Intercollegiate Athletics, the University Archives Photograph Collection, and the Sundial, CSUN’s campus newspaper, which can also be found in the University Library’s Digital Collections


Overall record for Matador Football, 1962-1979. Intercollegiate Athletics Records
Matador Touchdown Club brochure. Boosters for Matador football, ca. 1975. Intercollegiate Athletics Records
First page of mini-bios on the squad. Deaf CSUNian Tim Blair expected to be a starter in the 1981 season. Intercollegiate Athletics Records
Football Coach Sam Winningham, 1970. University Archives Photograph Collection
Skydiver Larry Pearlman hands game ball to referee prior to kickoff of home opener, 1981. University Archives Photograph Collection
Team photo, ca. 1971. University Archives Photograph Collection
Members of the Matador football team carry Coach Sam Winningham of the field, ca. 1966. University Archives Photograph Collection
Junior quarterback Bruce Lemmerman in action against Whittier College, ca. 1966. University Archives Photograph Collection
Coaching staff bios from the 1964 Press Book. Intercollegiate Athletics Records
Jerry Crawford, 1963 MVP. 1964 Football Press Book. Intercollegiate Athletics Records
Matador football schedule for 2001, the team’s final year of play. Intercollegiate Athletics Records
Player and coach discuss upcoming play, ca. 1982. University Archives Photograph Collection

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