LATHROP – Paul Wiggin didn’t get to play football on a field in front of a hometown crowd.
But Manteca Unified School District is giving the College Football Hall of Fame member and former Kansas City Chiefs head coach his due more than four decades after he last prowled the football fields of the Central Valley.
On Friday, Oct. 18, Wiggin – currently a personnel consultant for the Minnesota Vikings – will return to Lathrop for the official dedication of the stadium at Lathrop High School that will bear his name. Former classmate Arnita Montiel led a charge almost two years ago to get Wiggin honored by the board of trustees. She is organizing a banquet that will pay tribute to a man that dominated the competition while at Stanford and moved on to an 11-year career in the National Football League.
“I think that it shows kids that they can accomplish anything that they put their mind to – that he made it, so they can too,” Montiel said. “And not just with sports, but with anything. It’s important that we pass those lessons on to our young people.”
While he’s been away from the community for some time, Manteca Boys and Girls Club board member Roz Leon says she remembers vividly when Wiggin was invited to come back to Manteca and speak to the students at the St. Anthony’s Elementary School athletic banquet when he was coaching with the San Francisco 49ers. The faces of the kids, she said, were priceless.
“That’s just the kind of person that he was – that’s the kind of person that is being honored with this distinction,” Leon said. “He cared about this community and these kids and I’m glad that he’s being honored this way.”
Wiggin was a part of the Cleveland Browns team that upset the heavily favored, Johnny Unitas-led Baltimore Colts to win the 1964 NFL Championship. He coached future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway during his tenure at Stanford University, and was all set to wrap-up a dramatic, come-from-behind victory of the rival California Golden Bears in 1982 before the “The Play” – the five-lateral kickoff return with no time left on the clock – dashed the Cardinal hope for a winning season.
Wiggin is the second favorite son to return to Lathrop in the last several years after the community honored him for his athletic accomplishments. Montiel was part of a committee that moved to have the Lathrop Community Center named after former NBA player and current Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks – an East Union product. Brooks came back to Lathrop for the ceremony and taught a basketball clinic for local youth.
“I’m just so excited and happy for Paul. He’s so deserving of all of the credit – we used to go watch him play back when it was just a dirt lot,” Montiel said. “Back then we dreamt of a high school in Lathrop, and now he’s being honored with the stadium name.”
Tickets for the event – which will run from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 18, at Chez Shari – are $20, and can be purchased in advance by calling Montiel at (209) 629-0883 or Leon at (209) 239-1572. A lunch of tri-tip and rosemary chicken is included with the ticket price.