Catching Up With Gordy Ceresino

Oct. 29, 2009

STANFORD, Calif. - From 1975-78, Stanford enjoyed one of its most successful four-year stretches in the history of the program. The Cardinal posted a 29-16-1 record, won a pair of bowl games and introduced a head coach who would ultimately change the face of the game on the offensive side of the ball.

While Stanford's teams of that era are widely remembered for their high-flying offense led by quarterbacks Mike Cordova, Guy Benjamin and Steve Dils and the running prowess of Darrin Nelson, linebacker Gordy Ceresino was the face of the team on defense.

Ceresino led the team in tackles for three of his four seasons on The Farm and still ranks as Stanford's all-time career tackle leader. A two-time first team All-Pac-10 selection in 1977 and '78, he was named the defensive MVP of the 1978 Bluebonnet Bowl, as Stanford rallied from a 22-0 second-half deficit to upset seventh-ranked Georgia, 25-22.

After playing one season with the San Francisco 49ers in 1979, Ceresino entered the financial services industry and currently serves as a vice chairman of Federated Investors Inc. and president of Federated International Management, Ltd. recently caught up with Gordy to talk about his life after Stanford, the 1978 season, Bill Walsh, and his memories of Stanford.

Catch us up on your career path?
I am currently Vice Chairman of Federated Investors Inc. and President of Federated International Management Ltd. Federated Investors Inc. (FII) is one of the nation's largest asset managers with over $400 billion under management. After a brief career in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, I entered the financial services industry and have remained in the industry for the past 29 years. I am currently responsible for our firm's international operations and distribution.

Tell us a little about your family?
I reside in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., in San Diego County with my wife of 22 years, Mary. I have one daughter Jessica (24). Mary and I spend our free time enjoying golf, motorcycle riding and supporting a number of charities with most of our emphasis on Child Help USA, which focuses on child abuse. My daughter Jessica followed in dads footsteps as an athlete, playing competitive soccer from age 11 through her days in college at the University of Colorado. Jessica received her degree in broadcast journalism in 2007 and has worked on the ESPN show 'Rome is Burning' and subsequently with ESPNU in Charlotte N.C.. She is now returning to school to get her MBA.

A lot of people don't realize how strong the 1978 team was. Tell us about your memories from that season.
The 1978 team was 16 points from being undefeated. We lost four games that year--by six points to Oklahoma, UCLA by 1, Washington by 3 and USC by 6. If memory serves me correctly, we had big leads against UCLA and Washington and lost in the closing seconds. As the season finale against Cal approached, we were an unlikely bowl candidate but a good victory over Cal led to a Bluebonnet Bowl invite and a match up against SEC power Georgia.

As for a gauge of how talented we were all you need is some names: Dils, Margerum, Nelson, Francis, Holloway, Evans, Budinger, Walsh, Green and Seifert. The memories are numerous, but two stand out above all the others--first was Bill Walsh's Sunday locker room speech after we lost back to back close games to UCLA and Washington. While I will leave the contents where they belong (in the locker room), I still draw on that speech today. Second would be our comeback victory against Georgia.

Stanford trailed Georgia 22-0 in the 1978 Bluebonnet Bowl before rallying for a 25-22 victory. Defensively, what was the key to the comeback?
Before I discuss the defensive strategy that turned the game I must share a short story. Shortly before Bill Walsh's passing, he and I were enjoying dinner and reminiscing about the '77 and '78 teams. He was quick to point to our 15-0 halftime deficit to Georgia and the passionate speech he gave to the team at halftime. He quickly broke into laughter pointing out that Georgia took the second half kickoff and marched straight down the field for a 22-0 lead. We then toasted to our joint ability to motivate and had a good laugh.

As far as the defensive strategy, it was simple, forget about strategy and just start hitting anything that moves with a red Georgia jersey as hard as you can. If we were going to lose let's at least make sure Georgia left the field in pain. Our lack of strategy and strong desire to hit people resulted in four Georgia fumbles and 25 Stanford points for a 25-22 victory.

What are your memories of Bill Walsh?
I am proud and fortunate to be able to call Bill my friend. My memory of Bill is simple, I remember him as my teacher, and my friend. The lessons I learned from Bill have helped me throughout my adult life both personally and professionally. As a friend he was always there for me. I will miss him greatly.

I have many fond memories of the man. On the first day of the 1975 Stanford training camp, I arrived on campus feeling pretty full of myself. The recruiting process was filled with the usual hugs and kisses and the impression that you were the most important piece of the future of Stanford Football. Here is a shortened version of my welcome meeting (with my fellow recruit Chuck Evans).

'Men, sit down. How was your trip? Are you all settled in? Great, now let me tell you how things are around here. The recruiting is over, no more hugs and kisses, we own you now, if you mess up (as you can imagine he used a stronger word) we will mess you up!! Now get the hell out of my office!! We both left the meeting wondering what we had just got ourselves into.'

What are some of your favorite Stanford memories as a player?
My first two games of my freshman year were both on the road at Penn State and Michigan--two of the best college football settings in the nation.

My first Big Game in 1975 at Stanford Stadium was packed with close to 100,000 people. Too bad we came up short in that game. But we would never lose to Cal again.

Trying to tackle Darrin Nelson in the open field.

The victories in the Sun and Bluebonnet Bowl. I actually thought we had begun a streak of bowl invites that would last forever. Too bad it was not to be.

The friendships that we formed for life.

Unfortunately, like the Sunday locker room speech by Bill, the rest of the memories must remain with those that lived them.

Memories as a student.
As far as my student memories it is best to say I got hit in the head too many times as a player to remember my days as a student. That's my story and I am sticking to it. To those currently participating in athletics at Stanford, take my advice and enjoy all Stanford had to offer outside of athletics. If I have one regret, it was being too narrowly focused on athletics during my four years on The Farm.

How do you draw upon your experiences as a Stanford player in your professional life?
Participating in team athletics at any level teach a person a number of key things that can be drawn upon for life--teamwork, winning and losing with dignity, patience, planning, commitment, to name a few. However, I believe football is the greatest team sport of them all. No one player can carry a team by himself--it takes all 11 men on offense, defense or special teams working in concert to be successful. A striker or goalie can dominate a soccer game, a single basketball player can take control of a game, a pitcher can throw a no-hitter but in football a running back cannot make their own holes, a quarterback must throw to someone, etc.

When you add this to the good fortune of playing for a master of the game, Bill Walsh, I have built my entire career on the lessons learned from football.

Who are some of your former teammates you stay in contact with?
While the contact has varied over the years, one thing is certain--when we get the chance to see or speak to each other it is as if time has stood still in regards to the friendship. That said there are too many friends to list, and too many that I have lost touch with.

What are your impressions of the Stanford program today?
Stanford is the finest institution on the planet and I can't understand why any athlete that is qualified to attend could possibly say no. We should be able to field a competitive team year after year. When I graduated in 1979 and left the team with back to back bowl invites and victories I believed then as I do today, Stanford should be in a bowl game every year - no exceptions. The fact that we have been to very few bowl games since 1979 is disturbing and disappointing. That said, each day brings a new opportunity to rebuild the program and we should never give up.

Connections to Stanford today.
My Stanford ties have continued over the past few years with my nephews, Derek and Danny Belch. Derek was a kicker on the team from 2003-07 and Danny is currently a senior and is a sprinter (definitely does not take after his uncle) on the track team.

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