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Santa Clara University’s de Saisset Museum is On Top of the Game with a Sports Themed Exhibit

Santa Clara University's de Saisset Museum is On Top of the Game with a Sports Themed Exhibit

Next to a vintage red and white Santa Clara University letterman jacket is a 1919 reproduction of a photograph showing a sky high stack of wood about to be lit into a bonfire when the football players returned home. Such was the tradition at Santa Clara College, now Santa Clara University, for welcoming a team back home after a game. Other historical details about Santa Clara University’s sports history are on display in the de Saisset Museum exhibit, “On Top of the Game: Santa Clara Sports, 1851-1950.” This exhibit has been up since last fall and is on view through June 12.

“Looking toward the Super Bowl coming to Santa Clara, we wanted to present an exhibition that would explore the history of Bronco sports,” says Lauren Baines, museum programs and media relations manager. “When the school started, it wasn’t called Santa Clara University. It was called Santa Clara College. Santa Clara College was renamed to Santa Clara University in 1912. So this exhibit traces the early years of sports in Santa Clara College and Santa Clara University from 1851 to 1950.”

Sports featured on the exhibit’s walls include football, basketball, rugby and baseball. Among the evidence of the school’s sports victories is a big Orange Bowl trophy the Santa Clara Broncos won in 1950 for beating the Kentucky Wildcats. This shiny giant bowl spotlights a statuette of a football player on top of a pile of artificial oranges. Other victories celebrated include a 1938 Sugar Bowl victory over Louisiana State University and a rugby game where Santa Clara University beat Stanford University.


Reproductions of old photographs show the contrasts between sports gear then and now. Baines notes that in one of the images of a baseball team from 1870, the young players wore hats and scarves with long sleeves and buttoned down shirts and slacks, quite a contrast from baseball uniforms today.

The exhibit also shares information about the shifting demographics among members of the sports teams.

“Beginning in Fall of 1961, women were admitted to Santa Clara University for the first time, which made Santa Clara University the first Catholic co-educational institution of higher learning in California,” Baines says. “Two years later in 1963, the university (now called Santa Clara University) hired a woman named Marygrace Colby. She was hired to direct and instruct the female students in their recreational interests and athletic pursuits. Volleyball, basketball and tennis were the first fully organized women’s sports on campus. There is also an individual by the name of Melvin Lewis. He started at the university at 1949. He was the first African American student on this campus and he participated in football.”

The de Saisset Museum is on the Santa Clara University campus, adjacent to the Mission Church. Use the Palm Dr. entrance. The Museum is open Tue-Sun, 11am- 4pm. Visit or call 408-554-4000.


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