A Pfaff Farewell

by Jeffrey Mu ’24

Last Thursday, the graduation for the class of ’23 was held in the quad facing Liccardo – the proper send-off to four years of hard work at Bell. With just over 400 seniors present, the event represented Bellarmine’s 172nd graduating class: students that had put in work and time into the school’s various opportunities, now ready to take their knowledge across the nation and into the wider world.

But looking back at the four years full of accomplishments can be bittersweet, especially with the tight-knit communities the seniors have formed over the years. And nowhere is this better seen than in the fiercely competitive football team.

Football here at Bell has brought significant fame and recognition over its long-standing legacy. The team has proved to be one of the most impressive amongst its many competitors in the Bay Area, and its success in regional tournaments is largely owed to the history of strong players who have gone through Bell sports, made possible by players and alumni like Mr. Richard Pfaff and Mr. Bob Pfaff. Coincidentally, within the current team, this star player is yet another of the Pfaff name, Ben Pfaff ‘23.

To commemorate Ben’s four years of being a core part of the team, leading it through its many ups and downs, Richard Pfaff and Bob Pfaff met up with him last week, to both get to know the famous Pfaff name in rich Bellarmine history and to give a proper farewell to Ben as he moves on to a D1 college Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo.

Ben’s own athletic journey began in 7th grade, when he started playing tackle football for the Los Gatos Longhorns. Inspired by his stepbrother Kyle and his games on livestream, Ben jumped into the sport that ran through his family. “That’s when I really when fell in love with the sport,” he says. “It inspired me to join the [Bell] team and continue all four years.” At the end of a highly memorable and successful freshman football season, boasting wins against all its WCAL competitors, Bell football played St. Francis for the winning cup. Going up against Saint Francis, the Bells were up, but not by much. “Suddenly, we had this amazing moment where my lineman blocked really well for me, and I was able to score the winning six points, sealing the win for us… it was just pure bliss,” Ben recalls. And just as Mr. Richard Pfaff had led the team to an undefeated season decades ago, Ben’s own undefeated season had secured his name in the football team for years to come.

Throughout the next three years of his football career, Ben continued to outperform his opponents, and although Bellarmine lost a few games here and there, the spirit of the sport and the thrill of scoring touchdowns followed wherever he played. Certainly, the legacy of the Pfaff name continued with Ben, and served as his motivation to excel in every game. When I asked him about his relationship to both Richard and Bob Pfaff, Ben told me that the name was nothing more than “a surprising coincidence” considering the fact the three are not related. But in terms of Bellarmine football, nothing but the opposite could have been true. “Both of the older Pfaffs have left such a great legacy. It’s a cool feeling, and super inspiring to know that these Bellarmine hall-of-famours have left the same legacy that I hope to leave for myself.”

Ben met with Bob and Richard on campus the Friday before the week of graduation. It was evident as soon as I met them that more than a hundred years of sports legacy had regrouped with the team on Bellarmine soil. According to Richard, “the 3 Pfaff boys, who all attended BCP at the same time (1951-52) were called by legendary Fr. Flynn as one of the school’s greatest athletic families – Jim was in All City football in ’53, Bob was captain of the great ’54-55 basketball team that started the run of 46 straight wins, still the Bell record, and my senior year football team was ranked #1 in Northern California.” Not only did this prestigious Pfaff name come with the fact that this team received 10 players with full-ride  scholarships to college, but the news of the Pfaff name was “highly publicized due to the fact that the sons (Dennis and Phil) of world-famous crooner, Bing Crosby were on the team.”

When asked about their thoughts on Ben’s successes, both Pfaffs remarked that Ben had more than filled their shoes, and fulfilled the name’s legacy, although in a different way than one might expect. For the Bell that Richard attended, even the rules of football back then were different for the team –  “[The team of ‘51] were the last team to never wear face masks, and there was no platoon system” – this did not stop the team from trampling over its opponents, in an undefeated season. Though now, the rules have changed substantially, one thing remains for sure – the team that Ben has propelled to success follows in the team of ‘51’s shoes.

The trend of being undefeated, seen in both Ben and Richard’s careers, continued in the season of ’65, in which Bellarmine was unscored upon – save from a single interception. “The defense allowed zero points the entire season, that’s how totally dominant they were,” Mr. Pfaff recalls. “They played the number one team in Northern California, which at that time was St. Andrew, and the local newspaper, the San Francisco chronicle, commented that Bellarmine was so good that there was no high school team that could beat them, and [Bellarmine] would even give the 49ers a good run for their money!”

So even if Ben may not be directly related to Mr. Richard Pfaff and Mr. Bob Pfaff, the stories of Ben and the older Pfaffs, as well as the dominance of the team while they played seem to be a related success story, carried across multiple generations of extraordinary Bellarmine football players. And though announcers at each game may not be able to spell nor pronounce their names correctly, (“it’s only five letters, and three of them are ‘f’!” Mr. Richard Pfaff joked) no doubt their legacies have been engrained into the minds of all those who have gone to football games at Bell, or those who have admired the awards and plaques of the Pfaffs displayed in the lobby of the gym.

The Bell Online would like to extend our congratulations to Ben Pfaff ’23, as well as a special thanks to Mr. Bob Pfaff and Mr. Richard Pfaff.