Famous Cal Poly alumni (from left to right): John Madden, Aaron Peckham, Alfred Yankovic (Weird Al), Jeff Denham and Burt Rutan.
Homecoming is a time for all Cal Poly alumni to return to their old stomping grounds. Among these former Mustangs are a few well-known graduates. But not everyone on campus knows they came from Cal Poly.
John Madden: Class of 1959
From the Cal Poly campus to the NFL, John Madden could receive many titles — football legend, broadcasting veteran and Cal Poly Mustang.
Although football video games bear his name, Cal Poly Athletics Director Don Oberhelman saw him as more than a video game icon.
“John’s influence stretches further than being the name on our student-athletes’ favorite video game,” Oberhelman said.
According to Oberhelman, Madden showed that “you can take the Cal Poly experience and transition into a successful professional career in your chosen sport, not only as a player, but as a coach and an industry leader.”
Madden began his soon-to-be legendary football career at Cal Poly. He played for the Mustangs from 1957-1958, according to the Cal Poly Athletics website.
Madden worked his way to become the head coach of the Oakland Raiders football team, where he remained from 1969 to 1979.
But his involvement in football did not stop with his retirement from the Raiders.
He got involved in sports broadcasting in the newsrooms of CBS, Fox and ABC. That part of his career began in 1979 and ended with his retirement in 2009.
Alfred Yankovic (Weird Al): Class of 1980
Parody music lovers know who Weird Al is. However, they may not know he attended Cal Poly and lived in Sierra Madre Hall his freshman year.
When residents of Sierra Madre were told by a Mustang News reporter they lived on the same floor as Weird Al, some students sprinted to room 43G — where Yankovic resided — and told the current residents what they’d learned. Construction management freshman Zak Fabery, mechanical engineering freshman David Shepperd and business administration freshman Connor Platt, who live in the room, were excited.
“I feel like we won the lottery,” Platt said.
Yankovic was an architecture major in the late 1970s.
He was characterized as a recluse who sat in the corner of his room and played his accordion.
Yankovic dived into the music business after graduating and the artwork on his first album replicated his old room in Sierra Madre.
Burt Rutan: Class of 1965
Alumnus Burt Rutan proved Cal Poly Mustangs could reach the stars — literally.
Rutan created the first privately made and manned aircraft to travel into space in 2004, according to his website. The aircraft was called SpaceShipOne.
But Cal Poly aerospace engineering professor Daniel Biezad knew Rutan as more than just the man who created SpaceShipOne.
“We have a history with Rutan,” Biezad said.
When Biezad was head chair of the aerospace department in the 2000s, Rutan often visited the students and gave lectures.
“He used to come and recruit students,” Biezad said.
Rutan has not visited the campus since then, Biezad said, but he still appreciated Rutan for what he gave the students.
“We are very proud of it,” he said of Rutan’s legacy at Cal Poly.
Aaron Peckham: Class of 2005
Urban Dictionary — where students and adults go to find funny definitions — was made by a Cal Poly alumnus.
Aaron Peckham created Urban Dictionary during his freshman year while living in Stenner Glen, according to an interview with a Cal Poly magazine.
The beginnings of Urban Dictionary were not glorious. The website team consisted of just Peckham and the web server housed in the apartments.
“For a while, the server was under my bed,” Peckham said in the magazine interview.
Jeff Denham: Class of 1991
Although he was never the Associated Students, Inc. president, Jeff Denham has made a big name for himself as a U.S. Representative for California’s 10th district.
Denham was involved in clubs such as the Cal Poly College Republicans, according to National Journal.
Former club adviser Laura Freberg was not surprised to hear one of Cal Poly’s own made it to national politics.
“I can’t say I’m surprised, though, because political clubs typically attract students who are absolutely passionate about politics. If a student is ho-hum about politics, he or she is much less likely to be involved,” she said.
Current College Republicans club president Nate Honeycutt was happy to hear a former club member was involved in politics.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said.