Instead of running around playrooms as a kid, Christoph Bono ran around inside NFL locker rooms with NFL stadiums as his playground.
Years before the redshirt sophomore outfielder was making a game-saving catch to help UCLA baseball advance in the College World Series during its 2013 national championship run, he was hammering on the bolts of stadium seats with his plastic tool kit, watching his father, Steve Bono, play at the highest level that football has to offer.
Steve Bono played quarterback for seven NFL teams over a 15-year career. A backup quarterback in 13 seasons, Bono won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 1989, while backing up Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young.
The UCLA alumnus played quarterback for the Bruins from 1980 to 1984, while also spending the 1982 season as a catcher for the baseball team.
Though Cristoph Bono was young when his father played in the NFL, growing up as the son of a successful NFL quarterback placed lofty athletic prospects on his shoulders.
“There’s always expectations just because of his athletic career being at that level for so long,” Christoph Bono said. “People probably expected me to have somewhat the same ability.”
When he was a senior at Palo Alto High School, he led the baseball team to a conference championship and the football team to its first state title, as the starting quarterback, with his dad as an assistant coach.
Despite the success, Tina Bono reminded her son that he didn’t have to follow in his dad’s footsteps with football and baseball.
“Christoph got kinda snappy,” said his mother, also a UCLA alumna. “And he’s like, ‘Mom, I didn’t play in high school not to play in college.’ Kinda like, ‘Duh mom. What were you thinking?’”
On April 25, versus USC, with a runner on second and two outs, Christoph Bono fielded a hit to right field. With the baserunner rounding third, he fired a throw home to nail the runner at the plate and end the inning.
That’s his quarterback arm at work.
“I think (having played quarterback) helped his accuracy tremendously,” said UCLA baseball assistant coach Rex Peters. “He’s a very accurate outfield thrower and that’s how he gets his assists – through accuracy.”
Originally, Bono came to UCLA following in his dad’s footsteps as a quarterback for the football team. With the depth at quarterback, the recruited walk-on received few reps in practice and contemplated transitioning to baseball, the sport his dad described as Christoph’s “first love.”
At the end of his freshman year, the football program wanted him to stay on campus for summer school and lift weights, while baseball coach John Savage, who brought Bono into the program as a recruited walk-on, wanted him to play in a collegiate summer league.
He had a decision to make.
“I had always planned to choose one eventually, (but) I thought it would come after two years,” Bono said. “After getting to that summer, I realized it would be too hard to satisfy both parties, so if I’m going to make this decision next year, why not make it now and start to focus on one right away?”
Bono made the tough decision to go in the opposite athletic direction of his father.
“I thought it was a great decision. … I think he knew where his heart was,” Steve Bono said.
In his first season playing with the baseball team, Christoph Bono served mostly as a backup.
His biggest moment came as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning of a 2-1 ballgame against North Carolina State in the College World Series. With two runners on, Bono sprinted after a ball that looked like a home run, but he miraculously caught it on the warning track before bumping into the wall.
Thanks to that catch, UCLA preserved its lead to defeat North Carolina State and went on to win the national championship three games later.
“He probably made one of the biggest catches in UCLA history,” Savage said. “If people look at the history of (plays in UCLA) baseball, that will go down as one of them that I don’t think anybody will ever forget.”
Now Bono jokes with his father about having a national championship ring that is bigger than his Super Bowl ring. Despite the ribbing, sharing the championship experience has only strengthened their bond.
“Oh my gosh, it’s way more fun to see your child do it than to have done it yourself,” Steve Bono said.
Following the path of his father hasn’t always been easy; he’s had to deal with a lot of talk about being in his dad’s shadow. But it’s also brought them closer together.
“I think that’s the first thing that comes up, especially when we’re on TV. … They always mention that I’m the son of Steve Bono – which is great,” Christoph Bono said. “I’m very happy for his successful career that he had … not that it gets old, but eventually I want to make my name for myself.”
Aside from sharing the same surname, the father and son also share the same nickname – Bones – which they both independently earned while at UCLA.
“My dad was called Bones when he was playing here, but I don’t think any of my teammates here found out about that. It just kind of developed,” Bono said. “It’s pretty funny that we share the same nickname at the same school.”
Now, in a UCLA season plagued by injuries, Christoph Bono finds his name written on the lineup card as a starting outfielder every game, as he started all 53 games for the Bruins this year.
Having moved on from football and found success in baseball, Bono is now doing what he set out to do – make his own name.
“He’s definitely become his own man. I think he would have to live in it a little bit more, unfortunately, if he was playing football,” Steve Bono said. “He’s definitely blazing his own trail, he doesn’t have to be in my shadow at all.”
No matter if their paths are no longer heading in the same direction, the two will always share the bond of having won championship rings as backups on their respective teams. Because, for the Bono family, success is not only in their genes, it’s in their Bones.