Is the Big Game Still Special?
It seems like only yesterday that the athletic directors at both Cal and Stanford promised that the game would always be scheduled for 12:30. Apparently, there was an asterisk hidden at the bottom of that promise: Unless a television network wants the game. When ABC-TV offered to televise the game if it were started at 4 p.m., the schools willingly acquiesced. I guess itís a good thing ABC didnít want to start it at 10.
Next year, it could be worse. Because the season gets a late start and a 12th game will be added, the Big Game is scheduled for Dec. 2. When I talked to outgoing Stanford athletic director Ted Leland, he said he and Cal AD Sandy Barbour were working to change that. One of the Big Game traditions is the Bohemian Club gathering, which brings together Cal and Stanford alums, on the Thursday of the week before the Big Game. If the Big Game is on Dec. 2, that Thursday would be Thanksgiving. Oops.
For years, alums of both schools have bragged that we donít have the hostility you see at, for instance, the ďCivil WarĒ game between Oregon and Oregon State, or the hoodlum-like activities that have often led up to the Oklahoma-Texas game.
But at the 2002 Big Game at Berkeley, when the Bears finally broke the Stanford winning streak, Cal fans stormed the field afterwards, tearing down the goal posts and running amok. That wasnít a celebration. It was a riot. Last year, the police were there in larger numbers, so the crowd reaction was somewhat more restrained. It would be far better if fans would police themselves, and I hope that message comes through for next yearís game.
Iíve always thought that the celebrations at the fraternities and sororities just south of the stadium have made the Big Game special when it is played at Berkeley, but that has turned ugly,as Cal students have made vulgar, taunting remarks to Stanford alums, particularly the women, walking to the stadium. Thatís inexcusable.
It got ugly on the field last year, too, as the Bears turned the game into a rout in the fourth quarter and the frustrated Stanford players committed personal fouls Ė a performance I had never seen before from Stanford teams. For the game, Stanford had 14 penalties for 126 yards. It was clear that Buddy Teevens had lost control of his team, and it was also clear that Teevens would not survive as coach. Probably he wouldnít have, anyway, but that truly sealed his fate.
ITíS ALWAYS been difficult to explain the appeal of the Big Game to my writing colleagues who come from other regions of the country, or even to those with Bay Area roots who are alumni of different schools.
In large part, itís geographical, a factor which often leads to households with split allegiances, with one Cal graduate and one Stanford grad. Even that greatest of Cal loyalists, the late Walter Haas, had a daughter, Betsy, who went to Stanford Ė and then married a Cal alum, Roy Eisenhardt.
Even the coaches get into this cross-pollination process. Walt Harris started his career as an assistant at Cal. So did Bill Walsh, who since has had two stints as a head coach at Stanford and will be the interim athletic director after Leland leaves in January. John Ralston, who played on the Pappy Waldorf teams at Cal, became a head coach at Stanford and won two Rose Bowls. Mike White, who had played for Cal and was in the same 1958 graduating class with me, was on Ralston's staff, and he later jumped from there to become head coach at Cal.
Though it seems unthinkable as an undergrad, in later years, we alums often become close to graduates of the other school. One of my closest friends, for instance, is Dick Schutte, a Stanford grad who was also the first president of the Guardsmen. Each year, Dick hosts a table at the Guardsmenís Big Game luncheon, and Iím one of his guests. The table is split between Cal and Stanford grads, all good friends of Schutte; the last two years, weíve been joined by one-time Cal quarterback Craig Morton, who is now doing fundraising for Cal.
In a way, the friendships make the rivalry that much more intense, because the game is for bragging rights, though thatís been tempered somewhat in recent years because Stanford alums had some sympathy for us Old Blues in the Tom Holmoe years, as we did for them in the Teevens years.
Nonetheless, the rivalry often has been the key to evaluation of coaches. Despite early struggles, Ralston saved his job with his success in the Big Game. Because Tyrone Willingham won seven straight Big Games, he was able to disguise the fact that he is really a mediocre coach.
This yearís Big Game has more importance than many. Stanford needs to win it for that sixth win which would make the Cardinal bowl-eligible; itís hard to see Stanford winning its final game, against Notre Dame. Cal is already bowl-eligible with six wins (for those of you wondering, the Sacramento State win does count), but the bowl will be a better one if the Bears have seven wins.
Thereís also been added speculation this week about the Cal quarterbacking. Jeff Tedford announced yesterday that Steve Levy will start, though Joe Ayoob will also play. Levy has played well in spot appearances, but I have no idea how he will do as a starter.
Ayoob has taken considerable abuse this season. Most alums Iíve talked to or corresponded with have expressed support for him and dismay at his treatment. I suspect that the Bearsí success in the Tedford years has brought out people who are fans of winning but have no connection with the school, and they are the ones who are abusing Ayoob at the games. I wish the young man well and hope he can regain his confidence and go on to show his true ability.
WHETHER THE game means something competitively or is simply for bragging rights, it remains special.
Starting with the Bohemian Club event, there are a number of events and other athletic competitions surrounding the game. The Guardsmenís luncheon is always a must for me, and I added another event this week, the ďBig SailĒ at the St. Francis Yacht Club, as the guest of Jim and Brian Mullen.
But we need to work on preserving the tradition and civility of this special event. Please, no more 4 p.m. starts. Please, no more riotous behavior after games and loutish behavior before. This is too important to be spoiled.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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