Saturday, November 21, 2015



  It’s Big Game morn and something’s not right.  I woke up in my own bed, next to my wife. 

No, it’s not as scandalous as it sounds. 

It’s just that usually on Big Game morning, we wake up in a hotel room anxiously waiting the 1pm kick off, and just as anxiously try to remember where we were the night before.
         Normally, even before reading the morning paper I race to my wallet to see if I had a good time on Friday—a day that begins with Bloodies at Gino and Carlo’s in North Beach at 10am, moves on to the Italian American Club were rummies from the 60’s (and each decade after) collect to tell lies and laugh about the many screw ups which defined your days at Cal.

There are dozens of reunions throughout the City. Wherever one gathers, it is the best one of the week. For us, The Mother of them all is the Friday Men's lunch. It was started over 30 years ago at the now defunct New Pizza. It was mostly ruggers, and former footballers--boys, Coach Joe Marvin once called "The fellows who fought the Battle of Berkeley back in the 60's".

We gather to re-tell the same old, stories--laugh way too loud--and return to the halcyon days of yore when everything was possible, and no one could best us--neither footballer nor female.

(In truth, we lost way more times than we won--in both areas--but who's counting). At least we gave it "The Old College Try."

Ours is a friendship held together over the years--not through our triumphs, but through our failures. For that's where the laughs are. In the screw ups. In the errors in judgment. In the vain attempts to be more than we were.

Had we been suave. Had we been cool. Had we succeeded each time--in class--on the field--with the co-eds-- we'd have little to talk about. And nothing to laugh about.

When the sentence begins with "How 'bout the time......." you can be assured it has nothing to do with a triumph.

Mostly it has to do with some humiliating failure which the PCer's would consider a lowering of self-esteem--and which we consider too funny for words.

The 60’s are a bye gone era.

That's when our school yell went from "Roll on you Bears" to "Ashes to ashes/Dust to dust/We hate to go on strike/But we must, we must!"

No parents wanted their kids to come to Cal back then. We were considered a bunch of Commie, Pinko, Weirdoes. It’s a wonder football survived.

In fact, Ackey Boy claims were it not for Ray Willsey back then, Cal football would be dead, there would be no Big Game to look forward to.  He may be right.

Franze defined the lunch with the classic line: "No invitations. That means no jerks. Just good guys inviting good guys".

It is good that we are off by ourselves. The world would never approve of our past shenanigans. It certainly wouldn't approve of the way we laugh about them now.

We were not nice boys. On the other hand, we were just that--boys. Doing things that boys do, and grown men can look back upon and laugh at. Maybe it's a guy thing. My kids don't believe me, but no truer words were ever spoken than when we tell them at their moments of failure, "Don't worry. We'll laugh about this later."

Former pro bowler Terik Glenn made us all proud with his talk about what he’s doing for at risk kids and how much his degree from Cal means to him.

Former Niners stadium announcer and comedienne Bob Sarlotte (Murph calls him “Pteradactyl arms” because they are so short, he can’t reach over to pick up a check); had us on the floor with his one liners and drop dead imitations Coaches Wild Bill Dutton and Ray Willsey.  Even the kids who didn’t know or play for them, were in hysterics.

Morton was a little tardy (I assume he got intercepted along the way), and Big Ed White, McCaffrey and Kapp were rare no shows—though Joe made it out for Thursday night. Tonight’s late night kick off kept more than a few regulars from making the journey this year).

The lunch is followed by a trek over to Grealish’s NorthStar CafĂ© and more beer and more stories.  Big Games past run on a loop on the TV’s providing endless opportunities for conversation and “remembrances.”

(For a great column on some of them check out today’s Chron where another tall good lookin’ guy, clasmate, Bruce Jenkins, nails it).

In days gone by NorthStar was followed by Irish coffee’s at Buena Vista where we were joined by our lucky wives who might find us face down before grabbing us, spitting and drooling, to a dinner in some hip joint Sarlette knew about, before we closed down the Royale Exchange with all the Cal kids and band.

         But that was then and this is now—when Big Game means a 7:30 kick off, so people from Sacto and St. Helena (like moi), can count on getting home at 3am.  No es bueno.

         So instead of spending the night at Stanford, or Cal or in the City, it’s back home to wake up in one’s own bed and prepare for an entire day’s wait for kick off time.

         This is the price we pay for 20 plus million in Pac 12 TV money per school.  They tell us it’s worth it. 

         Of course, we don’t think of the Big Game as a revenue source.  We think of it as an essential part of Cal life, and an irresistible magnet which draws us back to the school and times we love so.

Outsiders think we are so arrogant. No one in the country understands how two academic institutions can refer to their contest as “The Big Game.”

That the BCS or some such thing has to be on the line is to miss the essence of college football. Despite the bad press, scandals and under the table activities we read about, first and foremost, college football is about student-athletes competing against one another.

Sure, there are some thugs. And, yes some kids are just passing through on the way to the pros. But for the vast majority of seniors, this is the last football game they will ever play.  (Or should have been were it not the new “extra” game—again TV driven).

So the combination of adrenaline, coupled with the "Ya ain't got nothing to lose" mentality inherent in one's final game, make for some extraordinary moments in sport.

We're not talking about a rivalry where each year Heisman Trophy Candidates rise up to accomplish Herculean feats.

No, from Hart and Patton stopping Skip Face short of the goal line on the last play, and sending the Bears to the Rose Bowl fifty years ago, to Kevin Moen knocking over the Stanford trombone player to win the '82 Big Game with no time left on the clock--the rivalry is rife with "Ordinary Joes" accomplishing extraordinary feats.

It's what makes it great. Is there any finer expression of athleticism than what was once referred to as "The Old College Try?” The Big Game is nothing, if not a show case for "The Old College Try."

The Beauty of "The Old College Try" is that it is not dependent upon physical prowess alone. Heart, determination, courage, guts and grit are the ingredients of "TOCT.” It does not rely upon superior genes or talent. It is a state of mind--dependent solely upon the depth of one's character and the size of one's heart.

"The Old College Try" is not delivered in a vacuum. It is (or used to be) witnessed by family. One of the finest "families" one could ever be associated with--Old Blues.

We won’t be there this year and may never make a night time Big Game again. 

We won’t be missed.  The world has moved on.  We had our time and it was great.

Traditions can’t compete with money—never could. 

But what Big Game traditions gave us over the years made us all rich.  They can take away the game, but they can’t take away the memories, nor the friendships.

They’ve won.  We lost.  Money rules.  But at least we can say that for more years than we can count, we gave it “The Old College Try.” 

Give ‘em the Axe!