Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cal UCLA 2007

Just in: The United States Supreme Court has just ruled 6 to 3 that the C.I.A. may no longer show GITMO detainees footage of 4th quarter Cal games. “Water Boarding is much more humane” wrote Anton Scalia in the majority opinion. The three dissenting judges, Breyer, Ginsburg and Kennedy dissented on the basis that 4th quarter footage was pure pleasure, not pain. The fact all three had Stanford State connections was referenced in a footnote.

So what are we Cal fans do? Blame the coach? Blame a 20 year old? Jump off the band wagon? Stop watching footage of Paris Hilton?

If your kid gets cut from the varsity do you stop loving him? If your
daughter gets 500 on the SAT’s do you shut her out? What do you do when the one you love doesn’t live up to your expectations?

And isn’t it all about dashed expectations? Whose fault is that? We are the ones with the unreal expectations.

How one deals with this speaks volumes about us—not the team.

One way NOT to deal with it is to put in on the shoulders of someone who is not yet old enough to drink.

Speaking of drinking, how did one root for the Bears during Prohibition? Rooting for the Bears, sober is more taxing than being the father of teenage girls.

Yet, we do live and die with the Bears. How sick are we? 12 steps anyone? Speaking of 12, some of us have loved the Bears since #12 Paul Larson brought them back to a 21, 21 tie in the Big Game back in ’53. My grand parents gave me a blue and gold #12 jersey for Christmas that year. I was 5.

Saturdays were the best. My family would park out near the Claremont Country Club and we’d walk the mile through the Blind School to Strawberry Canyon. My father would toss me the ball on the fields in the Blind School, and then actually on the Cal field after the game. I can still smell the chalk that lined the damp field.

I know what it’s like to get a chinstrap from one’s boyhood idol, #81, Ron Wheatcroft. I remember how my dad’s friend couldn’t believe I had Joe “the Kapp Kapp’s” autograph in my program.

Those of us who were blessed remember the locker room before that first freshman game. We can all still hear Truck giving us the “Andy Smith Eulogy” and telling us about the honor of playing on the Ashes of Cal’s greatest coach, spread ceremoniously on that majestic field.

We know by heart the words of Andrew Latham Smith inscribed in stone on the back of the Bench in Memorial Stadium:

“We don’t want men who will lie down bravely to die
But men who will fight valiantly to live.
Winning is not everything,
And it is far better to Play the game squarely and lose
Than to win at the sacrifice of an ideal.”

To us, football is more than a team, a coach, a win, a ranking or a Rose Bowl. It’s more than a disappointment at UCLA. It is woven into the fabric of our lives. It’s about, friendships, lovers, children, tradition, and of course, beer. There might even be a class or two we attended thrown in on the side.

As we get old, it is true that through the magic of transference, we identify with parts of our past. Some of us know, whether we are in the stands or in front of a TV screen, or listening on the radio, that that is us out there. We are the ones throwing the block, making the tackle, catching the pass or tossing the ball. It’s not some kid. C’est moi! We are the coaches making the decisions—not some University employee.

That is why it hurts so much. Because of the “transference” of identities, it’s not the kid who screwed up, or the coach—it is us. Like when watching a Shakespean play, we enter Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief”—and become the actors or players we are watching.

For three hours each Saturday, the “Slings and Arrows of Outrageous fortune,” the perfidies of adulthood, the betrayals of friends, the unfaithfulness of lovers, the avarice of business partners, the failures, divorces, illnesses, and deaths all take a holiday, and we can drift back to those halcyon days of yore when all was possible—and the biggest disappointment in life was getting a bullet (being shot down) by that Co-ed you didn’t really want to date, anyway.

Alas, the Gods don’t see it the way we do—or maybe they are not yet finished punishing us.
We’ve got to keep reminding ourselves that we asked for this. We wanted a Tedford in there who could put together an honest to goodness program—that means recruiting, scheduling, academics, facilities, staff, public relations and marketing. He’s done that better than anyone else in the past 50 years. We’re such amateurs (as fans) at this level that we just don’t know how precarious and difficult a big time program is. (Was it Solich who got fired for losing three games at Nebraska?)

We’re lucky Tedford has stayed this long, and ought not to chase him away.

That being said the e-mails have come in—“So now what are you (you of the Cal’s going to slaughter UCLA school) going to say?

Without getting into personalities, here are some reflections on the game of college football in general.

Most old schoolers understand that if the gods are ever to smile on us, certain verities must be affirmed.

1. When an opposing receiver stretches out and catches a ball over the middle, he is to be cut in half, Ronnie Lott style. Letting him land and then bumping him with one’s shoulder is not winning football. Despite what they tell you, this market is not different. Football is about blocking and tackling. It’s about young men hitting one another—hard!

Of course, it’s a bit disingenuous to ask kids to be courageous when the University hasn’t the cojones to kick a few dendrophiliacs, out of some trees.

On the question of courage, here’s hoping in the future that Cal also has the intestinal fortitude to announce a “sensitive” score during the game. Are we telling these kids we want them to be ranked number one, but that they haven’t the maturity or mental toughness to hear that LSU has lost? Does anyone think that Texas, Ohio State, USC or the Florida schools don’t announce scores because they are afraid how it will affect the “children” on the field?

2. To paraphrase Tom Hanks, “There is no ‘face guarding’ in football. (It used to be a penalty, for God’s sake). All DB’s should turn and go for the ball, no matter how badly they are beaten. This is fixable.

3. The “I formation” originated at VMI in the 50’s (by Coach Tom Nugent) as an alternative to the straight or split T. It was popularized by SC, because they had a running back with “fish eyes,” Mike Garret. He had the best peripheral vision in football, so giving him the ball 7 yards deep allowed him to cut back against the grain to find the running lane. It was never meant to be a short yardage formation. When going against (our equivalent of) the old “Gap eight” defense on the goal line—or short yardage--handing the ball off deep in the back field (whether in the I or Single Back formation, allows defensive linemen to penetrate. Unless one is doing play action or mis-direction, short yardage requires quick hitters which give the offensive linemen an equal chance against the hard charging defenders whose only responsibility is penetration.

4. If you’ve got a Jerry Rice, it make sense, regardless of the defense, go deep to two or three times at least, just to keep everybody loose. Put him in motion to isolate him, if necessary.

5. If there’s no safety in the middle, most tight ends can get deep to the post. We should take advantage of it.

6. If the man who makes the interception to beat you says in the paper, “I could tell by the formation what they were going to throw,” it’s time to mix it up a bit.

7. At the end of a half or game, it’s better to use up a down spiking the ball (Johnny U always threw it out of bounds because spiking wasn’t allowed), than to shout out audibles first to the left, then to the right thereby using up valuable clock time. The law is, never leave a time out on the clock if you’ve got the ball in the waning seconds.

8. Jahvid Best’s 57 yard kick return when we really needed it was a thing of beauty at a crucial time. Fumbles or no, he’s earned the right to touch the ball more. The more he touches it, the less he’ll fumble.

9. Ray Willsey once said that to win in college football, you’ve got to have 22 guys who can start at Notre Dame or SC (we had maybe three) and then you’ve got to have an OJ or Beban or Namath who is a cut above.

For probably the first time since the War, we’ve got 22 players who could play anywhere. Do we truly have that over-the-top playmaker? Maybe. Desean is an amazing talent, but plays a position where it appears tough to get him the ball enough times to make that crucial difference.

10. Another theory is that a quarterback is important for only 6 to 8 plays a game. The rest of the time, he just hands off or throws the ball. It’s the half dozen or so crucial first downs and scores that really count. Name the college quarterback who, after less than a season and a half could make those plays consistently?

Young Longshore (courageously playing on a crippled foot) had a great statistical game. The hope is that with experience (he’s really played very little—and been in very few “crucial” spots) he will become the type of Montana, Young, Stabler, or Unitas come from behind player. That only comes with experience, and folks shouldn’t be so critical. We need to understand the game better.

11. We have who we have. Walsh used to say that the key to winning in the NFL was a 4th quarter pass rush. No disrespect to these young men who are giving it their all, but alas, there is no Fred Dean on this particular team—yet.

12. Perspective: Winning at this level is harder than any of us ever anticipated. There are so many things which can go wrong—bad calls, tipped balls, penalties, fluke kicks, fumbles, interceptions—the list goes on. We need to be grateful for where we’ve come from and understand how difficult it is to get where we want to be.

I don’t know. Remembering where we’ve been, I’m just grateful for where we are today.
On the other hand, I think I’ll have another beer.

Go Bears,
Jeffrey Earl Warren ‘70