It was a perfect day. The Am Trac Express had only been two hours late leaving the Emeryville station. We were just past Promontory point on the way to the Bears Gophers game. The sun was setting. The rhythmic sway of the metal wheels on iron tracks had put my wife in a honeymoon mood. She was showering in our Cabin. The Champagne was chilling in the plastic ice bucket.
Suddenly my iphone rang. It was Coach Tedford. He and the team were already in Minneapolis. “You were right about last year,” he said. “Leaving late for Maryland was a mistake. It was worth it to get here two days early. The kids’ legs are rested and everyone is more relaxed—more focused. We aren’t so rushed.”
“And you’re right about marketing Best more. He’ll get the carries inside the 10 in the first half. To be a Heisman candidate, he deserves some of those easy TD’s. “
“Thanks. That was no big deal. You have so much more to worry about.”
“But I depend upon guys like you—guys schooled in the 60’s to help me coach today’s game. You just know so much more about football than we do."
The water from the shower went silent. Cindy was toweling off.
“It’s not that,” I stuttered. “It’s….
“No. From the top row of CC you can just see more of the field than I can down on the sidelines—encumbered by that head set and all. I’m gonna tell Syd Quan to hit harder—stop diving at those ankles. I’ve learned from Tennessee and won’t try to have our guys audible on every play with all that noise. We’ll just call it in the huddle, go out and run it—come what may. We’re gonna run more than two plays in a row—regardless of yardage. You were right.”
At that moment, Cindy came out of the shower wearing nothing but…….BEEEP. BEEEEEEEEEP. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.
That rude alarm squeaked it’s high pitched wail and woke me up. It was 7am, Saturday before the 9am kick off. I wasn’t on the train after all. I was home, in bed in St. Helena.
Somehow, I’m not sure parts of that dream will ever become reality. Damn!
Well. It is game day. No sense to pout. Time to get up and go out to the Explorer in the back yard, open up the tailgate and start downing the brewski’s from the cooler I’d iced down the night before.
Petee, Linda, and the crew would be doing it back there on the Gopher Campus, and in a fit of solidarity, it was my job to show support by tailgating before kickoff—even it if it was in my own backyard basketball court and the neighbor’s rooster was still crowing. (On the subject of real time, game lik, simulation my wife drew the line at me stuffing towels in the toilet that it might overflow leaving an inch of water on the floor to simulate the men's head at the North end of Memorial Stadium).
Gophers won the toss and deferred. The first drive was Tedford and Ludwig serving up their best Michelanglo/Da Vinci Combo platter.
We started on our 20 after the touchback (whatever that is—apparently, that’s what happens after a kicker reaches the endzone with a kick off. (Who knew?).
(I’m not going to bore you with play-by-play, but this sequence is worth noting).
Vareen, starting for Best, went in motion, received a backward pass from Riley. He stood up to throw the double pass, but was thwarted. No prob. He took off up field and knocked off 15 for a first.
Next play was an end around to Isi Sofeli (genuine freshman with feet faster than a Psi U retreating down the fire escape of a sorority house when chased by a broom wielding house mother). Don’t ask where THAT visual came from.
Best then carried three times in a row (honest injun’) for a first—also a first this season. Riley threw to Ross for 7. Riley then ran a qb draw from the spread before giving to Ross on an end around. It was all magical-- mixed up and beautiful. There wasn’t a predictable call in the bunch.
Then that kid Best touched the ball and ran 33 yards where he was about to be pushed out at the one. Alas, he lept in the air and Fosburry flopped into the endzone for an ESPN top 10 play of the week TD.
Five different ball carriers on an opening drive. Now that’s imagination—the stuff Bowl Committees look for (besides coaches with southern accents).
Unfortunately, not only was our kick off a bit short, Minnesota ran a reverse and Cal’s two outside cover guys on the right side, pulled a three stooges collision and Hayo returned to the Cal 47. In fact, at the end of the first half, the Gophers had 6 possessions. Average starting point? Their own 47. Cal’s D played the entire first half on a 50 yard field! More credit to them.
Their first play was a Hook and Ladder—another razzle-dazzle after the reverse on the kick off. Let’s see. 11 plays, one attempted double pass; a QB draw; two end arounds: (or is it ends around?) a reverse; and a hook and ladder. This is why College football has stolen my heart from the pros. Great fun, no matter how you slice it.
The D forces a three and out. Best reals off 25. Riley goes up top to Tucker for 59 and he’s stopped at the two. Best takes it in. Yes. This is the
way God meant it to be. And people mock me for putting on the right colored boxers.
Kick off goes to the 16, and is returned to the 38 (better than their average spot of the first half). D. holds again. Three plays—minus ten yards. They punt.
We go three and out.
They start again at their 46. They drive. Alualu gets a sack. Quarter ends 14 love.
They score to make it 14 to 7 but we are dominating.
After the kick off we go 11 plays (Riley gets sacked twice) and a field goal is missed, keeping it 14 to 7.
Next drive Riley and Best trade off (with one Vareen carry for 3 yards) until best scampers in from 27 yards. A picture perfect drive of 5 runs and 5 passes.
Alas, the kickoff goes out of bounds and Minnessota starts at the 40, only 60 yards away from pay dirt.
They punt and we take over on our 7. We punt short, and after a personal foul penalty, they’ve got a first on our 29.
Cattouse (Ka Toose) (I always thought his name was spelled Cat House)lays out their great receiver, Decker, with one of the hardest hits you’ll ever see. Like a dead man who’s gun has to be pried from his fingers—miraculously--Decker hangs on to the ball—his lips are bleeding and he’s semi-conscious. He came back to hurt us in the 2nd half.
So though we controlled the game we go into the half leading only 21 to 14.
Kick off goes into the endzone for a touch back for the first time this year. Things are looking up as they go three and out.
Then the real weirdness starts.
Best carries for one yard. Then five. Riley comes up a yard short, and we have to punt. That is the last time Best will get a hand off until the 4th quarter. My wife tells me to shut up that I am scaring the dog. But I’m sure the coaches can hear me from the couch.
We punt. They go three and out. An no Best. We go three and out.
They march 77 yards to tie the game 21 all.
Riley throws four time (a holding penalty) and Anger makes the play of the day—a 53 yard punt down to their 2. It’s tied, but they’re deep in a hole. Advantage Cal.
They punt and Best gets his first hand off since the 2nd play of the half with 10:59 left in the game. He loses two.
Then with 3rd and 16 Riley makes his most important play of the season—a 35 yard pass to Ross for the first. He completes one to Curran for a first at the 32.
Then as I am yelling “will you run the damn ball!” at the top of my lungs, Riley hits Ross in the right corner for a first at the two. Best takes it in for the lead—28 to 21.
Riley was outstanding when we really needed it.
When we get the ball back, Best carries three times for nine yards (my wife was wrong—they could hear me), and Riley snuck for two to get a vital first. Miller then makes a spectacular one handed grab for a pick up of 25 to the 8. Best runs for three, takes a short pass for two and runs around right end for the score. Three touches—and another TD. Go figure!
Minnessota gets it back twice, but Hill intercepts one and Mohammad another to snuff out drives.
D line was awesome, especially Alualu. Heavy pressure on them.
Their Decker is a throwback. What an awesome receiver—even threw a TD pass. Speaking of which, in the red zone, twice Hagen (who usually makes some good plays) took his eyes off his man and allowed him to get behind him twice for scores. Very poor technique—whatever the coverage was--which one would assume was man down that close.
Bottom line? They almost took it to us in the third quarter. What separated the third quarter from the other three? Best took only two handoffs. Think about it. Name your back—Jimmy Brown, O.J., Smith, Payton, Sanders, Dickenson, it’s always the same—two yards, 1 yard, three yards, four yards—lose two, lose one—BOOM! 77 YARD TOUCH DOWN!
They need to touch it a lot to get a certain rhythm, and then they break it.
(As John McCay used to say, "of course he can carry it 22 times. It ain't heavy.)
Can’t say enough about Riley’s key plays on the road or the D lines
relentlessness. LB’s same thing. D backs got careless a couple of times.
Sid 'Quan had 7 tackles.
And kicking? Anger’s punt to the two saved our Bacon. Our kickoffs (both depth and coverage) hurt us. It’s why they still call it FOOTball. We need to concentrate on it. As Ray Willsey used to say, over and over and over again: “Stress the kicking game. For their the Breaks are made.”
Great win in a tough environment. Can’t wait for Coach Tedford’s call this week. Or am I dreaming?
Jeffrey Earl Warren ‘70