How sweet it is/was. We didn’t want the night to end. We just stood there watching the children storm the field. The Axe, like a lifeboat lost at sea, rising and falling amidst the crush of bodies. It doesn’t get any better than this. Well maybe it did in Pasadena on January 1, 1938 when Alabama went down—but that’s a little beyond our memory bank.
I quickly donned my “I told you so cap” and smiled from ear to ear. Anyone who knows me, knows I couldn’t predict an “A” in Professor Hearst’s Ed 110 class (where you graded yourself)— Still I was feeling pretty smug. I’d gone on record: Cal, 27 to 17.
The night after the SC debacle—and 8 days after the Oregon fiasco, when our record was 3 and 2, we’d scored 6 points to our opponents 72—my favorite writer—between swallowing vials of sleeping pills-- wrote (back on October 1st):
“Someone has to say it. The Bears go 10 and 2 and we’re still angry.”
That tall good looking guy continued:
“For the rest of the year (barring a total collapse) the point spread will be within a touchdown of everyone we play. And we’ll win way more than we lose….Big Game will really be big. Hopefully, Stanford wins a bunch and then we crush them and wreck their entire season.” Hmmmmmmmmm.
But wait. There’s more!
“We’re looking at 5 and two easily and a possible 7 love run the rest of the way. What could be bad about that?”
The least nasty e-mail riposte I got after those words was, “Get Real!”
All right. So I didn’t say 6 and one. There are word count requirements.
The second best joke of the week was about the Stanford Coach (pick your favorite) who kept telling his team about the importance of “Trust.” You’ve got to trust your teammates, trust your linemen, trust your defense trust your quarterback…. Until one player piped up and said, “Coach. You don’t have to tell us about the importance of Trust. We all have one.”
The best joke was Sarlatte’s at the Men’s luncheon (Which I missed for the first time in decades--due to a funeral)—in which he referred to Oakland Raiders receivers touching fewer balls than Ellen DeGeneres. Shigga-boom!!
Third best was my Stanford friend’s line, “When SC’s band played ‘March on to Vicotry’ I always thought they were holding up two fingers in the V for victory sign. Now I realize they were yelling “Go for Two.”
Saturday was nice, but how great was Sunday, with a fire blazing and the TIVO playing back a glorious Bear Victory? (For atmosphere, I like to clog up the toilet and flood the floor to get that real "College Stadium" experience). The Goobs doesn't appreciate it.
We left St. Helena on Saturday around 10am, trading in the orange, red, yellow, and purple vines for the brown and green of Stanford Eucalypti. We met the boys in lot 7 around noon, knowing that Andy’s M.O.A.T (Mother of all tailgates) was at the South end of the stadium. Still, there was plenty of time to sample wares and walk around the carnival like grounds.
Stanford at Big Game. So much booze. So few restrooms. (Of course, Memorial stadium is worse. Why we don’t rent some “executive porta potties—you know like you see at Golf tourneys and wine auctions—for our women is beyond me. It ain’t too bad for guys).
Everyone was lamenting that Best wouldn’t be playing. (One should never joke about head injuries, but if he can’t run for daylight the NFL, at least he can run for Congress).
The talk amongst us was about “tumbling.” Remember how we all had it in the 7th grade. We were taught how to fall—how to do summersaults—both forward and backward. Now no one can have an appropriate answer for landing on hard turf from 8 feet up, but when he dislocated his elbow, it did appeare that that didn’t have to take place. That he “fell” stiffly. The “Dog” suggested that maybe, as a track man and city lad, maybe Best hadn’t been playing tackle football with no pads all during grammar school the way we had. The question was, do many of these kids today know how to “fall” the way we were taught?
I mentioned it to Muncie and he agreed, adding this interesting sidelight. He said Jerry West had asked him if he had problem with his knees. Muncie said no. He’s from Pennsylvania and West is from Cheylan, West Virginia. “We walked and road bikes,” said Muncie. “We never rode in cars, like California kids. Our knees and legs got fully developed because we used them all the time.”
Hey. Makes sense to me. Some orthopedic surgeon ought to do a study.
Anyway, maybe it’s simply that guys are bigger and faster and stronger. But I like outside of the box theories. No doubt there are more out there.
For laughs, I’d like to see them go back to the single bar face mask. Today’s facemask is used as a weapon. Without that protection, tacklers would be forced to tackle the old fashioned way—with shoulders—around the thighs, instead of spearing into the chest.
Should hurdling be outlawed? Ned mentioned that in rugby you can’t leave your feet to tackle. It’s a penalty.
The one which is probably stupid, but worthy of thought is going back to some form of leather helmets.
Lastly, wouldn’t a rule change, which forced players to go both ways make the most sense. Do that, and all those 300 pounders would disappear in a nano second—reducing the number of injuries which are due to sheer mass falling via gravity on bones, tendons and ligaments.
But I digress.
The one bright spot which we thought might occur with Best out of there, would have been that Tedford would let Vareen carry the ball 20 to 25 times. (He carried 42 times for 193 yards). For whatever reason, (maybe because they are worried about his fragility) Cal has not let Best carry the ball 20 times a game. It has always been a mystery.
We’ve heard all the talk about a problematic O line (how could that be with 3 returnees from last year’s outstanding line), and 8 in the box etc.
The 8 in the box bit was inadvertently refuted by Dave Bush’s great article about Wiedeman still holding the Cal record with 16 interceptions. “Weed” played safety in a three deep—the way we played back then.
Ray Willsey ran a 6-2 defense. Six linemen, two linebackers and three deep. You could get away with that in college as teams didn’t throw like they do today. Of course, that meant EIGHT MEN IN THE BOX. Yet, teams still ran. How did they do that?
Anyway, back to the game. Stanford went up 14 zip before we knew what was happening. Our only hope was that Gearhart’s long run was a fluke and that often when teams go up in a hurry, the better team has a long time to come back.
We still didn’t light it up. 5 dropped passes in the first half didn’t help.
But despite Gearhart’s 61 yard TD dash, the D was playing well. With the score 14 to 3 and the Indians marching for their third score, Osuwu (fast down the field, slow through airport security lines) dropped a crucial third down pass for a first. That play turned the entire game, from a potential route, to keeping the Bears in it.
The stats tell the storey—well most of it. We held the ball for over 39 minutes. Why? Because Riley threw clutch passes and no interceptions (the lone pick was a tip off Vareen’s hand—stopping a drive at the Indians 9 yard line). And because WE RAN THE BALL—despite 8 MEN IN THE BOX!
BTW. Just to rub it in, back in the day one was never allowed to reach up with one hand to catch a pass. The law was, leave your feet and go for it with two hands. Why? Because you ain’t gonna catch it with one hand, and the best you can do is tip it—keeping it in the air so who can catch it? The D!!
Of course, receivers like Moss and Owens are so much bigger than in our day, and the ball is smaller, so one handed catches are being made—and are very in vogue, thanks to ESPN—but the down side was pointed out in the Big Game with that pick when we were down in scoring position. Tip the ball up in the air, and 10 times out of 9 (I’m a member of DAM—Mothers against Dyslexia) the wrong guy is going to catch it.
At the end of the game, both Tedford and Harbaugh made controversial calls—Harbaugh’s two calls were the more egregious.
First, Harbaugh went for it with 4th and 8, (despite having all three timeouts) and gave us the ball with 3:28 to go at the Indians 23.
After a first down, Tedford eschewed going for the touch from the Indians 11, and opted to have Riley take a knee in the middle of the field, giving D’Amato a chip shot field goal which went through with 2:42 remaining. Yes, he made Stanford have to score a touch (it was now 34-28) but had we tried to score, and turned the ball over on a fumble or interception, the Indians still would have had to have marched to our 35 (a minim 55 yards), in 2:42—in order to tie it with a field goal.
As it turned out, after the kick off return (following the field goal), Stanford took over on their own 42, meaning they had to go 58 yards to score a touchdown in 2:39. So, with hindsight, it was a toss-up. Stanford had to go the same distance in the same amount of time in order to change the outcome.
When one measures the risk reward of having gone for a score rather than a field goal—in retrospect—wouldn’t the better call would have been going for the score?
Cal’s D line pressured Luck on two successive plays, but he escaped and ran for 11 then 4 yards. They forced him out of the pocket on the third play, but he dumped it off to Gearhart (who was all alone) for his only reception of the day. Gearhart put on a one man show and carried tacklers (his private version of no child left behind) down to our 13.
With plenty of time to run Gearhart, Harbaugh kept the ball in Luck’s hand instead—called a pass which was picked off by Mohamed and Cal took a knee three times to end the game on their own 5 yard line.
Harbaugh is a great coach. He may not like the winters in South Bend, but if he goes he will do better than Weis.
But he made the classic “great coach” mistake at the end of the game. One, he put the game in the hand of a redshirt freshman, instead of relying on his horse. And two: (on the same lines) he opted for a “great play”—opted for out-thinking or out scheming his opponent—instead of putting the game on the shoulders of his best player. Gearhart should have been touching that ball in the closing drive.
We see a lot of that—coaches getting too smart. I think of all the classic “Non-genius” coaches, Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant, Webb Ewebank. They just gave the ball to their best athletes and let them win it. How they did it—they didn’t really care.
The geniuses “out-scheme” the opposition. Walsh made it work—but he also made sure his schemes revolved around Jerry Rice and Joe Montana.
Well it was as great day--turned night. As we froze in the Eucalyptus grove after the game and long into the night, not one of us noticed the temperature. Wins warm like no blazing fire ever can.
Wishing for a speedy recovery for Jahvid.
Happy Thanksgiving and
Jeffrey Earl Warren, ‘70