Thursday, September 01, 2011

Girding One's Loins for Fresno State




Imagine taking this quiz just a few  years ago?

Which Statement is ludicrously false and could never happen to a major University with a proud (if modestly successful) football tradition:

 A).  Cal will open its 2011 season, not in Strawberry Canyon, but in Candlestick Park. 
B).  Cal will play Fresno State.
C).  Kick off  will be at 4pm.
 D).  Presbyterian College will also be on the schedule
E).  Due to a TV contract, Cal will play SC on a Thursday night
F).  The Athletic Department will send a letter begging for ticket buyers to support the Bears against the Bull Dogs, but will not send a letter asking for donations for Rugby or Baseball which they have unilaterally decided to cut
 G).  All of the above.

This isn’t your father’s Golden Bear program.  And certainly not your father’s University.

But maybe that is how it should be.  The world is changing and perhaps Cal has to change with it---or not.

I can’t speak for others regarding why they love the Golden Bears or why they cherish those Saturday afternoon games in Memorial Stadium. 

Back in a Universe, far, far away, before we ran out through that tunnel for our first Freshman game, Truck Cullom would tell us the story of the legendary Andy Smith and how his ashes are scattered on that field.  We were considered lucky and felt honored to represent such an outstanding school with such a rich heritage.
Few of us were thinking agents and ESPN top 10 plays didn’t exist.

Though we wanted to win every game—all games shrank to insignificance under the shadow of The Big Game.
Though we were rarely a force on the national college football landscape, we could occasionally contend for a Rose Bowl birth and we developed an uncanny psychosis which made Polly Anna look like Torquemada. 

As fans, so severe was our detachment from reality that we could stand at the North End of the Stadium and shout in ecstasy after the late, great John Erby shouted “I smell roses,”—following a defeat of San Jose State.  We would not win another game that year.  Yet after losing the Big Game we turned to one another and dutifully said, “Wait ‘till next year.”  Worse, we believed it.

Of course, in 1962 rather than Presbyterian College, Fresno, and Colorado, our non conference games were against Missouri, Pittsburgh, Duke (when they were a powerhouse with All American JayWilkenson—Bud’s kid), Pen State and Kansas.  Only Kansas scored over 30 points--the rest of the games we were competitive.

We viewed our mission differently back then. It wasn’t considered honorable to play lower division schools.  Oh we weren’t biased against Religious schools. Ray Willsey didn’t shy away from laying home and home against Catholics--like Notre Dame.

(Maybe a mismatch on the gridiron, but not as much of a mis-match as when they played us in Rugby and Threbes, Harry, Botch, Dzura, Igor and the boys trounced them (if memory serves) 45 to 3(someone will correct the score)--the equivalent of winning around 90 to 6 in Football).

Today, it’s about playing cream puffs (though the Bull Dogs could give a rude awakening to the Bears.  They have a great program, but we have so many more resources regarding recruiting, it should be no contest—yet we may get battered).

In  the hopes of padding schedules to get into Bowl Games—the majority of which lose money for the University—but that’s another story (Read Death to the BCS by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan for the details) we are actively looking for teams we think we can beat.

Cal is not alone in this.  The SEC schools and Big Ten have been going the non-conference cream puff route as well.  It’s just that in the old days it was fun to be “different.”  It was never the "Cal Way."  We prided ourselves on that.

Tedford gets high marks for filling the stadium, leading the drive for the High Performance Center, and getting the money for the new Stadium.  Apparently the academic side is on the upswing as well.

And Larry Scott pulled off the most lucrative TV contract in the country for the new Pac 12--netting over 20 mil per school. per year.

They’ve both done what they were hired to do and deserve credit.

It’s just that Luddites like some of us have a different view.  We love college football because we love Cal.  We want to win in the worst way and pray for a Rose Bowl before we die—which can’t come too soon for some of us.

It’s just at what cost?

I don’t count, because St. Helena is an hour and a half from Cal.  So I’m prejudiced.  I love waking up on Saturday morning, slooooooooowly reading the Green Sheet, eating breakfast, packing the cooler and driving down through the oranges, reds, purples, and yellows of fall’s changing vineyards.

I go to see my friends and run into others I haven’t seen in years.  Tailgating is a sacred joy.  I revel over friends’ kids playing—still upset Mooch didn’t give Drew Bennett a shot—and am thrilled that Kapp’s kid may start this Saturday.

Since many of us are married, Saturday in Memorial Stadium is the only day of the week when our opinions count. 

We love “talking football.”  There’s not a thing we don’t know and a thing we couldn’t do better than any coach or any player in the country.  It’s what “fandom” is all about.  

We are second guessers and inveterate armchair quarterbacks.

We know we should have run when the coach chose to pass, and verse visa (which is vice versa, vice versa).  We always go for it on 4th and short—unless the coach does—then, if we don’t make it—we blame him for gambling unnecessarily. 

We never “settle” for a field goal when a TD is remotely possible.  If we do assent to a field goal, we wouldn’t hook a gimmie to the left or push it to the right—ever!

All of our kick offs go into the end zone, and in five decades of fandom, never once have we missed an open field tackle.

We know how to score in the red zone, when to go to the tight end, and when a draw play is called for.  It is gospel to us that If only we’d run a reverse, we’d score every time. We know exactly when to blitz and would never get called for a holding penalty on a crucial down.

If only the coaches and the players were as smart as us we would never lose.

This is why we are fans.  We like each other and listen to each other, even though no one else does or will.

We’ll be at Candlestick on Saturday, awkwardly talking on cell phones trying to find our Buds (or drink them) for tailgating.  No idea where we’re sitting.   Even if it’s on the 50, no place is as good as the top of CC on the west side where one has the perfect angle to watch the holes open up, check the secondary, and between plays gaze at the awe inspiring view of the Golden Gate.

Saturday football doesn’t get any better than that.

It is true that the administration has made it difficult for us to love Cal.  The way they treated donors, alumni and fans has been a turn off to many.  Cutting sports without allowing us to save them was—if not mean—certainly misguided.

But like that year we only won one game, we keep coming back for more.  Remember, we are not “Golden Bears.”  The operative word is “Loyal” Golden Bears.

We are different than the Trojans and the Indians.  No one calls them “Loyal” Trojans, or “Loyal” Stanford  Indidans (or whatever they go by these days).

Like Job, yearly we are tested.  Unlike Job (many mistake the book BTW) we don’t give up.  We hang in and (so far) take what is dished out and keep coming back for more.

Mixing biblical metaphors, will we ever see the promised land—er Rose Bowl?  Qien Sabes?

                Is it more important that we reach a BCS Bowl or that we have a great Saturday, with a 1pm kick off, tailgating and mingling with friends?

                At one time (minus a few “Time is Time” Speedy Thomas’s) we had pretensions to being  a school of student athletes.  That may still be the case.  But remember:  Every time they say the new TV package is good for "exposure," that is code for saying some Manchild, inner City Kid might be willing to come to Cal because he sees us on TV.


 If the kid is a true “student-athlete,”  it’s worth it.  If the kid is a stud who will get us to the BCS but cares not a whit about Andy Smith or Cal—well, you be the judge.


And if the Bull Dogs have us for lunch, we can always say, "Wait 'till next year."  Or better yet, "Wait 'tll Presbyterian!"  It's only two weeks away.

Go Bears,
Jeffrey Earl Warren ‘70

P.S,  Notice the lack of a faceguard on Ricter's helmet.  Fewer concussions in those days because players tackled with their shoulders, not their helmet--leading with the faceguard.