Wednesday, August 29, 2012

THE WOLFPACK IS BACK




“The Nevada Wolf humbled the California Bear today. It pushed it to the wall, tore chunks out of its hide and left behind the wreck of what was the most powerful gridiron machine in the west.”

So wrote the Nevada State Journal, November 4, 1923.  The Wolfpack had just tied Andy Smith’s Wonder team 0-0.  Cal hadn’t lost since 1919 and was in the middle of a 50 game winning streak.
Nevada hadn’t beat Cal since 1903 and continued losing to the Bears until they Kapernecked us in 2010.  

Based on a 22-2-1 series record, the odds favor the house—our house.  But that is not why old Blues are all a-twitter.

Before the two headed coin flip, there’ll be a ribbon cutting and after the tree sitters, Oak, Burlap and Limb have had their names engraved on a plaque, Professor Barsky and Zachery Running Wolf will throw out the first Republican.  Then the fun begins. 

There will never be another week like this.  Just like when one is reading a good book and he can’t wait to get home and delve right in, we’re expecting something unspoken.  There’s something almost mystical to look forward to.

Each morning, we wake up with anticipation—not exactly remembering what is stirring our souls--searching for the Green Sheet—and oh so slowly read about--“The Opener.”

What makes this year different?  Like the smell of a new car, it’s the aroma of anticipation—of excitement—of optimism--of a new beginning.  Your first new car is the poster child for out with the old, in with the new.  

It‘s the feeling all Cal fans are experiencing this week.

Our new Stadium is in the driveway!  It’s the cure for our edifice complex.

                Personally, I’m with Jack Clark.  Memorial Stadium was a Cathedral.  There was something heroic about taking cold showers, dressing on freezing cement floors, and forgetting one’s combination to the old tin lockers.  

                Dodging loose chunks of cement as they fell from the ceiling, while getting taped by Bobby Orr added a touch of macho poetry to the scene.  

                Running out of that tunnel on to the ashes of Andy Smith was an honor few kids will ever forget.

                But I get it.  It doesn’t cut it with today’s athletes—those that are used to being flown in on private jets, plied with booze and chicks while being fawned over by older men who never get to spend time with their wives during the recruiting period.  

                A new stadium has its place.  No doubt some recruits didn’t want their mothers getting splinters up their backsides and weren’t thrilled about those moms waiting in interminable lines to visit comfort stations which flooded, reeked of sour odors, and were carpeted with used paper towels everywhere.

                Something had to be done, and for better or worse, to the tune of around $350,000,000 Cal stepped up and did it.  

                In this economy, it may reek of misplaced priorities, but it’s exciting.  Not one of us can wait.
            (And screw ‘em.  If they’re gonna admit out of state students (didn’t that same Tall Good Lookin’ guy write about Helping Rugby to Save Cal?) to the detriment of scions of in state tax payers, we ought to have one thing we can call our own).

                The Wolfpack will kick off the season at noon.  (Ever notice how no one complains about early start times?  People bitch about 4pm and 7pm games—but never early ones.  That’s because early start times are code for permission to drink in the morning). 

                My friend’s tailgate is kicking off at 9am sharp.   Think I’ll arrive early just in case (Hiccup!)

                Outside of an architectural master piece, what should we expect to happen on the field? 

                Quien Sabe?

                But here’s what one cowboy would love to see.
 
                Ten years ago, after Tedford’s first game,  a tall good lookin’ guy wrote these words,

                ……..Only 27,000 people cared enough about the outcome to show up in person….. 2002 the Baylor, Bears vs. Cal Bears was not a biggy.

     Fair enough.

     But that’s when the pure beauty of football smacked all of us right between the eyes.     We have a young man, named Jeff Tedford to thank for that.  Mr. Tedford may be 40 years old.  I’m not sure.  I don’t care that he knows more about football than I do.  He gets paid to do that.

     What impressed me was how he knew more about life than I do.   

     This was demonstrated to us in the first nine seconds of the football game.

     Remember the circumstances.  Cal was coming off a ten game losing season--  the worst year since the original St. Helena convinced her son,  Constantine, to convert to Catholicism.

     Cal received the kickoff and had the ball deep in her own territory.  

     Most of us were hoping we wouldn’t fumble the first snap from center.

     Suddenly, a terrible beauty was born.  

     The quarterback took the snap (cleanly) straightened up and threw laterally to a second string running back.  He caught the lateral, looked down field and found a young man who had never played a college game in his life.  He passed him the ball.  It was not a great pass.  Still, the youngster grabbed it, stumbled, regained his balance and found the end zone 71 yards later.  

     We were all in shock.

     We stood and clapped and yelled and screamed.  We were ecstatic.   More important the kids were having fun.  

      It’s immaterial what happened next  (yes, Cal won).     Anyone who knows anything about football knows that no one wins with trick plays.  Football is a game of blocking and tackling.  

      We weren’t applauding the fact that we were “trickier” than the opposition.  We were cheering the man who announced to us that he was “setting a tone” for the season.

     We may not win another game.  But the kids know, we old folks know, and more importantly every opposing coach knows, that this Tedford Cat is crazy and might do anything to win.  If you’re an opposing coach, this is a scary proposition.

     If you’re a Cal player, you’re bowled over.  A 2nd string running back? A freshman who has never played?   These are the guys who are going to get it done?  

     What Mr. Tedford did was set a tone.  He announced to the world “You will never know what we are going to do (so you better prepare). I believe in all my kids--and I’m not afraid to use anyone of them at any time.  Does anyone understand how huge this message is?

     Huge.  Yet simple.  The man sent a message.  It’s what we try to teach our kids.  

A coat and tie?  The message is this job interview is important.  I’m respecting it.
      A hand shake with a look in the eye?  Is this message not clear?

    Want to date his daughter?  What are you telling him if you honk from the curb?

    You already know the cliché.  “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.  Had Tedford’s play failed; the message still would have remained……”  

Like the Phoenix rising from its own ashes, the table is set for a new Jeff Tedford to rise up and become the Jeff Tedford of old—the one who stole our hearts and turned around a moribund program.  He’s a natural 10 and 2 guy.  He wasn’t born to be 7-6 or play teams like Portland State and the Presbyterian Blue Hose.  

He was born call double passes on the first play and end up on SC’s 9 yard line with 1:39 left to play for a win.
What will we actually see?  If they make Maynard (a southpaw) drop back and throw across his body to the right—probably an upset.  If they let him roll left, we could see a slaughter.

Much ink was spent on the subject of sinistropobia (fear of left handedness) last year.  No need to repeat.

Allen is clearly the real deal.  That Tedford went back to talk to Bellicheck about tight ends is HUGE.  They could revolutionize our O.

Our backfield will produce at least one 1,000 yard rusher, and though the line is untested, Tedford and Malicheck have done a great job, year in and year out of producing productive college blockers.

We are tee’d up for a fantastic Cinderella season.  An upset of either Ohio State or USC is not out of the question (at least not when one is on mushrooms), and though we must replace 6 starters on defense, last year’s Pac 12 leader could be formidable.

Back up QB Kline is one of Roger Theder’s kids (as is Johnson on the niners) and if, “Allah forbid”, anything happens to Maynard, those in the know think Kline can play.

The only cloud hanging over the program (like leaky oil in a new car) is the academic picture.
 Here’s Steve Harris wrote in his News Letter (Since I realize no one takes my word for it)

FOOTBALL ACADEMIC MESS: Cal’s Academic Progress Rate score was 923 for 2011
(11th in the Pac-12 and a 31% graduation rate), which was lower than the 925 minimum score
to retain bowl eligibility (930 is the minimum standard beginning this season). Fortunately,
the standard is based on a four-year score, and Cal’s is currently 936. However, the trend is
troubling: the four-year multi-year scores in the last four years fell from 970 to 969 to 949 and
now 936. The single year APR is lower than UCLA, Fresno State and San Diego State. The
score is published in June each year so Cal’s APR score won’t affect a bowl game this season.

No new stadium will fix this mess.  No amount of wins will make it go away.  Right now it is the single most important item which should be addressed by the athletic department.  News like this does not fit with our mission—or what Cal football is about—period.

But that stuff’s for another day.  Saturday, we’re poised for a new beginning—a re-birth of the boys of fall and all the joy they bring to us all.  Saturday in Memorial stadium in the fall.  Who’s got it better than we do?


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