Thursday, October 18, 2012


In the days before they gave out participation trophies for occupying Oakland, a great yell summed up a great tradition.

....."Give 'em the axe where? Right in the neck, the neck, the neck. Right in the neck. Right in the neck, Who?"

We used to say "The Stanford State Indians--that's who!"  But this year we may want to Axe the powers-that-be which gave us Big Game on October 20th.  The traditional last game of the year has been relegated to just one run of the mill game on the schedule--thanks to TV.

In August of 2010 a tall good lookin' guy wrote, referring to the negotiations surrounding the Pac 12 TV package:

Suppose someone offers $10,000,000 to host and televise the Big Game. The only catch? We play it January 1st in Beijing. Luddites like us will want the traditional last game of the year in the Bay Area.

The suits will smile and pat us on the back and nod understandingly, pay a little lip service to the beauty of tradition, give us some balloons for the kids, and then go where the money is.

I hate it when I'm right--but not as much as my wife does. 

Still, what are we to do?  Someone has to pay the bills and if we want to go this "Big Time" route, we, too have to play by the rules.

Goethe warned us what would happen when Dr. Faustus bartered with Mephistopheles and agreed to surrender his moral integrity in order to achieve power and success: --the proverbial "deal with the Devil".

Power and success will no doubt be ours.  But at what price?

Of course the losers are the kids.  Big Game (when it is the last game of the season) is like no other. Each year it is worth remembering why

Like the Game, itself, this remembrance is a tradition.  Outsiders think we are so arrogant. No one in the country understands how two academic institutions can refer to their contest as “The Big Game.”
Folks assume that for a game to be “Big” something has to be on the line-- the Conference Championship; the Rose Bowl; or the holiest of holies--The BCS (whatever that means) Championship.

That something "big" has to be on the line is to miss the essence of college football.

Despite the bad press from Happy Valley, the USC, Ohio State and Miami scandals, first and foremost, college football is about student-athletes competing against one another.

Sure, there are some thugs. And, yes some kids are just passing through on the way to the pros. But for the vast majority of seniors, this is the last football game they will ever play (or used to be the last).

(Actually, that tradition died as well with the addition of the 12th (more money) game, but that too is another column.  Let’s just pretend Big Game is the "last game", because for all intents and purposes the Big Game is the Sine Qua Non of a kid’s Cal experience.

So the combination of adrenaline, coupled with the "Ya ain't got nothing to lose" mentality inherent in one's final game, make for some extraordinary moments in sport.

We're not talking about a rivalry where each year Heisman Trophy Candidates rise up to accomplish Herculean feats.  (Though Brandan Bigelow could put on a show were the to touch the ball).

No, from Hart and Patton stopping Skip Face short of the goal line on the last play, and sending the Bears to the Rose Bowl over fifty years ago, to Kevin Moen knocking over the Stanford trombone player to win the '82 Big Game with no time left on the clock--the rivalry is rife with "Ordinary Joes" accomplishing extraordinary feats.

It's what makes it great. Is there any finer expression of athleticism than what was once referred to as "The Old College Try?”

The Beauty of "The Old College Try" is that it is not dependent upon physical prowess alone. Heart, determination, courage, guts and grit are the ingredients of "TOCT.” It does not rely upon superior genes or talent. It is a state of mind--dependent solely upon the depth of one's character and the size of one's heart.

"The Old College Try" is not delivered in a vacuum. It is witnessed by family. One of the finest "families" one could ever be associated with--Old Blues and red blazered Indians.

As you read these words, I will have disappeared from the earth as you know it. Thursday, I leave the Valley to join the "family" and will not re-surface until Sunday. My days and nights will be filled with other rummies like myself.

There are dozens of reunions throughout the City. Wherever one gathers, it is the best one of the week. For us, The Mother of them all is the Friday Men's lunch. It was started over 30 years ago at the now defunct New Pizza. It was mostly ruggers, and former footballers--boys, Coach Joe Marvin once called "The fellows who fought the Battle of Berkeley back in the 60's". We know what he meant.

That's when our school yell went from "Roll on you Bears" to "Ashes to ashes/Dust to dust/We hate to go on strike/But we must, we must!"

No parents wanted their kids to come to Cal back then. We were considered a bunch of Commie, Pinko, Weirdoes. It’s a wonder football survived.

Franze defined the lunch with this classic line: "No invitations. That means no jerks. Just good guys inviting good guys". (Ok.  He never used the word “jerks”—what footballer would?).

We gather to re-tell the same old, stories--laugh way too loud--and return to the halcyon days of yore when everything was possible, and no one could best us--neither footballer nor female.

(In truth, we lost way more times than we won--in both areas--but who's counting).

Ours is a friendship held together over the years--not through our triumphs, but through our failures. For that's where the laughs are. In the screw ups. In the errors in judgment. In the vain attempts to be more than we were.

Had we been suave. Had we been cool. Had we succeeded each time--in class--on the field--with the co-eds-- we'd have little to talk about. And nothing to laugh about.

When the sentence begins with "How 'bout the time......." you can be assured it has nothing to do with a triumph.

Mostly it has to do with some humiliating failure which the PCer's would consider a lowering of self-esteem--and which we consider too funny for words.

It is good that we are off by ourselves. The world would never approve of our past shenanigans. It certainly wouldn't approve of the way we laugh about them now. (Can you imagine the number of anonymous accusers that would surface were one of us to run for office?)

We were not nice boys. On the other hand, we were just that--boys. Doing things that boys do, and grown men can look back upon and laugh at. Maybe it's a guy thing.

My kids don't believe me, but no truer words were ever spoken than when we tell them at their moments of failure, "Don't worry. We'll laugh about this later."

If only they knew that it's not succeeding that matters. Giving it the "Old College Try" does.


Jeffrey Earl Warren '70

This is the annual Truck Cullom Trophy given each year at the Friday Men's lunch.  'Nuff Said. (If you can't quite tell what that dog is doing to that Stanford Helmet, use your imagination).

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