That message was on my iphone. It came from Morton moments after the Bears went down to ignominious defeat—yet again—at da feet of da Stanford State Indians.
Yes, it really hurt. Why? Was it because we were “jobbed” by the officials? We were—but that is not why we lost.
Was it because the Indians were better than we were? They were—but is that the only reason we lost?
Was it because we were out coached? We weren’t—but is Dykes and the formerly “hurry up offense” the foundation for success going forward?
It wasn’t Dykes fault. But is he the future?
Was it because the stadium was not packed? And the air seems to have gone out of the Big Game balloon with only a reported 6,000 Stanford Alumni attending?
We can remember when the Stadium was half red and half blue.
It wasn’t any one thing—yet it was so many things.
How often have you heard the words, “I just want to live long enough to see the Bears go to the Rose Bowl?” Forget Naples. We want to “See the Bears in Pasadena,” then die. Alas, it looks like we are now closer to the latter than to the former.
Joe Kapp famously gave up downing Tequila until the Bears go to the Rose Bowl. If this keeps up, he’ll be forced to give up Metamusal. Most of us can’t even remember what Tequila is used for.
The dead giveaway was when I looked up at the entrance to Memorial Stadium and saw the inscription, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate."
It has become apparent for some time we don’t need Dante to warn us “Abandon Hope all ye’ who enter here.”
Rooting for the Bears has become nothing if not a “Divine Comedy.”
Of course, Dante erred in coming up one circle short. He toured only 9 circles of Hell—Virgil being kind enough to spare him from the 10th, most tortuous circle—that of the never dying “wait’ll-next-year Cal alumnus.” In circle 8 the fraudulent were buried head first with their flaming feet facing upwards. Circle 10 is reserved for Cal Alumni—who’s eyes fail to see and accept reality and whose heads are perpetually stuck up their backsides for all eternity.
Will we never learn?
No, it hurt so badly because it all seems so hopeless. Allah knows we’ve got lots of experience licking our wounds after many a Big Game.
Win or lose, the Big Game has retained a certain majesty—an inexplicable aura of magic. It could have been Paul Larson coming back from 3 TD’s down to tie the Indians in my first Big Game in ’53. The 14 point underdog Bears upsetting the Indians in Pappy’s final game in ’56. Patton and Hart stopping Skip Face at the goal line to send us to the Rose Bowl in ’59. Rose Bowl bound 10.5 point favorite Indians, featuring Heisman winner, Jim Plunket being upset 22-14 in 1970. Ferragamo to Sweeny on the last pass of the last game of the last season to defeat the Indians in ’72.
Should I go on?
You want to hear about 15 point underdog Bears beating Elway 28-23 in 1980? Or in ’86 when the 21 point underdog Bears (after 8 straight losses) upset the Indians 17-11 in Joe Kapp’s final game as head coach?
And I think there was a game in 1982 when the bears were down with 4 seconds to go and John Elway’s Indians were kicking off—but it’s so long ago, I can’t remember what happened on that “play.”
It’s not all ancient history. In 2009 the Indians were 9-1 ranked #6. A last second interception by Michael Mohamed of an Andrew Luck pass saved the game for the Bears.
And ever since it’s been “Meh.” Last year’s 63 to 13 summed it up better than Dante ever could.
Big Game had always had the aura of the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause. Probably there’s a rational reason why things happen (really dad or mom snuck money under the pillow or presents under the tree), but who wants to look to closely and perhaps destroy the mystery?
It’s not that any one meant to do any harm, but they began pulling off Santa’s beard when they began changing the kick off times for Big Game. Then they added a game after the Big Game so it was no longer the dénouement. Then it became the fourth week of the season—played in October, no less. Then brilliant minds thought it should be moved to Levi Stadium.
Each one of these events helped destroy the magic. I can assure you that none of the geniuses behind these moves ever read a Joseph Campbell book on mythology, or believed in the tooth fairy after his 6th birthday. (Somehow I see Larry Scott at age 7, “proving” to his brothers and sisters that the Santa in Macy’s was really a Bowery St. Bum working a part time gig—but I digress).
Money talks—magic walks. The Indians’ coach, David Shaw (whom I admire in so many ways) can’t even be bothered to do the Guardsmen’s lunch, a decades’ old tradition that raises money for disadvantaged kids. He’s too busy preparing for the game.
Tedford groused and grumbled all the way to the Bohemian Club for the traditional Big game dinner and gala—allegedly sitting in his car with a yellow pad, ordering his go-fer to wait until the very last minute before releasing him from the limo. (He also ended the tradition of the assistant coaches coming to the dinner).
Take the team to the Big Game Rally the night before? Maybe for a cameo, then off to meetings—if that.
Twice we were headed in the right direction. In the early 90’s Snyder had the program where it ought to be then a mental midget and crass guy let him go.
Then in Tedford’s early years (hired by Gladstone) he had us on the road to excellence both academically and athletically. Then (and I have no idea why) from L’affair Lepois on, the program tanked both academically and athletically.
Here’s an odd bit of trivia. If you look up Cal’s 10 greatest Big Game wins there’s an argument to made that they would include, ’56, 58, 82, and ’86. What did those games have in common? The guy my father used to call “Joe, Joe—The Kapp, Kapp.”
Or maybe whether Joe was a textbook qb, or a good coach or a bad coach—lots of folks have opinions on that--he had a certain je ne se qua—something intangible that allowed him to be present when magic happens. Or maybe he was the source of that magic?
Some people are like that. Some people are winners. Some people are always around the ball. Some people are always at the plate when the game is on the line. There is neither rhyme nor reason. It’s in the hands of the Gods.
Like Big Game used to be.
We’ve taken it from the hands of the Gods and put it in the hands of the technocrats and bureaucrats. But that’s another column.
Kapp and Morton (who, oddly, never beat the Indians) are Cal royalty. Childhood idols, they’ve become long time friends to me and to all friends of Cal. What they share with all those who have put on a hat and run out of that tunnel and on to the field is an amazing sense of Pride—pride of being a Bear. Pride of having attended (and survived) Cal—the most difficult (and I’m not just talking academics) University in country.
Any kid who gets through Cal has accomplished something no other College grad in the country can even relate to. Cal can be cold, unfeeling, unforgiving, forlorn—even cruel. Yet, it’s great. Like New York, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. It’s what binds us.
That’s why we bleed when we are so obviously out classed by the Indians. Yes, it hurts—really hurts.
And at this point we don’t seem to have an answer.
All we have is our pride—and no solution to the conundrum.
Maybe a new AD with a vision of Cal as the Kapps, the Ed Whites and the Mortons (who was unceremoniously let go by our former AD) see it, will help. Maybe there is no answer. Maybe the previous administration caused a tipping point where (after a tall good lookin’ guy reported in May of 2012 that we were 112 out of 123 schools in graduating kids), they let us fall to absolute last in the entire country the next year. No pride there. Folks just didn’t care—about the kids, about the program, about the school.
What will it take? I have no idea. Maybe we need the Lovin’ Spoonful. Do you believe in Magic? Life's Hell if you don't.