There are the obvious relations between church and football. Many people gather to pray on a particular day of the week, sometimes making sacrafices to hygiene for the sake of luck. What I'd like to talk to you about today are the fundamental structures of these two institutions that make football the religious experience that we know it is. Both institutions are geared toward keeping and instilling faith into their respective worshippers and do that very successfully by appealing to innate social responses. So let's take a look at those social responses in the setting of football and the identity of the fans, then we can look at specific Cal traditions to see this in our own Memorial Stadium.
Both institutions take advantage of conditioned responses by the power of sacred locations and sacred music. First of all, Memorial Stadium is sacred--yes, sacred with drunks and overflowing toilets, but still sacred. The feel of the wood benches, the view of the field from your seats, the smell of sun, sweat and booze, and if you're lucky, the bouncy feel of momentum turf beneath your feet. You probably have very strong feelings about memorial stadium. Now, what makes it so holy? I think it's because the perceptual concept is not muddled up by the mundane; its only purpose is football. Every Saturday (or so) in the fall we all have a visceral reaction to the events on the field where the importance of it all is reflected in your heart-pounding, which releases adrenaline, cheering, which releases dopamine, and generally the whole experience being reinforced by 70,000 fans. You associate this importance and these emotions with this place.
You also associate your experience with the music that accompanies the scene. (Think of it like Christmas music, you only hear it once a year, and love it or hate it, I bet you have the same reaction to it every year.) Music has been used over centuries in almost every religious group to solidify relations to and importance of events. Just as in church, in Cal traditions you might even notice different styles of music to envoke solemnity or celebration; either Hail to Cal or Palms of Victory respectively. We also have holy persons and holy days. Everyone knows Tedford is god, but there does seem to be a hierarchy of holy football persona -- from AD to water boy. Complicated and unseen relationships of these saints can be honored and discussed by the masses. Deities exists such as Andy Smith, Pappy Waldorf, and Marshawn Lynch. Current players and assistant coaches may be working their way toward sainthood right now. As for the holy days, we all know Big Game is the holiest day of the year with its own special chants and traditions. Minor feast days might include Homecoming, the first game of the year, or the first day season tickets go on sale. The game traditions that we see every game day act to solidify our faith as well as our group identity as Cal fans.
The most important part of the group identity is, well, the identity; the rules and beliefs that define the members of the group. These are the kind of rules that state "thou shall not harass opposing fans while they are in line for the toilet" and "thou shall not wear red during Big Game week". Often this is most easily shown (and defined) by an 'us versus them' frame. Many groups are only defined after tossing out the undesirable actions and then seeing what the group finds desirable. When you travel to U$C, and you see 8-year-olds cursing at you, I hope this helps to show what is 'undesirable' in a fan and that part of the Cal fan group identity is a sense of class and restraint. Our differing group identities may explain why the University of Oklahoma Alumni Association makes about two to three times more money on apparel then Cal. It's because to be a "Sooner" you wear Sooner clothing, apparently constantly. Here at Cal, we don't believe that you are only a Bear fan. You can be a Bear fan on Saturday, a 'Niners fan on Sunday, and an A's fan on Monday. What's great about these rules are that they are self-policing within the group; make a mistake and you are corrected by your fellow fans (see chant "Take Off that Red Shirt"), do well and you are given peer support.
Besides personal experience, groups are also defined and connected by the history or narrative of the group. Cal certainly has a rich and telling narrative that, until now, has been only told in pieces and on an individual basis. Those with 'book-learnin' call this mnemonic tradition which includes what we remember as well as how we remember it. This means we remember sensory experiences (feel of the seats) as well as remember it through the interpretation of the group (U$C always cheats therefore...). The interpretation of information is very important -- it gives us a way to place emphasis and importance of some actions over others. The Cal narrative would explain why most Cal fans feel pretty confident that Pappy Waldorf is a more legendary coach than Jack Clark. Also, my husband Ragnarok reminds me that the name Pappy sounds very cuddly while Jack Clark gives kids people nightmares. In case you were wondering, it's because of this sociobiographical memory that accounts for the pride, pain, and shame we feel in reaction to the group history -- even to events before we were born. Basically, all of these different areas give us a concept of a Cal fan -- and lord help you if you do something that clashes with that concept.
Now, what you may not consider with all these game day factors, is that the University is very aware of them. Each department's marketing works very hard to take the handful of recognizable Cal artifacts (Campanile, Oski, Walking Bear) and turn them into a unique, but familiar, identifier for each different campus entity (Haas, Boalt, Optometry School, etc...). So when the Director of Gameday Experience (Megan Mosness) decides that we need more piped in music, it's with consideration of what Cal fans expect versus what money it will bring in. Now, I think what makes the piped in music especially obnoxious is that it clashes with our concept of being a Cal fan -- we love our band and we don't sell out. Traditions that stick are aligned with our concept of Cal. This may be one reason that we stopped using live bears as mascots; our concept of Oski was more classy and less vicious (besides the obvious maiming lawsuits). Along those same lines, some traditions match far too well to get accepted into tradition. In 2004, the Cal Band held a contest for a new Cal song. They picked California Triumph, a great song that felt to them "like a Cal song". It did, but it hasn't been accepted by the fans. Not because it clashes with the concept but because we already have songs that fit that meme (any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea). In a language, a new word will not replace an old word unless that old word changes meaning leaving a meme gap. For example, I hate the "Roll on You Bears" chant. It's dull and depressing. But it stays because it fills a specific need in the culture.
I hope that this is interesting. We live in a tiny Cal fan universe governed by social rules imposed by our history and enforced by our friends. In closing I'd like to add to go with this church of football, we also have our own words of prayer. Go Bears.
The opinions expressed in a FanPost are, in every way, reflective of the opinions of every California Golden Blogs Marshawnthusiast. Moreover, they are reflective of every employee of SBNation, including Tyler "Blez" Bleszinski.