The Big Game always brings out the best in Cal fans, and it was no different for the Sacramento Grid Club. A full house was in attendance for a packed schedule that included no less than 5 speakers with a wide variety of insight into Big Games past and present.
Per the usual our meeting began with film of Cal's loss to Oregon playing on the big screen, and I was fortunate to arrive just in time to watch the fateful field goal illegal procedure and subsequent soul killing Duck drive - it never gets any easier to watch stuff like that. But with Big Game anticipation and spirit filling the room, as Cal fans exchanged tales of Big Games past and compared attendance streaks, one more loss to add to the collection faded in importance. IT'S TIME TO GIVE 'EM THE AXE!
This week's main speakers were former Bears Vince Delgado and Rob Bimson. Both played during the mid 80s under Joe Kapp and Bruce Snyder, and both are Tiny Bates Award winners. They were kind enough to share their Big Game memories with the audience. The Grid Club also heard over the phone from offensive administrative assistant and former Oregon quarterback Akili Smith, longtime Cal radio broadcaster Joe Starkey and San Jose Mercury News writer Jon Wilner.
Note: As always, all guest responses are paraphrased based on my notes and best recollections. I extend my thanks to Calbear81, who was in attendance and allowed me to borrow her notes. I'm currently being trained and prepared to become the Grid Club president next year, and in that effort I began the phone interview with Jon Wilner and thus was unable to take notes.
What is your role at Cal? Do you work with quarterbacks?
I’m not allowed to work with QBs because of NCAA rules. My job is to do anything the offensive coaches need to get ready – like preparing scripts, powerpoints for coaches and players, anything like that.
Talk about Cal’s defense vs. Oregon
It was a brilliant performance in the trenches by the defensive line – the coaches challenged them and they responded.
Why such a difference between home/road performances?
We’ve talked about it as a staff and we’re scratching our heads. We can’t continue to get off to slow starts with penalties and turnovers.
How does the defense game plan for Andrew Luck?
Since they use a pro-style offense coach Pendergast can draw from his years of experience as an NFL coach to formulate a defensive gameplan to slow him down.
Is a fake field goal or punt ever practiced?
I can’t comment on specifics, but I will say that we practice every play known to football
What does Cal need to do to win on Saturday?
It’s going to be our will vs. their will – everybody knows we’re going to hand off to Shane – it’s our job to make it work anyway. We have the #1 defense in the Pac-10 and I firmly believe we can slow down Stanford.
What are your future career aspirations?
I definitely want to continue being a part of Cal’s staff and bring a National Championship to Berkeley.
When asked what uniforms Cal will wear on Saturday, with a request for Blue because Cal’s win percentage is highest in that color
When I get off the phone I’ll go right to our equipment guy and let him know that.
Did we have recruits talk to Aaron Rodgers and Desmond Bishop when they visited?
I’m not sure – I’m not involved in recruiting. I know that we had Desean Jackson visit a few weeks ago and we made sure that every recruit that was visiting was introduced.
What are your predictions for the Big Game?
The only way Cal wins is if Mansion improves, which is a tall order for just his 3rd start. I have no doubt he can develop in time, but he’s still very green. Also, if it was any team but Stanford I wouldn’t give them a chance because last week’s game against Oregon was just so exhausting and emotionally draining – the Ducks play so fast that it was tough to broadcast! They also must win the field position battle because if Cal is constantly backed up Stanford will take advantage.
If Tavecchio makes the kick do you think Cal wins last week?
It’s so hard to say – the psychology is so different, but it still would have been a challenge to stop the Oregon offense.
Question from Rob Bimson: Do you know why Troy Taylor’s name is Troy?
Joe: No, I’ve never heard that story!
Rob: He won't be happy that I'm telling you this - the truth is that his dad was a huge USC fan and wanted him at USC so much that he named him Troy.
Joe: Well, I'll have to ask my partner about that when I next see him!
What do you remember from the Corvallis minute?
For those unaware, Cal lost a game in Oregon St. when a clock error added another minute to the clock in the 4th quarter. The Beavers would kick the game winning field goal with less than a minute to play. Vince Delgado and Rob Bimson were both playing for Cal at the time.
Joe Starkey: Well, we knew that some kind of error had been made, because I had announced the time remaining, then three plays later looked back at the clock and said ‘what a minute, that’s the same time I just announced a little while ago!’
Rob Bimson: What I recall is that when the clock reached 10:00 to play, instead of going to 9:59 like normal it showed 10:99. When this error was fixed the clock was then corrected to 10:59 rather than 9:59. I suppose some of the blame has to fall to us, because with 65 players on the sidelines and an entire coaching staff, somebody should have noticed and said something!
On learning that he had been elected to the NCAA Hall of Fame
Nobody was more surprised than me. I didn’t believe the phone call when I received it! I’ll be going east for the ceremony soon, and hopefully there will be another Cal representative – the ceremony for the Academic Heisman, which Mike Mohamed is a finalist, will be at the same event. I’m also told there will be a ceremony at halftime during the Washington game, and I have a hunch they’ll show that one play from 1982. It’s a wonderful honor, and it’s been a privilege to call games for such a great university.
Rob Bimson and Vince Delgado
There are many good reasons to show up to Grid Club meetings in person if you live close enough to do so, and the conversation with Bimson and Delgado is a primary example of why. Their talk was a free-flowing, back and forth trip down memory lane as both men frequently exchanged thoughts and stories with a great deal of audience participation. It’s the type of conversation that is nearly impossible to capture in print. Hopefully my description does it justice!
What did Cal vs. Stanford mean to you?
VD: I was recruited by both Cal and Stanford (as a WR by Cal and as a RB, my high school position, by Stanford) and my official visit for Stanford was the Big Game. I spent the game with some Stanford alums, but also some Cal alums who made it a point to tug on my arm during the game. Honestly, I was leaning towards Stanford. Joe Kapp called me and said, "Look, a pass is just a long hand off, and a scholarship doesn’t last forever." I signed up that night.
RB: I was also deciding between Cal and Stanford, but my gut said I was a Cal guy – I always just felt more comfortable in Berkeley. Maybe that’s because I rushed the field as a 15 year old in 1982. My big memory was 5 catches in my last Big Game, and also a recurring nightmare on a play in which I was open down the field but Troy Taylor overthrew me by just a few yards on a potential touchdown – just before I got blown up by the free safety.
What are your memories coming out of North Tunnel the final time?
VD – Big Game week is huge. It’s so easy to get motivated. I remember and older lady, a former cheerleader, leading us in the axe yell at bonfire – it gives you the chills. Your emotions are so high, but you’re trying to stay level too. In a way, the tie in 1988 epitomized my Cal career. It teaches you to deal with adversity! I built so much character as a Bear that it’s lasted me 20 or 30 years.
RB – There were times when Memorial wasn’t full. You’d come out and look into empty corners and think ‘Gee, I though more people would come.’ For the Big Game – those corners were always full. But once you get wired in attendance doesn’t matter. When the game was over I didn’t want to leave the field – knowing I’d never wear the uniform again.
I’ve always thought that USC was the more bitter rivalry, that the Trojans were a dirtier team, and that Stanford was a more friendly rivalry in a way. Your thoughts?
[Rob gives a knowing look to Vince, who smiles and laughs to himself]
VD – I can’t stand USC. I just can’t stand them. Stanford is a more friendly rivalry, but it’s fierce. It’s always such a hard fought game.
We had Joe Kapp as a guest in the past, and I asked him a question about game planning. His response was ‘You don’t need a game plan! It’s 22 vs 22!’
VD – Well . . . you need a game plan!
RB – I saw Joe recently at the Durant Hotel before a game, eating a meal alone, and I went up and had a long talk with him. I told him what I truly believe, and that’s that if Joe Kapp had had a great staff underneath him he could have been Bear Bryant. He was such a great motivator, you wanted to go to war with him. When Bruce Snyder came in a lot of things chanced and we kinda looked at each other and said ‘Oh, so this is how a winning team goes about doing things.’
Is there a difference between a Big Game in Palo Alto and a Big Game in Berkeley?
RB – Being at home is territorial. When you look at it, home field advantage shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is. They say it’s worth 3 points in Vegas, but it should be worth 10 points in the betting lines.
Rob relates a story in which Vince picked up a 15 yard penalty in the Big Game:
Now, anybody who knows Vince knows that he’s pretty mild mannered – the quiet, intense type. So I was shocked when he picked up a personal foul – I don’t think it had ever happened to him before. What happened is that he was running a go route up the west side of the stadium, and he made a great leaping catch over the defender for something like a 40 yard gain. I went to the ref and asked him what the flag was for and he said taunting. So it turned out that after making the catch Vince jumped up and yelled ‘F$%# YEAH’ at the top of his lungs in celebration. But the ref thought he was yelling it at the cornerback as a taunt. That’s the kind of emotions you’re dealing with in the Big Game. Afterwards I went to the ref and told him that Vince is the last guy you’d find taunting like that.
The crowd at the 1986 Big Game was one of the craziest I’ve ever seen. Did it make a difference for the players?
Absolutely! That was a great crowd because nobody was expecting a crazy crowd – we came in to that game 2-7 and we weren’t given much of a shot to beat Stanford, so the crowd was a big surprise.
What are the major story lines for both team?
Will Cal be able to move the ball through the air? Can they protect Brock Mansion and keep him out of bad, 3rd and long situations? They’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball to their receivers, and they need to show something different. Trick plays, different formations, using Brock Mansion as a runner.
For Stanford, they can’t let Shane Vereen run for 192 yards again. If they can force Cal to be one dimensional while keeping Cal guessing on defense they’ll be in good shape.
We’ll end up seeing some game changing plays from people we don’t expect. Tavecchio and Anger will be critical for Cal. I’d bet that Tavecchio will have to hit a 40 yarder at some point. Jeremy Ross and punt returns will be critical – Cal needs good field position and they will need Brian Anger to punt them out of bad field position eventually.
What did ASU do to slow down Stanford’s offense?
ASU is really tough up the middle – they have strong defensive tackles and they have fast linebackers. They also managed to pressure Luck with just four guys. I think Cal is like ASU defensively – but Stanford is the polar opposite of a team like Oregon or UCLA – and more like USC with a pass/run balance and a good quarterback. It’s tough to say if that difference will hurt Cal.
What has Stanford done to improve their defense this year?
Harbaugh thought that the defense was the difference between the Sun Bowl and the Rose Bowl and he gutted the defensive staff after last year. He moved some players around, changed to a 3-4, and their new coaches have created a unit that is sounder fundamentally and very good at disguising what they’re going to do. They do struggle at times – there’s not much speed on the back 7 and that can be taken advantage of in open space, so Cal needs to create open receivers. They need to get players like Jones and Allen in one on one situations.
Who do you predict will win this year?
Well, I picked Stanford last year and that was very wrong. But I have to picked Stanford again, 23-16. I think it’s pretty even with Cal at home, and it will be close, but I think Luck gives them the advantage in the 4th quarter.
Re: Stanford’s kick returners
It’s still uncertain if Chris Owusu will play, but if he can’t that’s a big break for Cal because he’s such a dangerous kick returner. Stanford’s punt returner has been improving in recent weeks and he has a couple of 30 yard returns over that span.
Will Stanford fans show up?
They don’t go to their own games, so I don’t know why they would go to Berkeley.
Who do you like in the trenches?
Cal will probably play a 3-3-5 again, and I liked the look they showed with three defensive ends on the line. They need to find a way to pressure Luck with just defensive linemen because if you send multiple men he’ll either beat you over the top or with his legs. If you only rush 3 then you’ll have linebackers back to contain his scrambles.
Is this Harbaugh’s last year?
I would bet that he will be leaving, and I think he’s much more interested in the NFL than in college, though he would probably take the Michigan job if it was available. If he wants an NFL job I would guess that he would go for a job with a good QB and ownership situation. Luck and Harbaugh may influence each other – if Harbaugh leaves then Luck is probably gone too.