The Axe Card Stunt at the 1910 Big Game. GO BEARS!
Here at the California Golden Blogs, we are always looking at different gameday curtains to pull back. Whether it was getting to the bottom of the history of Stanford Jonah or discovering more about the Victory Cannon, we have a voracious appetite for Cal history. One part of Cal history that goes underappreciated is the Rally Comm card stunts. Student volunteers spend hundreds of hours a year planning, organizing, and executing card stunts.
Cal invented the card stunts in 1910, so it is the 100th anniversary of this momentous event. What better way to celebrate this anniversary than to talk to the person in charge, the 2010 Director Of Card Stunts, Kendall Plant. She was so kind as to receive questions from us and answer a rather lengthy list of questions. Without further ado, let's jump to her answers and learn more about a truly integral part of the Cal gameday experience. Many thanks to Ms. Plant and all the UC Rally Commers who work so hard for all of our benefit! GO BEARS!
1. What is your title as the head of card stunts?
My official position title is Director of Card Stunts. Some variations have been Stuntmaster, D.O.S., Doc, etc. More generally, we like to refer to ourselves as bad-asses of Card Stuntmastery.
3. If somebody was interested in helping out with the card stunts or becoming the head of card stunts, what would you recommend?
Join Rally Comm! Seriously. We are in charge of setting up all of the stunts before games, sorting cards the weeks prior to games, or in my case, designing, planning, and organizing card stunt shows.
4. I understand that since the cards for the stunts apparently cost so much that Rally Comm collects the cards after halftime. However, many students tear up the cards for confetti or tear up the cards for hats. What can Rally Comm do to advise the students of the costs of the cards to help promote a better awareness of their value and help promote recycling of the cards?
The cards aren't free so of course, we try to re-use as many as possible. Buying a new batch of cards for each game just isn't an option. Honestly, even though it's a pain for us to go salvage cards that haven't been completely destroyed, I think anyone who's seen a Cal card stunt can agree that the complete chaos that ensues after the show is over is a pretty amazing spectacle. That explosion of color from the student section is one of my favorite parts of the show. That being said, we try to impress the importance of keeping the cards intact by adding a note to the instruction sheets to pass the cards to the right, or by having the Mic Man announce it to the student section before the stunt starts. There’s even a Facebook group created by a former student to help preserve the cards. But of course, once you ask people to do one thing, there are always a select few that do the complete opposite.
6. Can you take us through the saturday of a game day with regards to the card stunts?
Before the game, I direct members of Rally Comm in creating what is called a Standing Stunt. Basically, I choose one stunt from the show and we create a stationary version of it on the student section bleachers. To create this standing stunt, we hang 2,500 bags of cards from the bleachers. Each bag contains cards, a flyer overviewing the show, and an instruction sheet with seat-specific instructions for what color the student in that seat should hold up and when. The standing stunt is a really rewarding part of game day for Rally Comm, even though it gets covered with students once kickoff time approaches. Seeing the stunt come to life during halftime easily makes all the work worthwhile.
7. What weekday or Sunday activities are required regarding card stunts?
Prior to the game, Rally Comm has card sortings where we prepare bags of cards for game day. Since the cards and bags come back down from the student section all mixed up and sometimes destroyed, we sort through and put together usable bundles of cards into bags. The week before a game, I also generate and print the instruction sheets and the show flyers, and get flyers to the Mic Men and, if necessary, the UC Canonneers.
8. What is the process that goes into constructing the concepts for card stunts?
We use a combination of traditional stunts (like the script Cal or Oski) and stunts that poke fun at the opposing team. I write out a general outline and and design each individual stunt on the computer. Shows are typically 12-14 stunts long, with the exception of bigger games like U$C or Stanfurd that tend to be longer, sometimes up to 20 stunts long. After the stunts are designed, I input them into a special computer program designed specifically for Cal card stunts, add animations if desired, and generate instruction sheets.
9. Any funny or interesting stories from your time involved with the card stunts?
Since the Davis game was my first actual show, I was extremely nervous as we were setting up the standing stunt. I had designed the stunt to be the Athletics logo, but due to nerves I was imagining every type of screw-up possible. I was so paranoid that the stunt would end up looking like a jumbled mess of color that when the final image came together, I was immensely relieved. Before the student section started to arrive, I went across to the alumni section to snap some photos of the standing stunt. While I was across the stadium, the football team and coaches came in and stood on the 50 yard line. Before they went into a huddle, they all turned a looked up at the stunt for a half a minute. Some even took out their own cell phones to take a picture of it. In my head, I was like, "Yeah. That's my standing stunt they're looking at. I'm a bamf." I then proceeded to trip down a few bleachers as I headed back down onto the field. Derp.
10. Can students or alums suggest ideas for card stunts?
Typically, fellow Committee members can suggest stunt ideas before games. However, we in no way limit suggestions to just Committee members. Anyone is free to email the Director of Stunts with suggestions via the Rally Committee website. In the past, we have held card stunt competitions where other Cal students and alumni can design and submit their own stunt.
11. Some games make sense to have card stunts (homecoming, season opener, games against Stanford/USC/UCLA) and others...not so much (I'm looking at you Washington '08). How do you determine which games will have card stunts? Is there a certain number of times you have to do it each year?
We usually do a show for every home game, excluding the game at which the Alumni Band plays. Games like Washington in 2008 with low attendance are always a dilemma. If the student section is looking thin, we send Committee members to fill in gaps, but some stunts still turn out relatively poor. We try to make up for this by planning smaller or simpler shows for games we know will have low attendance.
12. I believe Cal invented card stunts. How did that come about? What is the history of the creation of card stunts?
The first card stunts were performed by the student section at the 1910 Big Game, generating two separate stunts: The Axe, and a block C. This was the first instance of real card stunts in the country. Prior to this first stunt, at the 1908 Big Game, students of both the Cal and Stanfurd student sections wore reversible caps that they used to create simple designs. Stanfurd claims to have invented card stunts, pointing to the fact that in 1907, students in white coats and red hats had spelled out "LSJU." However, this stunt was stationary and only one stunt was performed. Lame. U$C also claims credit for card stunts, but their first stunt (200 students spelled out TROJAN) was performed in 1922.
13. Does anyone know the names of the students who came up with the idea of card stunts, and how they got the idea?
As far as I know, the original idea of performing card stunts was a communal effort by the members of the Rally Committee. Since card stunts took so long to generate before the computer program rolled around, there used to be an entirely separate Card Stunts Committee whose soul purpose was designing stunts, writing instruction sheets (by hand), and distributing cards to the student section. Thanks to technology, that process is now the responsibility of the current Director of Card Stunts.
15. Did card stunts "spread like wildfire" around the country or did it take a while?
Card stunts were picked up pretty quickly after Cal started performing them. Stanfurd had their own run of stunts which ended in the 70’s after they realized that their stunts sucked compared to ours. Typical. U$C and UCLA started doing their own card stunts, and stunts also began to be performed at professional sporting events, including the Olympics. Other schools across the country still occasionally perform their own stunts, including school like Yale and Harvard. Card stunts still pop up at modern Olympics, at the Rose Bowl, in Super Bowl commercials, at NASCAR races, at soccer matches around the world, and of course, those elaborate Korean stunts.
16. What history can you provide regarding changes in card stunts over time from 1910 through the 1950s, 1960s, and to the present?
Card stunts themselves have remained relatively the same over the years, but when stunts first started, they were preformed and planned very differently than modern stunts. For one, the entire student section wore white when performing the stunt. This gave the stunt a really clean background so stunts showed up nice and clear. However, they also had to stamp instruction sheets completely by hand. It takes long enough to generate the instructions on the computer so just thinking about having to do it all by hand gives me a headache. Now, shows are generated using a computer program designed specifically for Cal card stunts. The first version of the program appeared in 1982 and was a cover story for Info World magazine. Standing Stunts are also relatively new, thanks to clear plastic bags instead of brown paper bags. When the student section bleachers were wooden, the bags also used to be tacked, not taped to the benches.
If you look back at videos of the stunts from the 60’s, they are noticeably more clear than modern card stunts. There are a few reasons for that. For one, participation from the student section used to be much higher. From personal experience, I know that some current students simply refuse to participate in the card stunts at half-time or think it’s funny to hold up the wrong color. We really hope to inspire students to fully engage in card stunts in order to put on the best shows possible.
17. What are some of the all-time historic card stunts at Cal? Are they on YouTube anywhere?
The original 1910 stunt is, of course, historic but there are a few other ones as well. One particularly well-know stunt, and also my favorite, was the 1959 Rose Bowl stunt where the student section and Cal Band formed a giant blooming rose (more about that below). There's also a popular YouTube video floating around of a card stunt from the 60's. This video shows just how clear and complete stunts used to look with full student participation.
Old Blues might be more familiar with this next stunt. There used to be an extremely popular traditional stunt that was performed at many Cal games; the stunt depicted a pint of beer with Oski’s face on the front that would gradually over-flow with foam. I’d personally love to bring this stunt back, but because of modern regulations, we can’t perform it anymore.
Although not a historic card stunt, stunt cards played a major role in a pretty famous Cal / Stanfurd rivalry story. In 1963, the same that the Cal Victory Cannon was stolen for the only time in its history, Cal students snuck into Stanfurd and stole every single one of Stanfurd’s card stunt cards (at the time Stanfurd was still performing stunts). As a calling card, the students left one single blue and gold card stunt card on the 50 yard line of the Stanfurd stadium. Both the Cannon and the cards were later returned to their respective schools.
18. What are your personal favorite card stunts of all time?
My all-time favorite stunt was performed at the 1959 Rose Bowl game. It started with Cal Band forming a flower pot, and then winding a "stem" up towards the student section. Once Band hit the bottom of the student section, a giant rose card stunt unfolded. You can see the stunt start at around the 4:20 mark. This was such an awesome stunt because of the joint cooperation between Band and the student section, something that would be awesome to see in a modern stunt.
One more recent stunt performed at the 2008 Big Game was definitely one that I wish had been my idea. With over 12,000 views, it’s also our most popular show on YouTube. It was a six-step stunt that showed "The Good," "The Bad," and "The Ugly" - Oski, Tommy the Trojan, and the Stafurd tree. Pretty much any stunt that bags on the opponent team (especially if it’s at the expense of Stanfurd) gets a really good stadium reaction.
Of course, one of the most popular stunts is the "writing" of the script Cal. It’s one of the hardest stunts to generate since the instructions have to be inputted by hand one section at a time, but the end result is more than worth it.
A continuing trend has been to end shows with what I call a "flip stunt." Basically, it’s a blue and gold stunt, traditionally the Cal script or a block C. We then instruct the Mic Man to tell the student section to simply flip their card over. The effect is a split-second change from blue to gold, or vice-verse. Simply put, it looks AWESOME. This flip stunt can be seen at the end of the show for this year’s game against UC Davis around the 1:50 mark.
19. What are your thoughts on epic North Korean card stunts?? Let's do some of those at Cal!!!!!
Dang. The Korean stunts are ridiculously amazing. If I could get one of our stunts to look like that, I might cry. However, Korean stunts have a few advantages that we don’t. One, no unwilling participants. Two, they practice and rehearse their stunts. A lot. Often times it’s actually a company that comes in whose soul purpose is to design and execute professional stunts. But hey, even though we might not have Korean-level stunts, Cal definitely puts on one hell of a card stunt show every home football game.