This season has been strange.
We all knew it was going to be strange. This was a year away from home, a year away from beloved Memorial, a year where tugboat horns blew on every touchdown rather than a triumphant boom for the Victory Cannon. There were louder cries for churros than for third down stops. It was a bizarre season that saw us end up about where we ended up--even if there were a few bizarre bumps along the way.
So it figures that this strange year ends with a contest against a team we've all been burning to face ... and it really doesn't count for much.
Win or lose, it's not a game that will carry much significance in the long-run unless one of us gets flat-out stomped. Bowl games tend to go to the more motivated team, and god knows who's more motivated. From the looks of it, our guys seem to be super ready to go, but Texas's guys could also be raring super ready, in which case our guys will have to bring the intensity of a sturdy golden bear, but then the Longhorns could have that extra have what it takes mentality, and then Cal would have to come back with a Joe Kapp right hook ...*
So you know. I don't know. We could win. We could lose. And at the end of the day we'll be 8-5 and 7-6, and our season will feel pretty good or somewhat good. No real biggie, right?
But there's way more to this game for us. This game means a lot to us. And it's not just because it's Texas we're facing, but what it would mean if we could beat Texas.
*Things Craig James would say. In an act of divine faith, he decided to run for Congress and spare us his Holiday Bowl pablum. This can only be a good sign.
For four years running, the Bears have dwindled from the national spotlight and out of the Pac-12 picture very early. Other than the Big Game, when was the last time Cal played a meaningful contest against a meaningful opponent? Probably Ezeff separating Colvin from ball and quieting 60,000 in Eugene. It was the last time college football really involved us in a grand way, and the last time we felt like a part of the big extended family. (Some of us thought lowly Furd upsetting USC was pretty cool! Oh, if only we could've known how stupid we were.)
In the four years since that, our stage dwindled, our product suffered, our fans lost hope. We've had very little to go crazy over, very little to build the momentum for the program going forward. The Tosh effect can only last for so long. At some point the team has to show the same effect on the field.
Even though we won seven games this year and it was a vast improvement to the horrors of the previous year, it probably only raised your pulse a few beats. Did any victory particularly stir your blood and make you want to beat your chest? We beat one team with a winning record and lost all three games to our California rivals. Our best effort all season was a Big Game loss. That's a long way down from the standards Tedford has set since he got here, but I guess in this freaky season you take what you can get.
There are signs of progress for sure. The last month was encouraging, and the performances were some of the most exciting since the early years. It's an imperfect squad filled with youthful talent that's still learning to play together and put out that dynamite performance that signals the return of the Bears.
Therefore, the next logical step is to beat someone that matters. Naturally, Texas is that team.
It does set up pretty nicely when you think of the motivation game. The Mack Brown stuff is good for the fans, but even better for the coaches. Tedford can sugarcoat this all he wants, but I doubt he and Kiesau and Gould and Michalczik forgot the groveling. And now the first year they all get back together, they get several weeks to gameplan against the Longhorns, and they usually do good things when they get all that time. And we haven't even got to Tosh, who was a player on that 2004 team. You don't think they'd love to throw a monkey wrench into the Brown extension talks and make DeLoss Dodds think twice about keeping Mack around a little longer?
The players don't know anything about the past, but the name of Texas is all they need for the present. Texas has supplanted Notre Dame as the face of football. The state brought us the Permian Panthers and Friday Night Lights; those high schools from the plains of Odessa to the suburbs of Dallas have helped power the Longhorns for over a century. Texas brought us Justin Forsett and the Rodgers brothers and LaMichael James and Andrew Luck. This state fuels and fills the coffers of the Big 12 and has helped build up programs like ours. Texas players might need the motivation to get up for a scrub team like us, but Cal players will be raring to go to prove they can compete with the famed Horns.
Beating Texas would be big for everyone--coaches, players, fans, recruits, Oski. It'd show Cal can beat a big-time program with big-time players and plenty of potential future pros. It'd give the program a much-needed boost back into national visibility and make an 8-5 season look as good as it can possibly be. It'd shed the always-annoying and misconstrued stereotype that Cal can't win real football games and give Tedford a little bit less stress about where he is as a coach going into next season. And it'd be the perfect transition to the next era of the Golden Bears, to the teams we all expect and hope will be the ones.
There's a lot on the line tonight, even when nothing is really on the line. Perfect way to cap off a strange season to be a Golden Bear.