One, Two, Three! GO BEARS! Q&A With Cal Mic-Man Great Ken Montgomery

CAL Football Experience 1991a.avi (via prmaninla)

Before 2004, there was 1991, and Ken Montgomery was there to lead the Cal fans.

(Ken: This is a little video I put together for Big Game week back in 1991.  I wanted to sort of capture the "spirit" of what happened that year; so on this I have a bunch of people saying "GO BEARS!" – Lou Campenelli, Bob Milano, Gooch, Coach Snyder, etc.  I went  by all the sororities to get them to do cheers (I’m no fool), I captured some footage from the win over UCLA at the Rose Bowl, which was such an awesome game and the CAL crowd was amazing.  I included news  coverage leading up to the Washington Game including of the big rally we had in Sproul Plaza on that Friday – the clip on KTVU was one of the lead stories that day.  Also some stuff from the USC game at the end.)

There are few legends among the Cal spirit squads, but Montgomery is one of them. Long considered the Teddy Roosevelt of Cal Mic Men (for being thoroughly awesome in every way, and a pioneer of sorts), Montgomery is the man current Mic Men should idolize and replicate. His passion and love for all things Cal translated into some of the most raucous student sections that ever populated Memorial Stadium and Harmon Gymnasium in the early 90s.

We spoke to Ken to talk about his awesome tenure as Mic Men, discuss some of his greatest exploits and accomplishments, and how the younger generation can match his fire and creativity during Golden Bear sporting events. Our questions are in bold and his answers are placed below each question.

1. The story goes that you didn't really try out to be Mic-Man, that you were just really frustrated with how poorly the mic-men were leading cheers, so you just ran down there and took the microphone from them and the rest is history . . .

So is that the way you became Mic-man?

That’s pretty much it… the back story is that I had sort of been an informal mic-man at hoops games for a while. There was a guy that used to do it – Dave. Can’t remember his last name. He was a good guy and I think a good mic-man. If he wasn’t at a game, I would lead some cheers and I liked it. My friends and I always sat in the same place at Harmon; first row directly opposite opposing team bench (that way we could taunt them more). So people definitely knew who I was.

At the time, I was also the doorman at Raleigh’s (which is now Manny’s) so people knew me from there too. Matter-of-fact, when we had a line at Raleigh’s I would let people in based on whether they could answer CAL trivia or sing lyrics to the fight songs.  All this is my way of saying that when I eventually took the mic people were familiar with me and knew my passion.

It was the 1990 Miami game. Miami was coming off of their National Championship. The week before, CAL had beat Wisconsin, in Madison. This was also Russell White’s first game in Memorial… There was a sense something big could be happening… even so, I don’t think there were 50,000 people there that day. I say that because I don’t think current students realize what a different and great era of CAL football this is.

So we’re playing Miami tight in an entertaining game. But the students just weren’t really "into" it. At that time there was a "team" of micmen, and they were terrible. Now I don’t want that to sound too harsh because their hearts were in the right place, but they just didn’t quite have that intangible you need to be a great micman. So I think it was the third quarter and while CAL had the ball, one of the mic folks started chanting a defense chant… I have no idea what he was thinking (hey sometimes we all blank on situations) but I distinctly remember dropping my head into my hands in resigned frustration.

So two of the girls with me at the game, Erin and DeAnn, totally started saying "you should go down and do it…" Well, to be honest, it didn’t take much encouragement ;-) So I walked down the steps, went up to the podium and literally said "Would you mind giving me the mic…" and I just took the microphone. And there I was in front of 7,000 of my fellow students with no plan or intentions that day of doing this.

So, I hate to sound like one of those people living in the past, but I remember it like it was yesterday. CAL was down by I think 7. So I turned to the crowd, which had been apathetic, and said "Hey Everyone. We are playing the defending national champions… we are only down by 7. The team is playing great. But you don’t seem to be in the game. Listen, we come here to have fun right?" And to my surprise a lot of people shouted back "YEAH!" And then I said "So are you ready to start making some noise and getting behind the team?" And again, more people shouted "YEAH!" So then I said "O.K., here’s what we’re going to do. It’s an oldie, it’s simple and effective. On three, everyone yell GO BEARS!.... One, two, three", and then you know what, everyone yelled "GO BEARS!!!"

I can’t explain what a high it was and how exhilarating to have everyone do what I just told them to do. Then I said "You can’t cheer sitting down, you all need to stand up!" That’s right, back in the day people actually sat down during the games… So then everyone got up… again, I was thinking to myself "wow, they’re doing what I’m saying." So we did another Go Bears! and that is how it all started… So a little later Miami was about to punt and I got everyone chanting "Block that kick! Block that kick!" and you know what, we blocked the punt!!! The crowd went wild, and while I am sure it was unrelated, it got everyone thinking they could have an impact on the game. It was awesome.

Even though we lost the game literally hundreds of people came up to me after, in the stadium, at parties at Raleigh’s and told me I should keep doing it.

That Monday, when I got back from classes I had three messages on my answering machine. One was from then AD Dave Maggard. I would later find out that Jack Clark was standing with him on the sidelines during the game and told him "You need to get that guy (me) doing that permanently!" The second message was from Coach Snyder thanking me. Now think how cool that is for the football coach to call a student he didn’t know to thank him for something like that. The third message was from Diane Milano asking me to come meet with her to do it full time.

If you can humor me, I’d like to tell a quick story about Coach Snyder. That week I went up and met with him. He was such a cool guy. We just talked about things and how we could get the students more engaged and behind the team, because he knew how important it was. I suggested something, that was kind of crazy and I bet you no other coach in America would do. I told him, if he could come over to the student section at some point before the game and just for ten seconds say how much they mean to the team they would eat it up. And you know what, he did it!

You can imagine how everything game day is military precision planned. But after the team went back into the locker room after warm-ups, Coach Snyder came over to the student section. I introduced him and the students went wild. Coach Snyder told the students how great they were and implored them to be loud and every time the other team had the ball to make as much noise as they could… It was a wonderful moment and I think that more than anything made the students feel like they WERE ABSOLUTELY a part of the team’s success.

Wow, that was a lot, but that is where it all started!

2. You had a lot more colorful cheers (compared to the nowadays Mic Men) which both made the student laugh and, as we recall, got you into a little bit of trouble with the athletic department. Can you elaborate on a few of those instances?

We definitely did a lot more cheers in general. I think that is one of the things I get frustrated with in terms of the current generation is that there is a lack of creativity to what they do. It’s so derivative and there’s no sense of elan, a fervor and pep that is unique to the place.

Yes, the idea is to have fun! I am a big believer that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than beg permission… My inspiration really came from when I was a kid going to games, I remembered the rooting sections being much more interactive.

So for instance when we were playing someone and winning comfortably in the 4th quarter, I might have the student section yell "HEY ASU – TIME TO START UP THE BUSES!"

And sometimes we were even nice… I remember in 1991 we were playing Oregon the week after they had played Stanfurd in Autzen… the Stanfurd Banned had earned its nickname and offended Oregon with some lame reference to spotted owls during the half time show. So I had the students yell to the Oregon sections "WE HATE STANFURDS BAND TOO!!!" They all cheered.

I really didn’t get into trouble much. Two occasions stand out. In 1992 we were playing Arizona. The ref for the game was Pat Flood, quite possibly the most putrid excuse for a referee in the history of the world (not that I hold a grudge or don’t keep things in perspective). In the 1990 Big Game he was instrumental in helping Stanford win by calling CAL for the most bogus roughing the QB on the next to last play of the game, this making the winning field goal by Stanford 15 yards shorter. It was such a bad call that Coach Snyder told the PAC 10 he would not have his team play a game officiated by Pat Flood. He would forfeit if he showed up and Pat Flood was there. So for all of 1991, Pat Flood did no CAL games.

In 1992, with a new coach, Pat Flood was once again polluting the field. We were playing Arizona and there was a series of particularly typically egregious calls… so I reminded the students who Pat Flood was… and then had them yell "HEY PAT FLOOD! YOU! REALLY! SUCK!" O.K., so it wasn’t my classiest moment, but hey, it’s a football game and he’s the ref, not The Pope. It was loud. It was crisp. It was picked up clearly by the TV broadcast… Apparently the PAC 10 didn’t appreciate that so the following Monday in our weekly spirit group meeting, a rep from the PAC 10 was there to berate me and wanted me to apologize. Man, were they talking to the wrong person. I said "I’ll be happy to apologize when you and the PAC 10 apologize for employing such poor excuses for officials… but I suggest until you get your house in order, we’ll take care of ourselves, thank you…" And that was the end of that. My advisors totally stood up for me!

The other occasion was against UCLA. A lot of younger fans don’t realize that UCLA just owned us for 20 years. In 1990 we broke an 18-game losing streak to them, and then beat them in LA the following year for the first time in decades… Now then UCLA head coach Donahue had made some snide remarks about CAL and that we admitted Russell White. He was bitter. So at the 1992 game, in which we just demolished them, I had the student section yell "HEY COACH DONAHUE! YOU! ARE! A! LOSER!" Hey, all I was doing was acknowledging the situation…

Those are the times I sort of got in trouble… But man did we have some great fun…

I think the highlight was 1991 playing SC at home. We gave SC what was – up until that time – their worse loss ever. We crushed them every which way. We humiliated them on the field and in the stands. The headline in the LA Times the next day was "BIG BAD CAL MAULS POOR LITTLE USC!"

It was nationally televised on ABC. 70,000+ people there. It was rabid. It was just glorious. So the night before at the bonfire rally (we used to have bonfire rallies for the LA games), I taught the students a mocking song for the SC band. I need to give credit for this to my roommate, Mike Pawlawski. Mike was the starting QB and a great fun guy. That week, Mike, his girlfriend and I were hanging out and started putting lyrics to that insipid SC dirge… It went like this:

That, is the only song you know
It’s boring and it’s slow
You really need to go….

1991 CAL fans mock USC band.avi (via prmaninla)

Simple…I taught it to the students and instructed them that the following day, every time SC played it, we would answer back in serenade… And that is exactly what we did… It was hilarious… As we piled up the score, the SC band, with every 2 yard gain by an SC rusher, would strike up the song and sure enough the entire student section would answer back… It was, I think, the CAL student section’s finest hour. It was picked up by the ABC broadcast, was commented on in the LA Times, OC Register, the Bay Area papers, ESPN… it was awesome… now as the game wore on, the lyrics evolved into not so family friendly lyrics, which I wasn’t particularly comfortable with, but hey, what are you going to do.

The other particularly great moment to this day remains my favorite cheer. SC has deluded themselves into thinking they’re a great academic school, if not on par, then close to CAL. I laugh. Their coach had also said that most players who chose CAL didn’t choose CAL as their first choice… So with that in mind, late in the game, I had the whole student section yell:

"HEY U! S! C!
WHAT!
SCHOOL!
WAS!
YOUR!
FIRST!
CHOICE!"

The alumni section ROARED their approval. By chance, there was a quiet moment in the ABC broadcast and that chant was picked up clear as a bell by the broadcast. It was glorious!

3. What sort of qualities do you think we invaluable to you as a Mic Men - and have those qualitative contributed to your post-Cal life?

Great question… I think first and foremost is having an earnest passion for it. I wasn’t doing it to be popular or to be the cool guy or whatever, I was doing it because I LOVE CAL and wanted to translate that to something bigger.

You also have to have chutzpah. I mean, think about it. You’re up there in front of thousands of your fellow students that you go to class with and socialize with… there’s some pressure there.

You need to have a sense of the occasion (which I think has been missing from some of the more recent classes).

You need to have that intangible quality of leadership that will inspire people to do what you tell them to do.

These have all greatly contributed to my post CAL life. I am an annoyingly positive person. I believe in living life to its fullest and I really truly try and make a place better for having been there, which is what I wanted to do as the micman.

4. What was your favorite chant/cheer? What was your least favorite? (These can be from your time as a mic man or any other time as a Cal fan)

In addition to the SC cheers I already talked about, I think the other favorite cheer was at UCLA’s expense. We all get tired of the fact they’ve stolen our colors, mascot and song… there was a great t-shirt going around back in the day with a mocking history of the lesser Southern Branch of the University of California. On the t-shirt were three bolded statements:

Get a real bear!
Get your own colors!
Get your own damn song!

I loved that and would have the students yell it over to UCLA! As you can imagine, it would get a huge cheers from the Alumni.

My favorite general cheers are the simple "GIVE ME A C!!! GIVE ME AN A!!!....: CAL spellout…

CAL!!! 1991 USC game (via prmaninla)

And I think the coolest cheers is Rooooollll Onnnnnn Youuuuu Beaaaarrrrrs! We should do that more. It is a great cheer.

Roll on you Bears (via prmaninla)

My least favorite was the California spell out (not the spell out that goes in Sons of California). I just think it’s awkward and clumsy.

5. Do you have any pet peeves about the way that the Mic-Men/Mic-Women since you have done things?

I try and stay away from this sort of commentary because I’ll sound like a grouchy old man…

But I do think they’ve got lazy in terms of cheers… they use the same cheers over and over… I also think they fall back on the "Hey Alumni GO!!!" cross stadium cheer… that should only be used a few times after key TD or Defensive stands… It gets overused… I call it a lazy cheer because the micman know people will always do it.

6. Did you ever lose your concentration as the Mic-Man and get caught up in the game as a fan?

I don’t think so. And I think that is important. You are not cheering at the game, you are LEADING cheers. There were a couple of times just because of POV that you can’t always see what is going, so you need help from the crowd on that.

7. Any advice you want to give to the current and future mic people?

HAVE FUN!!!

Own the game. I just don’t get the sense that the current micman are grasping what they can actually do. I think there was a dramatic improvement this year. But you need to get up there and OWN that student section. I always say it’s analogous to a conductor and symphony. As the micman you wield the baton to get the most out of the students. Their goal should be to have what we had in 1991 – publications talking about how amazing the student section is.

They also need to engage the alumni more… not lecture to the alumni but engage them. They need to get up in with the alumni.

8. Can you take us through the standard pre-game activities for the mic-man at a football game?

There really wasn’t one. I would stop by different parties, bars, tailgaters and just do stuff… for the road games it’s a little more formal because all the spirit groups are together.

Now once in the stadium, I would make a point to talk to the camera men and sidelines reporters and producers to let them know some of the stuff we would be doing so it would get picked up.

9. How did you determine which cheers you should do at which times? Do you consult with the other micmen or do you just get to wing it?

It was kind of a blend. I definitely talked with the older yell leaders and got some great stuff from them. I also just remember what I grew up on… the key thing was to mix it up and have cheers that were appropriate. Not every yell is the greatest yell in the world, but by using those you keep others fresh and from getting over used.

Also, you just have to have TIMING. You have to be watching the field to know when plays are happening… you have to be aware of the TV Timeout guy on the sideline so that you’re not wasting a cheer through a timeout… You have to have a great repertoire with the band leader… the band and I always worked hand in glove.

1991 CAL Band Entering Memorial Stadium against USC (via prmaninla)

10. Can you take us through the standard post-game activities for the mic-man at a football game?

Again, there really isn’t other than to soak up a victory and hit parties and bars to do some cheers. People love being in a bar and having the whole place break into a cheer.

11. Can you answer the same above 3 questions for basketball?

In basketball, there was a difference. When I was in school and the games were at Harmon, students lined up hours before games – for every game. For the huge games they would be there 12 hours or more early. I made sure I was always the first person there. Seriously. I think that sent a HUGE message to the other students that I wasn’t just rolling in to have the best seat… they knew I was hardcore like they were. Plus, that’s when you get to know people and socialize etc…

12. What other sports did you attend as a micman?

I would go to EVERY sport. And I think that is important because it showed my love of CAL, not just the glamour sports. It was also very sweet because at those lower profile sports, the players – who are our fellow classmates and friends – and their families and supporters would really get a charge out of it. That made me feel really good and made me want to do it more. Women’s soccer, baseball, gymnastics, water polo, you name it and I was there.

It wasn’t just for sports though. I would get asked to emcee various student events. I loved that stuff. For instance, during Big Game week I would be asked to emcee the CAL / Stanfurd sing-off. That was a lot of fun because it was something different with a different audience…

13. What is your favorite Cal-related memory as a micman?

Honestly, there are so many, I don’t think I could possibly narrow it down to one.

I think one that was particularly fun was during Big Game week of 1991. The spirit groups were in San Francisco doing the normal thing and we were having a blast… So we would just show up in some offices and start playing… When we were in the Embarcadero I noticed that KCBS was in the building. At that time KCBS was broadcasting Stanford football… so I got the band to just march in to the studio with me playing… it was hilarious and the on air folks had a great time with it. Next door was KMEL (which at that time was album rock) and the DJ, who was a CAL alum asked us to come over there. So we did… and then he asked me to lead a cheer on the air… It was one of those sublime hilarious moments… I could just imagine people listening and laughing.

On our way back we stopped by the office where I worked while I was at CAL. Now across Harrison Street was the GAP HQ. So from my office I could see Don Fisher, CEO and founder of the GAP as well as huge CAL alum – was in his office. So down on the street I had the band play the fight song up towards Don’s office… He looked out his 6th floor window and pumped his fist, which was cool. But as we were getting on the bus, Don came running across the street to thank us and play another song. I mean, how cool is that? This titan of American business, the owner of one of the iconic American brands that is – literally – a part of the very fabric of America, dropped what he was doing and rushed down to the street because he was so excited about hearing the CAL band! That is the kind of stuff I just love.

14. How does one go about being selected as a micman?

I just took it ;-) I think they have try outs now.

15. What is your least favorite Cal-related memory as a micman?

Some douche bag fans on the road. I remember being at Husky Stadium and these guys had been heckling me the whole game. So finally I had had enough so I went right up to them in the stands… now I’m not a small guy and was bigger back then… I started saying if you want to say something here I am… and they all just clammed up… I loved that.

Other than that, I gotta tell you, it was just about all great. I still get recognized as the micman from back then which cracks me up and usually embarrasses me. It’s happened in airports, new business meetings, on the subway in New York, a lot of places. Just last night I was at an event and sure enough a half dozen people came up to me about it… It’s a nice feeling to know you made a little bit of an impact on people’s time at CAL.

16. Did you ever know who Oski was?

Absolutely. Oski was and is Oski.

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