It was a time of gnashing teeth and rending hair. Eclipsed only by our futile quest for Roses, Bear fans young and old alike were forced to admit to complete ownage by our snotty younger sibling from the South. Not since the '59-60 Newell-coached team had our sturdy Golden Bears enjoyed a victory over the UCLA Bruins. Twenty-Five years of angst. A fifty-two game losing streak. How in the name of Oski was this possible?
But on this fine Saturday afternoon in January of 1986, there was different feeling in the air. Gone was the cloying reek of epic failure. Forgotten were the ghosts of Westwood and their damnable Wizard. Instead, Bear fans could smell...hope.
After all, it was the 80's and it was the norm to go nuclear with spray-on hair product(s). Half the crowd crammed into venerable Harmon Gymnasium were probably stoned just from the latent fumes. It is unknown and unproven, of course, how many of them were stoned from more conventional means.
Off to their best start in years, the Bear team under not-yet-litigious 1st year coach, Lou Campanelli, had attracted enough acclaim for this game to be featured on national television. It was standing room only as Cal fans crammed Harmon Gym to the gills.
The Bruins were led by the Pac-10's leading scorer and Ferengi look-alike, Reggie Miller, as well as super-frosh Pooh Richardson. Jack Haley, not yet a part-time Rodman wingman nor full-time nutjob, provided scoring off the bench. I can neither confirm nor deny that Reggie turned down offers from the CIA to have his ears used as an early spy satellite in order to continue his college basketball career.
Although the Bruins rolled in with some injury and depth issues, they still had the "Reggie mystique" and the institutional arrogance instilled from decades of a winning tradition. Cal countered with some legendary names of its own. Dave Butler. Leonard Taylor. Chris Washington. Richard Chang. And some kid named Kevin Johnson.
It was a hard-fought first half. Although the Bears played tough defense and were able to pound it inside early, Reggie and the Bruins still came to play and slowly built themselves a small lead. But down 31-27, the Bears fed off the home crowd's energy to go on a 9-0 run and closed out the half 36-31. Amazing! We were still in this one!
The 2nd half began much like the 1st with the Bears defense frustrating the Bruins. And at the 18 minute mark, the now immortal chant rang through the rafters:
Unfortunately, the reference to his more-famous and more-successful older sister seemed to get Reggie going. With the Bears temporarily forgetting to work the ball inside to Butler and Taylor, the Bruins used Miller's brilliance and good ball movement to retake the lead. Reggie scored 26 points - and this was without a 3-point line. He never seemed to be off-balance, using those giant ears like built-in stabilizers to help aim that quirky release. Even not-yet-crazy Jack Haley pitched in with a variety of baby hooks and jumpers in the lane.
But with the game in the balance, Chris Washington stole the show. Literally. He followed up a baseline drive by stealing the inbounds pass and slamming it home to give the Bears a lead they would never relinquish. Clutch free throws from KJ eventually put this one out of reach. The scoreboard read 75-67 Bears as the buzzer sounded.
Pandemonium reigned in the stands...The crowd rushed the court...Lou Campanelli leaped into his assistant's arms in one of the more awkward legs-wrapped inappropriate man-hugs of all times. Golden Bear hero Chris Washington perched on a rim and started cutting down the nets. The Bears win! The Bears have won! And the streak was over!
A big thanks to KoreamBear who mailed me the DVD of this game in time to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Ending of the Streak. I apologize for not having the time to edit and cut this game with the appropriate profanity-laced background music. But, I feel that the game was epic enough on its own for the original broadcast to stand. If nothing else, watch the final clip; enjoy the roar of the crowd and feel the waves of triumphant emotion that shook good ol' Harmon near to bursting.
In the immortal words of Cal fans from days of yore:
Get a real bear!
Get your own colors!
Get your own damn song!
Go Bears! Let's beat the Bruins!