During my time at Cal, I was admittedly an apathetic Cal sports fan. The football team was a joke, and I could never find time to really pay that much attention to the other sports. The low point was being in the library in October 2003 studying for a midterm on a Saturday afternoon, while our boys did battle with U$C-and defeated them in triple OT.
As part of my efforts to make up my past sins against the program, I now put any effort to see Cal out here on the East Coast. Whether it be watching at a bar in Philly by myself on a Saturday night (and believe me it doesn't help with the ladies) or exhorting the Cal Philly Alumni club to come out for events, I try to preach the gospel of Cal as much as possible.
Hence, when I found out that our Cal Men's Rugby team was going to be coming to Philly (!!!!!), I can't tell you how excited I was. It is pretty rare to see Cal teams out here in the flesh, and hence I made sure to try to pull together as many Cal alums for this weekend of rugby.
Here are some notes from my weekend of watching the Cal Men's Rugby Squad out in Philadelphia:
PPL Park-home of the Philadelphia Union
10am: Cal vs THE Ohio State- First, what is it with Cal having to play early morning games on the East Coast? I heard that unlike what Tedford did in fall 2008 against Maryland, the men's rugby team came in on a Thursday night. Still, I think playing early morning games on the East Coast for Cal is a small problem. It took us a little bit of time to get our rhythm in the first half, but we really started to pick it up in the latter stretches of the first half. Cal took a quick 19-0 lead and almost started to score at will against the Buckeyes.
Cal getting another score!
Once the second half hit, Cal took over and ran wild on OSU. We grabbed two quick scores and ended up winning 38-0. I have to admit it was a new feeling to see Cal completely obliterate an opponent, as I always have that slightly fatalistic mentality about Cal sports (what can go wrong, will go wrong).
In between games, the Cal student athletes came up and hung out with our section. It was definitely really neat to see all the family members that traveled across the country to see their sons play.
I also took the time to tour the beer gardens, scored some free Modell's gear and also chatted up the Philadelphia Union Cheer Squad ;)
2pm: Cal vs Louisiana State: Once getting into a rhythm in the the second game, Cal continued this consistency in their second game. They jumped out to another quick lead, and pitched another shutout. It was pure Cal domination at this point in time and they won 24-0.
Cal Rugby Coach Jack Cark dishing out strategy to the players.
Cal going on the offensive!
Cal's passing attack at work.
4pm: Cal vs Penn State: This game was picked up by NBC and carried on national TV. Our side of the stadium was constantly exhorted to move over to the other side of the stadium to really pack in the sections that would be on TV. Since my emotional attachment to how Philly is portrayed on national TV is not that strong, I didn't feel any particular need to move to the other side. Instead, our group of Cal fans stayed planted in our seats and made sure to try to drown out the hometown Penn State fans.
This game was certainly more spirited, as having Penn State fans there transported me back to being at a U$C-Cal or UCLA-Cal football game. I did about as many "Go Bears" cheers as I would at a normal Cal football game and was constantly clapping and cheering for Cal. This game just took on much more importance to me, just because of there being the hometown crowd there. Our Cal Rugby players kept up their methodical pace and dispatched Penn State on national TV and in front of their home crowd, 26-7. It was a great way to end the day as a Cal fan.
Cal players coming out of the tunnel for the game.
Setting up the play....
Cal pushing the ball up the field.
Cal Rugby walking off the field after finishing the day 3-0 in their division.
10am Cal vs Utah
Day 2 was marked by a rematch of Cal with the Utah Utes, who had actual beat Cal in last year's championship match in OT. I had high hopes for our team, especially as Utah had already lost a game and finished 2-1 on Saturday. However, there is a reason that I always have a deep-seated sense of fatalism as a Cal fan, as just when you start putting the chips down on Cal.....
Cal came out flat in the first half as Utah broke off two quick scores to put Cal in the hole early. Additionally, they appeared to be really good at ball control and they appeared to have a longer time of possession. Cal struggled to make crisp passes and also in pushing the ball up the field. Still, it was only 14-0 at the half and I was holding out hope that Cal could rebound. However, Utah scored quickly to start the second half and put Cal in the hole 21-0. We started to mount a small comeback with 5 minutes left and grabbed a score to make it 21-5. However, Utah ran out the remaining time and we couldn't rally.
Cal running out to start the game
Cal defending against the inbound pass.
Cal getting the passing attack going, albeit a little on the late side of the game.
I personally blame our loss on an East Coast jinx, as Cal sports have struggled with early morning games on the East Coast (see Cal-Maryland football 2008). Additionally, it should be noted that Cal typically doesn't play in this 7 on 7 format and only had 4 practices in this style prior to the tourney. In talking with the other Cal fans, they noted that Cal did revert to playing with a non-7 on 7 mentality in the game against Utah.
However, I can savor the fact that Cal did beat Utah in the semi-finals of the National Rugby Championships and did capture another National Championship in rugby.
Still, despite this letdown and not being able to spend the rest of my Sunday rooting on Cal Rugby, it was a great event to be at. Despite having never watched a Rugby game before, I found it to be a lot of fun and much more fast paced than football. The added bonus was also being able to see Cal out here on the East Coast.