THE GREATEST COACH IN THE HISTORY OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL
The Way Things Should Have Been
Rodgers stood transfixed. He’d never seen his coach like this. He remembered their first meeting in Chico when Tedford had come to scout a tight end but ended up fixated on the unknown quarterback.
"Good afternoon, son. Have you ever visited our beautiful campus in Berkeley? I’m head Coach Jeff Tedford."
He recalled Tedford as cerebral, a bit subdued, but very polite and thoughtful, much more like the offensive coordinator he’d been at Oregon than the ass-kicking, cheerleader-type head coach that seemed typical in division 1 college football.
"Just run the ball! Run it in!" Tedford was nearly shouting. Aaron noticed that Coach's headset was on the ground. Maybe he didn’t want to hear chatter from the coordinators upstairs who would be pitching all sorts of schemes and trick plays.
"Aaron, do you hear me? Do you hear me? We’ve kicked their ass all day up front, right? Go back to the huddle and you and the guys figure out where to go. Just run it in! Figure it out, Aaron. I trust you. We have four chances. "
The qb turned to run back to his waiting players. In the couple of seconds it took to cross the field he glanced over at Pete Carroll and, as was his style, the charismatic SC coach was pacing back and forth on the sideline talking intently on his headset; head bobbing up and down and mouth working overtime as if he were complaining to an auto mechanic who had just overcharged him for a lousy tune up.
Aaron understood what his coach was up to: there was no room for cuteness here. No trick plays; no schemes. Not in this venue, against this storied program, and with that coach pacing feverishly on the other sideline. This would have to be the Bear’s special moment: one of those rare times in sports when everything comes together and an athlete, a coach, a team, an entire program and, indeed, a great university, gets a fleeting shot at precious immortality and that these moments only come around once every twenty or thirty years, if at all, and that such moments simply can’t be squandered.
"We run it in; that’s it. We beat 'em on the line. Got it? Got it?" Aaron exhorted to his team mates. The exhausted linemen looked at him with nervous anticipation. J.J. Arrington, Cal’s go-to running back, bobbed back and forth rocking from one foot to the other, as if he was planning to start a sprint to the goal line the second his team broke huddle.
Rodgers watched as Arrington hit the line. The guys up front had done their job. They had rousted the SC defenders off their spots. Aaron was not surprised. He’d seen trepidation in the eyes of the Trojan players as he’d set up behind center: that slight hint of uncertainty which had crept in to undermine their bravado because, on some level, each one of them sensed that this might be the Bear’s special day.
It was one of those moments where time slowed down and there was no sound. Aaron had been there before, but never on such a big stage. He only saw the movements of the big fellas up front and the athleticism of Arrington as he bobbed, weaved, and pounded his way toward the end zone. Each of the Cal linemen was heaving and moving in a collective slow motion choreography that, although chaotic when viewed from afar by the fans, was actually a perfect ballet when seen by the quarterback who had been so keenly inspired by his coach.
Tedford never did put his headphones back on. "The kids will know what to do," he thought. "Yeah, they’ll do it." He was oddly relaxed as he assumed his familiar sideline posture: slightly bent over with hands on knees and eyes fixed on the field. The headphones remained on the ground. Across the way, Pete Carroll continued pacing and pontificating as if by exuding unbridled energy he could somehow prevent what he sensed might be coming.
Tedford peeked into the SC stands. A palpable sense of foreboding had enveloped the throngs of Trojan fans as Arrington careened toward the goal line, as if a dark cloud had suddenly descended upon the Coliseum seeking out SC believers to send them home shaking their heads and in various states of depression.
Following a couple key blocks, Arrington bolted into the left corner of the SC end zone. Rodgers, still surrounded by the eerie silence, savored the sight of his players swarming toward the triumphant running back who had thrust his arms into the air and seemed to be shouting thanks to the football Gods. Tedford remained as before: hands on knees; eyes fixed on the field, but now with a serene smile spread across his face. Pete Carroll, after angrily throwing his headset on the ground, was bitterly complaining to the nearest ref.
Despite some politicking and sour grapes maneuvering by Texas coach Mack Brown who, evidently, burned with jealousy at seeing coach Tedford’s dramatic rise, the Bears moved to number three in the national rankings, passing the powerful Longhorns, and sports shows were abuzz with discussions of how serious football could have possibly come to Berkeley. Brimming with stratospheric confidence ignited by their breakthrough victory in Los Angeles, the Bears rolled on to crush each of their following six opponents setting up a season finale against arch rival Stanford at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.
"GO BEARS" chants ricocheted throughout Memorial Stadium and up to Tightwad Hill, which had been frantically dubbed ‘Tightwad Mountain,’ due to the fact that hundreds, perhaps thousands, crowded among the trees and on the precarious slopes to witness the crowning game. Countless students packed into their section standing, jumping, shouting, and crowd surfing. "THIS IS BEAR TERRITORY." Old Blues and new alumni sat, stood, and craned necks everywhere in awe of what was happening in front of them. And a huge t.v. monitor was set up in Sproul Plaza to allow the overflow crowd to witness and celebrate the event.
With the 41 to 6 drubbing of the Cardinal as a season ending exclamation point, Jeff Tedford’s Cal Bears were considered by many sports pundits to be, hands down, the best college football team in the nation. Although undefeated, they were slighted for the national championship game, reportedly by voters who felt they had "barely beaten" a USC team which, following their demoralizing loss to the Bears, subsequently dropped three more games including a lopsided loss to cross town rival UCLA but, nevertheless, the Berkeley Golden Bears stormed their way into their cherished Rose Bowl and proceeded to blow out a stunned Michigan Wolverine squad by a score of 55 to 14.
With ten seconds remaining on the clock and to the frantic chagrin of Rose Bowl security, thousands of Bear backers began pouring onto the field and, within minutes, an estimated thirty thousand delirious fans had taken the grounds and begun wild celebrations. Brent Musburger, who had been calling the game, announced to an enthralled television audience that they would stay with the "historic celebration" for an additional ten minutes. His on field announcers, however, were stymied in their attempt to corner victorious coach Tedford who had been hoisted onto the shoulders of his players who, in turn, had been surrounded by thousands of adoring fans. Instead, they settled for a few words with U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau who was happily cavorting around the Rose Bowl turf high-fiving every Bear fan he could find.
At the postgame press conference, Aaron Rodgers announced that he was going to return for his senior year, because, as he put it: " Coach Tedford is the best coach in college football and I want to help this program win a national championship.’ A glossy photo of Aaron Rodgers and Jeff Tedord, squeezed on either side of a beaming AD Sandy Barbour, adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated’s next edition. The headline read: "Berkeley Dominates College Football?"
Teaming up with emerging superstars Marshawn Lynch and Desean Jackson, in 2005 Aaron Rodgers and the Cal Bears rolled through the season undefeated and then blew out SEC powerhouse Auburn in the national championship game. Countless thousands of Bears fans showed up in Miami for the game and provided unique contrast to the SEC fan base which, even at this stage, found it difficult to take the Berkeley team seriously. Aarron Rodgers, who the previous year had finished second in the Heisman voting, was the near unanimous winner in 2005, followed by Marshawn Lynch who had rushed for over 2,000 yards.
In five years, from 2004 to 2009, Cal Bear’s coach Jeff Tedford solidified his legacy as the "greatest coach in the history of college football." In just seven seasons at Cal, he took the Berkeley program literally from nowhere to two national championships, both won, and two Rose Bowls, also both won. SEC teams were rumored to be lining up to nab Tedford with "name your price" enticements and every five star recruit in the country seemed to have Cal firmly at the top of their list.
In 2009, Tedford accepted the head coaching job for the SF 49’s. When he returned to the Bear’s sideline for the Big Game at the Farm in Palo Alto in November, the estimated forty thousand Cal fans in attendance gave him a ten minute standing ovation.
It was barely noticed that Tiger Woods stood on the Cardinal sideline.
In 2011, the renovation of Cal’s Memorial Stadium was finally completed with addition of a statute of Jeff Tedford "the greatest coach in the history of college football." Berkeley’s infamous "tree sitters" had long agreed that the statute of Coach JT must go up but continued to oppose the other developments until the bitter end.