Can you spot Michael Silver in this picture?
Alright, we've pounded the Oregon loss into your head enough. With the Trojans spilling over to our borders, it's time to get back to the basic function of college fandom: Irrational exuberance.
"Beat SC. BEAT SC. BEAT SC!!!!!!"
Who better to pick us up from the dirt than Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports (and formerly of SI), perhaps the most recognized partisan Cal fan out there? He was gracious enough to grant us an interview leading us into the SC game to, frankly, kick our sulky Golden Bear asses back into fighting form.
And this is epic Cal-love, people; if you're expecting objectivity, walk the fuck away. Roll on!
1) We Cal fans had a tough time last week. You've been around a lot longer than most of us; what are the best ways you can recover from a Stomach Punch loss like that?
In other words, "Mike, you’re an old, crusty bastard whose stomach has a Cream of Wheat-like consistency from all the punches it has absorbed over the many, many, many years you’ve been watching Cal lose… help us." Well, you’ve come to the right place.
First of all, let’s lay out a central tenet: The University of California is the greatest academic institution on earth, and that is not up for discussion. Sometimes our teams represent our school with the smart, focused, creative and unrelenting play that it merits, and sometimes (like last Saturday) they don’t—but we Golden Bears can be secure in the righteousness of our cause. When Cal rocks it on the national stage, it’s not an illustration of our greatness—it’s a validation. Therefore, as fans, we are in it to win it regardless of circumstance. If the sporting event in question happens to end in disappointment, we are prepared, for we have already pre-celebrated with abandon.
I wrote about this phenomenon at the Athens Olympics, when I was doing a book with the great Natalie Coughlin, who incidentally celebrated our last football victory over SC by running up and down Telegraph with her friends and taunting every Trojan fan she could find. My larger point is, losing sucks, but there’s no law that the teams we love will give peak performances every time there’s a big game (or even a Big Game, which blows, but that’s another story).
Yet there is a law that those of us who truly bleed blue and gold must get back on the horse—in this case, the nasty, wretched, smelly Trojan Horse—and do everything in our power to remind the kids who play the game of their obligation to honor our school. As Crosby, Still, Nash and Young put it so eloquently, "Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice… but to carry on."
2) You attended Cal during the meandering years of Joe Kapp. What was it like attending games during those times?
Well, in the Kapp era, it was mostly maddening, but sometimes magic happened, too. My first home game as a freshman—the first game at Memorial since The Play, which I was also fortunate enough to attend as a high school senior visiting from L.A. (long, formative story)—we played Arizona, which was then ranked No. 3 in the country. In the third quarter we were down 26-3, and my roommate left to go to the library. He literally walked out of a goddamned Cal game to go study. We were like, "Dude. DUDE." The dumbass heard the cannon go off twice before he even got to Doe.
David Lewis, our star tight end, took a short pass and went 80 yards for a touchdown, and then the defense held, and Dwight Garner (the guy whose knee wasn’t down during The Play) bobbled a punt and picked it up and took it to the house, and suddenly I was three rows down and five seats over, and the stadium had completely transformed. We ended up tying, 33-33 (yeah, I’m OLD), and missing a 60-something-yard field goal at the buzzer.
So there were moments (upsetting SC in ’85 in the Marc Hicks Game, stunning Stanfurd in the ’86 Big Game), but there was a major problem with Kapp: He was too proud to hire an offensive coordinator, and he was kind of a moron when it came to play-calling. Back then the hashmarks were more exaggerated, and his trademark play was to run the option—to the short side of the field. It was brilliant, if by "brilliant" I mean "retarded." So there was a lot of losing, and the student section was a lot more fatalistic. We routinely rolled up yell-leaders and implored women to take off their red skirts and did raunchy cheers and threw fruit at the SC and Stanfurd bands and left at halftime to consume heavily (and returned in time for the fourth quarter, if we were within 20 points). The AstroTurf field was bright green and the ball took ridiculous bounces and our cornerbacks never looked back for the ball and there were a lot of wasted timeouts.
My last year was Snyder’s first, and even though we didn’t win (3-6-2), you could see signs of progress. When the progress reached its fruition in ’91, it was fun to watch.
3) Which school should we reserve our primary hatred for, USC, the Furd or UCLA?
That’s a very tough question that I wrestle with often. First of all, UCLA isn’t even in the conversation. They’re like your little brother who has a slumber party at your house, and you get kicked out of your bed, and then one of his friends wets your bed, and he knows but doesn’t tell you and you figure it out when you get into bed the next night. And then the next day he beats you in Air Hockey for the first time in his life, and he parades around the house screaming about how awesome he is and how you suck. You don’t hate that guy; you just don’t feel bad when you push him out of the way to get the cool seat on the ride at Disneyland.
UCLA fans are the biggest front-running poseurs on earth. Be that as it may, I don’t detest their school.
As for the other two, it’s so damn hard… Satan or Voldemort? AIDS or cancer? Nixon or Bush? Mussolini or Bin Laden? Stanfurd people are sit-back-and-judge dweebs who convince themselves that their school is more academically challenging (as if) and average about 2.3 risks per lifetime, but at least I have some respect for their school. SC fans are the jackoffs who show up for the game in their SC shirts with their SC hats and their SC pants and their lame SC fanny packs and think that cheating is awesome and are actually proud that their band played on Fleetwood Mac’s "Tusk."
I guess what it comes down to for me is, who’s beating us more frequently at the time? In the ‘80s, when SC was king and we were holding our own in Big Games, I hated SC more. Then when SC was down and Stanfurd beat us seven Big Games in a row and 900 consecutive times in basketball and Tiger Woods and Chelsea Clinton were there and they were racking up bogus national titles in women’s cross country and fencing every five minutes, I absolutely hated Stanfurd more. Now we’re all over Stanfurd, in every sport (really), and USC has a professional football operation that we can’t overcome, and I have to hear about it from my NFL friends all the time.
So I guess the short answer is, SC Sucks (and Stanfurd swallows).
4) What originally got you interested in journalism?
Oddly enough, I’d have to say sitting on the toilet. My dad is a labor lawyer in L.A. who’s pretty much my role model in every way (except for the fact that he attended UCLA), and I noticed that every morning he’d take the L.A. Times sports section—which was big and badass at the time—into the bathroom and emerge about a half-hour later looking mighty satisfied. So I started doing the same, and that’s how I got into sportswriting. I wrote for my junior high and high school papers, and that was the only section where they’d let you have fun. Otherwise, it was "Principal Mercer announced today that the A-building would undergo a major renovation this summer, blah blah blah…" So that’s how I got into sportswriting.
But the "what got you interested in journalism?" question is a much better one, and the short answer is, Woodward and Bernstein. Back then there wasn’t such a stigma about ‘the media.’ You had brave, aggressive reporters chasing down stories that exposed abuses of power and made our country a better place. Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, stuff like that. Back when reporters weren’t wusses, I was all over it. And one of the great things about my job now is my ability to bring facts to light that embarrass those who have unchecked power, and to be able to stand up to bullies.
5) Who do you want to punch in the face and why?
Look, that’s a very loaded question, and I don’t really feel comfortable answering it. First of all, I’m not a violent person. And secondly, I’m a professional, and someone in my position shouldn’t be making reckless comments about peers, people I cover, or anyone else for that matter, which could be taken literally and might reflect poorly on me or my employer. So I’m afraid I’m the wrong guy to ask.
However, I suppose I could role-play a little, and if were, say, a person very much like myself who wasn’t so opposed to violent intervention as a matter of principle, I’d lay a massive right hook onto the puffy face of that Oxycontin-addicted windbag Rush Limbaugh. Then I’d chop down the Stanfurd tree, and KO Tommy Trojan, and beat the living crap out of the San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami and a certain Raiders lackey with whom I have some history, and pimp-slap Ann Coulter (yeah, I said it), and smack around John Kasser, and make Mack Brown see stars. And then I’d unload on Mel Gibson until he looked like a f----- eggplant.
But, of course, that’s just role-playing. I mean, it’s a very inappropriate question.
Michael, is that you?
6) Journalism in both the magazine and newspaper format has been battered in the past few years. Where do you see the future of journalism? How do you see yourself fitting into it?
As far as the future of journalism, I’m hopeful that the young generation will lead a revival of unabashed ballsiness that helps restore some much-needed respect to the profession.
What you have now is a give-both-sides milquetoast approach driven by every reporter’s fear of being called "biased" (or, in the case of my grammatically challenged reader, "bias," as in, "You picked against the Chargers? You’re so bias…"). For example, look at the way the Swift Boat thing was covered during the ’04 presidential campaign: One side throws a bunch of non-credible lies against the wall, the other side responds, "Voila! We’re not biased." Well, if you do that, you’re not journalists, either—you’re drones who have no backbone. And don’t get me started on FOX News, or even MSNBC. Trust me, I’m all about opinion, but when your agenda is completely impervious to factuality, you’re a train wreck. And yet, people watch.
That’s why I’m putting my faith in the next generation. In terms of my little slice of the world, man, things are changing rapidly. I never thought I’d utter the sentence, as I did a little more than two years ago, "Hey, I’m leaving Sports Illustrated to go to Yahoo!" But I did, and I’m grateful, because it is giving me a chance to carve out my own future in real-time while working for a very aggressive operation that is subservient to no one. We don’t have a TV deal with the NFL, unlike most of the big entities that cover it. And there’s a real underground vibe among our rank and file. I love it. And I hope you’ll all read my stuff and love it, too. So, how do I fit into that future? In short, I own it. Thank you.
7) Do you have to be neutral in your sports writing? Do you feel pressure to be neutral?
Great question, and it goes back to the one I just answered. I’m fond of saying I have 32 babies—some just give me more trouble than others, but I love them all equally. And that’s basically true: I watch games from a place where they throw you out if you cheer, and I really don’t care who wins the games I cover.
I grew up a rabid 49ers fan, and then I started covering them at 23 and all that went away. So I might root a little bit inside for a friend I have on a certain team to succeed—or, more likely, for a great story to play out in a way that will benefit the product I put out. But I honestly don’t come close to caring the way fans care.
This might seem strange, given that I have a completely opposite attitude when it comes to all things Golden Bears. (And I do mean all things—I’ve been known to check women’s basketball scores during Super Bowls and spend spring afternoons watching NCAA tennis matches on the computer… and don’t get me started on softball.) That’s partly because it’s my last refuge—I can’t root for pro teams so it’s all on Cal. It’s partly because I’m able to incorporate it into my column as a glimpse into where my true passions lie.
And, let’s face it, it’s partly because I’m a sick dude. Even when I was writing for The Daily Cal, and I was doing a pretty damned good job of not openly rooting for the Bears, I abdicated my beat responsibilities for the SC game, because I just couldn’t cope. Please don’t ask me to be objective about Bears and Trojans; it ain’t gonna happen.
With all of that said, I always had a different philosophy than most of my peers. In journalism classes we were taught, "Be impassive and detached and objective. Do not get too close to the story." I was like, "Screw that, I am the story. I want to get into your world, deep inside, and portray it in an entertaining and compelling form. I believe in fairness and accuracy to a fault, but I don’t believe in objectivity, because I don’t think it exists. So I don’t even try. I just lay it all out there for the world to see and take you in.
8) Did your bosses give you some sort of talk or lecture when you were first hired about what you can and can't do? What can't you do?
No lectures—you either get it or you don’t. It’s very simple, too. Don’t miss deadline, and if you do, don’t miss it by more than a few minutes. Don’t be wrong.
In football terms, it’s all about accuracy. If you’re JaMarcus Russell, get out of the business. If you’re Peyton Manning—still not good enough. You have to be 100 percent accurate, or 99.99, to play on this field. Also, no Hitler jokes. What else? Oh, be fair. Be a professional—you’re representing a larger entity, and ‘the media’ as a whole.
My own personal rule: Don’t be a wuss. Especially in locker rooms—players make their living on intimidation. You think they’re not going to try to intimidate a reporter? The ones that don’t get intimidate end up bro-ing out with the people they cover and getting the best information.
9) Will you be attending any Cal games in person this year?
I assume you mean football, so I’ll answer that first: Saturdays are tricky. For one thing, I spend Sundays in stadiums around the country, so there’s a geographical issue. Also, my kids play soccer in the fall, and watching them ball out is pretty much my favorite thing on earth, so that’s usually the top priority.
With all of that said, I’m a season-ticket holder, and I have a large group of similarly afflicted middle-aged college buddies who for some sick reason continue to let me hang around. My wife went to Cal, too, so she’s into it, though not as psychotically. We took all three kids to the Maryland game, which was before the NFL season got going. We have a babysitter for Saturday—my kids are NOT happy—and we’re rolling down to watch us kick the Trojans in the nuts. We always go to Big Game, no questions asked. And any game after the first week of November that has conference-title implications, you can pretty much figure I’ll find a way to be there. If we’re fortunate enough to be playing for a Rose Bowl berth on Dec. 5 at Washington, and we win, you’ll see me dry-humping Oski on the 50 at game’s end.
As far as other sports—yeah, I’ll be at a bunch of games, especially in the spring, women’s hoops, softball and women’s swimming being huge priorities. And by the way, there’s this thing called etiquette, and if any of your readers happens to see me and doesn’t immediately buy a pitcher (cue "Barfly" voice) for all my friends, well, that would be just plain rude.
10) Cal fans can be a laid back, downtrodden bunch, especially after a game like that, and probably don't make as much noise as we could. How do we get them riled up for playing USC?
OK, let me explain something to you: This is not a choice. This is a battle between darkness and light, and it is a mortal fight to the finish, or at least until we get to Pasadena on Jan. 1 in my lifetime.
Last November, all three of my kids’ soccer games were rained out, and I had a late flight out of Sacramento, and it occurred to me that I could roll down to the Cal-Oregon game. So I did, and I sat with my best friend in the pouring rain and was cold and wet and couldn’t even booze cause I was driving. It was miserable. And we won. And I remember saying something like, "I could sit here and watch us beat SC while people pissed on me for three hours, and I’d be cool with that. But if you told me I could sit here all day and, uh, receive oral pleasure, and we lost? Pretty far from cool."
I guess that’s my way of saying, you’ve gotta want it. Really want it. When we were 0-9 going into the 2001 Big Game at Stanfurd—that’s two years after the game when we had eight false starts and 20 penalties in all and Stanfurd celebrated a Rose Bowl berth and my friends and I slinked away in our blue-and-gold bathrobes in agony—some of my friends were fed up and decided they weren’t going. We were about to lose our seventh in a row, and it was dreadful, and I briefly contemplated sitting it out as a form of protest.
This was right after 9/11, and I remember having a revelation: Hell yeah I’m going, because I’m a Cal fan and even though my team is a joke and is as ill-prepared for this challenge as a college football team could possibly be, going to Big Game is what you do when you’re a Cal fan. I said, "We will not be cowed by Holmoe-ism. We need to make a statement—to Stanfurd, to ourselves—that even in the darkest of times we are not going away." The next year we ended the streak in Berkeley and my friends and I were at Blake’s literally pouring pitchers of beer on one another’s heads and loving every drop of it. It was that good. And Saturday can be, too.
Look, one of the reasons I wrote what I wrote last Monday was to remind the less-grizzled Bear Backers what the deal is. Yeah, we’re disappointed about the nightmare in Oregon, and rightfully so, but the bottom line is we’re 0-1 and winning our conference is all that matters. Don’t get caught up in the expectations and the polls and the Heisman talk and whether GameDay is coming to campus, because none of that stuff is ours.
The quest for the Rose Bowl? That’s ours, and we hold it dear, as we should. And as long as we have breath, I’m gunning for Pasadena, and doing everything I possibly can to try to get us there.
My future wife, in college, was hammered one Saturday and came up with, "The crowd controls the game. And we control the crowd." And I still believe that. I was at The Play. I give up never. And the notion that what happened last week will somehow cause my people to be submissive against the University of Shameless Cheaters is untenable.
Yo, everyone, GET YOUR GODDAMNED GAME FACES ON. These are the Trojans, and we need to treat them like Trojans: Give them a rollicking ride, take them on a three-hour, dirty-talking, ass-slapping, multiple-orgasm-producing trip to the next dimension, and then tear ‘em off and flush ‘em down the toilet and grab a beer and fall asleep with a fat-ass smile.
Can we do that? Does a Bear s--- in Tommy Trojan’s megaphone? Did O.J. do it? Did O.J. Mayo get paid? Is ‘Tusk’ the worst song in the history of recorded music? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Let’s dooooooooooo itttttttt.
(Oh, and don’t forget the thing about buying my friends the pitchers.)