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Why Aren't Cal Fans More Irrationally Exuberant?



After the USC game there was a lot of involved discussion about fan support, about how the fans quit after the opening punch, about how the alumni were rude as can be, etc. etc. BleedinBlue had this to say.

Saturday night, I felt that Cal fans, collectively, were all 10 year old me’s, quitting when they still had a chance. Screw it, they were me at 10 years old, quitting before we were surely down and out.]

As fans, we are the 12th man. As students with seats spanning 20 yard line to 20 yard line (ok, roughly), our role in making noise is even more important. As Cal students, we’re supposed to have more backbone than those red wearing sissies across the Bay, pampered and babied at their JC. We’re not supposed to quit, we’re not supposed to die.

Saturday night, we quit early. Shame on us.

Why aren't Cal fans more irrationally exuberant? How can we change that? Discuss the state of Cal fandom in the comments.

After the jump, I offer my thoughts and reasoning about why Cal fans are the way they are.

The issue is actually two pronged in my mind; one involves the new fans, one involves the old. We'll start with the youngins before getting onto the Old Blues.

These days, sports fans who go to Cal already have pro affiliations. Firefly (who is from across the pond) raised an excellent question about American sporting fandom, but especially when applied to following the Golden Bears.

This isn't a criticism, just an observation about some US fans that I’ve encountered…Coming from Europe, I really don’t get the fans at the sporting events I’ve been to – and that’s baseball games, NFL games, NHL games, I was a Cal season ticket holder…and nowhere are there consistently good chants that get the crowd and the team going. When I was growing up, I used to go to Manchester City games at Maine Road in England. The Kippax stand there used to rain down songs and chants on the opposition for pretty much 90-minutes non-stop. Manchester City have never seen much success in my lifetime but I’m sure that atmosphere bought us at least a few wins.

At Cal games, yes, there’s the whole "Go, Bears" chant and a few others but that’s completely choreographed by some guy who is employed to do this. WTF??? Where’s the spontaneity? People who seem so meek during the games immediately turn into internet warriors as soon as they return home to slate the team. They don’t realize that they have a role to play at the game – home field advantage. I wonder how good the atmosphere at Cal games would be if people would get into it more, and chants didn’t have to be organized by some lame committee, or some guy or whoever. Anyway, sorry, rant over. There are many differences between US sports and European soccer but this is one I just don’t understand…

I do believe there's a combination of factors, but the big one is that unlike European soccer or college football in the South and the Midwest, Cal students are not raised on a one-minded sport mentality (including myself). You get to choose your sports early, whether it be football, baseball, basketball or hockey.

So passion is diffused. If you're from the Bay Area or NorCal in general, you can choose to root for the Giants or As in baseball, the Niners or Raiders in football, the Warriors or Kings in basketball, or the Sharks in hockey. If you're from Southern California, you get your choice of the Chargers in football, the Padres, Dodgers, and Angels in baseball, the Lakers or Clippers (God bless you Clippers fans) in basketball, the Kings and the Ducks in hockey.

No matter how students turn out for these games, a lot of these teams are probably first in most people's minds. They have a 5-10 year advantage on the Bears, unless their parents are diehard Cal fans.

Also, not only do they have pro affiliations, they have pro attitudes to our team, and expect a professional mindset that just isn't possible on the amateur level. To most Cal fans, our quarterbacks since Aaron Rodgers have 'sucked', despite the fact that Nate Longshore pre-2007 was actually putting up very good college numbers. If our quarterbacks let us down on the big stage, or do something that is not perceived as 'clutch', they should be benched for the next guy, when the dropoff from college #1 QB to college #2 is far more precipitous than it is from NFL QB starters to NFL QB backups.

In other words, we think we're smarter than the coaches in understanding how our team should click. And if the wheels come off or our team lets us down slightly, we jump off the bandwagon and go back to following our pro teams ("GO NINERS!" was a constant refrain I heard this weekend). It's a very strange dynamic that exists in Berkeley between fan and team.



We have other shit to do. Okay, not me. I'm dumb. I think about and follow football and basketball in a way that doctors would classify as severely unhealthy. I'm possessed by whatever Brian Cook has, and I'm not really ashamed of it. There are worse things in the world to be a diehard about.

But for the sane people who went to UC Berkeley and became Cal fans, their allegiances are fairweather for a reason. It's not just because San Francisco is across the Bay and Oakland's a bus hop away. Cal brings in some of the best and the brightest. Cal fans watch the games, and instead of the majority of them tailgating beforehand and partying afterward, a significant number of us are immediately planning out how we'll procrastinate on our problem sets, or building homes with Habitat, or looking for research opportunities with big professors, or joining up with one of the thousands of dance/singing troupes, or applying for law get the picture. We're busy Bears, and we can only spend so much time focusing on the football team before we move onto other pertinent issues.

(Hell, look at the commenters on our site. There aren't many of us that can commit to fandom 24/7 because they have demanding job or work issues that require the majority of their time. We actually have a surprising amount of support from local college fans like UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, SF State, etc. who lack a good football team to follow and probably have more free time to follow the Bears obsessively.)

Not to be condescending to other schools, but let's say that the average Cal student has more on their plate than other fans of succesful football powerhouses. BearStage put it quite eloquently:

The thing is, we’re just not that kind of school. I mean, look at Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, Ohio State – what else is going at those places? Fuck-all, that’s what. College football is the only show in town – there is literally nothing else to get excited about. No arts, no sports, nothing that requires actual interest. So these places develop an incredibly rabid fan base, who by and large never leave town and live and die on the fortunes of these teams.

This sort of fanbase just won’t develop at Cal. There’s no much to do in the Bay Area, and more importantly, our student and alumni base is just too damned diverse and too damned interested in the world around them to focus their everything on a single sporting team. Are there some of us who are rabid fans? I still don’t think that Cal rabid fans are of the same caliber as Texas rabid fans, pretty much because we have interesting lives that by definition cannot revolve 100% around Cal football.

Of course, there are a few counterexamples you could probably list of good academic/athletic schools. Our baby brothers UCLA come to mind--their basketball fans for one, and even if their football team has never been great they have had historically boisterous crowds. Washington and Wisconsin also are good public institutions with a good and loud football traditions.

The best example is probably Michigan--solid public instituation, solid football team with impressive crowds. Then again, Michigan is probably the premeire college football institution of all-time and also enjoys no local competition, so it'd be hard to compare us to their expansive fanbase.

The point remains though--build consistent success anywhere, and you can build a loud and exuberant crowd on Saturdays. Unfortunately for Cal, the success has to be superbly consistent for fans to continuously turn out--otherwise there are just too many other interesting things for their students and alumni to follow up on.

There is also this caveat...



Not many of them grew up actual sports fans. That's not to say they'll figure it out eventually, but how many times have you had to explain the rules of football to the freshmen attending the games? How many do you see fans bleeding a stoke or making plans on where to party after it's all done.

Many of our Cal students are sports novices; they've been spending much of their time in high school...working on getting into college, instead of screwing around or watching much sports. High school isn't exactly cut-throat, but students do have to work harder at balancing their lives than they did a few decades or so back.

That being said, there's hope on this front. Without the focus on pro sports, these fans are more likely to become the diehards of the future, the people who will latch onto the Bears and support them through thick and thin. But for the present, the student section remains an odd mix of loud and confused fans. Add in a pretty sad bunch of Mic Men and you get what amounts to the average American Idol audition--mixed, uncoordinated noise.

Turning our attention to the alumni, I see two issues.

Our alumni (at least between the 20s) are generally rich, and can afford expensive tickets. And rich people, let's face it, are not very likely to make a lot of noise. Watch Lakers playoff games last season? Staples Center could get quieter than a mausoleum.

Plus with the prominence of affordable and impressive HDTV sets, many Cal fans who are big Bears fans don't really need to go to the game anymore to enjoy the experience of watching their Golden Bears play. It's a peculiar disincentive, but why pay $200-600 to watch a Cal game for big seats when you can sit in the comfort of your own home and watch it for the same price?

As for the passionate Cal alum who do show up? Here's the best I can come up with:

Our Bears haven't won enough in past seasons to give them confidence to cheer. Let's face it. Cal fans, especially the older ones, are a downtrodden bunch. Before Tedford came around, the Bears had enjoyed 12 winning seasons in the past 42. That's about one winning season in four. In other words, not much to be cheering about on the home front.

So when things go South like they did last Saturday, the memories of the past come alive, and it becomes all doom and gloom. Frankly, older Cal fans are beaten down. They want one Rose Bowl before they die and their team keeps on letting them down. Their support has evolved into a love-hate thing, "Oh yeah, you don't want to win, why on Earth should I get up and cheer for you?"

Essentially, we're a front-running crowd, especially on the alumni side--when Cal goes ahead we're usually in good shape, but when we fall behind, instead of rallying behind our guys, we pretty much deflate like a balloon.

If there's one bigreason for keeping Tedford around, it's that with every passing season our fanbase should become more enthusiastic about following the Golden Bears. California has lost five games at Memorial in the past five seasons. FIVE. That's better than Autzen or Husky Stadium (two of the loudest stadiums anywhere) or the Rose Bowl or Sun Devil Stadium. If the Bears keep on competing, keep on winning at home, keep on taking the Axe, keep on getting to bowls, then it engenders plenty of good will from the common fan that buys tickets to keep on buying them. It's a long-term strategy that should keep Cal healthy and prosperous, always hovering for that opportunity to get to a bowl game.

Lose him and...well, ask the Cal alumni, they can tell you what the 40 years before Tedford were like.