[Over the next few months, CGB's editors will be taking a look back at the best moments in Cal sports from the past decade, particularly in football and hoops. There'll be plenty of lists ready for your weekly consumption to pass the time between spring and fall, and we'll give you the chance afterwards to submit your own lists. Then we'll figure out what Cal fans think were the best performances, players, and games of the decade.
We are taking a look at the Big Games of the 2000s. Which was the Best? Which was the Worst? Which was the 6th Best? We start off with, by far, the worst Big Game of the Decade. Don't worry, it gets better from here on in]
Head down, face down, the grass must have felt so nice, then. Considering he had spent most of the in this position, it must have felt so natural. And what's waiting a few extra moments before getting up, hoping against hope that somehow his myriad injuries would heal themselves.
As the twilight faded into sparkling night, Nate Longshore lay motionless on the ground at Stanford Stadium. He appeared to be injured beyond repair. Considering that he had been playing with bone spurs in his ankle for months now, it was not unexpected. Considering that he had been playing behind the amusement park turnstile that was his offensive line, further injury was just plain expected. If only they had left that "You Must Be This Tall To Sack The Longshore" sign at home. The talented, but inexperienced backup Kevin Riley started warming up on the side line in anticipation of spelling Nate Longshore. The fans were cheering wildly. But why? Trying to inspire Nate Longshore to his feet. No. Not even close.
They were cheering the newest injury. Cheering the thought that Longshore would be gone. Cheering the thought that Riley would come in. Even though the last time he played a down (emphasis on the word down), people had cursed his name like he owed them money.
Much to the frustration of the freezing cold Cal fans in the upper region of the erector set known as Stanford Stadium, Longshore stood up. Despite those frantically and sarcastically cheering for his exit, he proceeded to throw the game-tying TD pass. Twice. Both of which were promptly dropped. Then, right on time, came the Back Breaking, Soul Crushing Nate Longshore 4th Quarter Game Losing Interception (TM, All Rights Reserved). The sort of back breaking, soul crushing interception you could set your watch to. You knew it was coming, each and every game.
And they always say that the Big Games are special.
In the story of the 2007 Big Game, what jumps out is the total ridiculousness of the loss. The only loss of the Tedford era to Stanford. With one of the most talented Cal teams (on paper) in the Tedford era. The season, which started like a modern day fairy tale, had turned into a Dickensian hellscape well before the Big Game. The Big Game was the last chance to salvage the seemingly lost season. Finally, those new Cal fans from 2002 on could experience the glory of the old saw "Even if Cal only wins the Big Game in a season, it'd be a successful season." Cal fans were hoping to put that theory to the test.
Looking at the 2007 Cal team, it seemed like the modern day update to a classic Dickensian turn of phrase:
Fog everywhere. Fog in the canyon, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the canyon, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of protest and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the People's Park marshes, fog on the Tilden heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of offensive linemen; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of tree houses; fog drooping on the hulls of stalled construction equipment. Fog in the eyes and throats of veteran football players, wheezing by the shaped iron of their gym; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his Memorial Stadium office. Chance people on the West Side peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.
The 2007 team was one that by mid-season seemed covered in a fog, perhaps of their own doing. It started with such promise. Momentum from the Holiday Bowl Winning Season of 2006. The high point of the Tedford era, to date. A revenge match against SEC super power Tennessee
. Back cracking hits by Zack Follett. Streaking receptions by any number of talented receivers. An Exclamation Point to the start a season that looked to be an Exclamation Point itself. Top of the morning TO CAL!
A few simple victories over weaker teams led to the match up against Oregon. In Oregon. A tough road team for Cal to face. One of the strongest criticisms of Coach Tedford had been (has been) that his teams cannot succeed on the road. That they lose to weaker competition on the road for whatever reason.
Thus, the stunning and epic victory over the hated Ducks in 2007
seemed to mark a sea change in this team. Finally, Cal had passed the test. Perhaps things were different. Perhaps this was the year. It was, ultimately, a Pyrrhic victory. Near the end of the game, an unfortunate hit on Nate Longshore led to an ankle injury that would completely alter the trajectory of not only his collegiate career, but also the 2007 season, the 2008 season, Longshore's potential NFL career, and even the way people viewed Coach Tedford himself. Could one moment encapsulate so much?
At that time, though, we did not know all that. We just knew that on national television, DeSean Jackson had just made his star brighter, Coach Tedford had just vanquished another set of demons, and anything seemed possible.
Then, the fog. That damnable fog. I'll spare you the unimaginably brutal details of the post-Oregon game slide. Needless to say, only a 3 point victory over a hapless Washington State team by our, in theory, hap-full Golden Bears kept Cal from being on a rather lengthy losing streak heading into the Big Game in 2007. Things had gotten so bad behind the scenes that for reason not clearly enunciated, several key players, such as DeSean Jackson were not playing in the Big Game. Injuries were claimed, but all seemed dubious.
But, it was OK, though. Even without DeSean Jackson, we'd beat Stanford. That's just what Tedford teams do. They beat Stanford. Even in 2005, the last time our team seemed imperfect, Cal had dispatched Stanford behind the beer stein smashing leadership of one Steve Levy.
Which is why it came as quite the shock when Stanford near immediately jumped out to a 7-0 lead
. The hero of the Stanford-USC upset earlier that year, Mark Bradford caught a TD pass from T.C. Ostrander just a few minutes into the first quarter. For a Cal team that wanted to prove it hadn't quit yet, this was a ominous omen, indeed.
Fortunately, Cal rebounded going 91 yards in 7 plays, culminating in this:
Tied up! And pretty much the sole highlight of the day for Cal.
Avinash: I think the first ominous sign was when Longshore was sacked and fumbled the ball on Cal's first possession. It set the tone for the ugliest offensive game of the Tedford era up to that point. No flow. No rhythm. No continuity. Kind of like the Farm's marching band. In between our second offensive score (a Kay FG) and our third, our possessions went like this:
FG miss, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, INT. All five punts were three and out by the way. We might as well have been the Baylor Bears during the stretch. Longshore passed the ball 13 of those 18 plays on the final six drives. The result? 2 completions, 9 incompletions, 1 interception, 1 sack. Excuse me for my voice, because I'm trying to hold down the puke. It was the absolute low of Nate's time at Cal.
TwistNHook: Cal and Stanford traded field goals for the next few quarters. The high point was when Cal was again tied up 10-10 with Stanford. Yes, Cal never led. But at two points they were tied with the 4-8 Stanford team that had lost 4 games heading into the 2007 Big Game. So, bully for us!
That first TD strike a handful of minutes into the first quarter was, ultimately, the only TD scored that day by Cal. They did get another field goal to score 13 solid points. Not enough.
Avinash: He did manage to rally us at the end though, when our team seemed at the point of unraveling. Two drives that brought us into red zone territory in the 4th quarter, the first one leading to a field goal that made it a touchdown game. Follett made a huge assist when he stripped Stewart of the ball and set up that final, fateful drive. Longshore made two huge throws to Jordan, one on 4th and short, that put us into range of winning.
And then came the drops.
You know how you're watching a movie with good guys versus evil stuff, and you subconsciously pick characters you hope that live, and when they fall, you get really, really sad? Well, Hawk was the ultimate good guy. He made huge plays against Oregon State and USC to keep us in it. He picked up the slack when secondaries began double teaming Desean with impunity. And we thought he'd have one final storybook finish in this season of pain.
Longshore runs a fade...finds Hawk wide open for the tying score...hits his facemask and drops to the ground.
Longshore runs the same play, throws it a little higher so Lavelle can get a better look at it...harder catch to make, but still catchable...squirts through his fingers.
It was tragic. That it happened to one of our truest Blues too made it even more depressing. Lavelle was crying after the game and apologizing about how he'd let everyone down. It was the nadir of a 2007 season that had already gone through low after low.
We almost didn't need to see the next play. We'd already seen that script before.
TwistNHook: Looking at the stats shows how close this game was. Cal actually outgained Stanford by 44 yards.
FIRST DOWNS................... 17 20
Rushing..................... 6 5
Passing..................... 11 11
Penalty..................... 0 4
NET YARDS RUSHING............. 108 120
Rushing Attempts............ 24 39
Average Per Rush............ 4.5 3.1
Rushing Touchdowns.......... 0 0
Yards Gained Rushing........ 141 135
Yards Lost Rushing.......... 33 15
NET YARDS PASSING............. 252 196
Completions-Attempts-Int.... 22-47-2 21-33-1
Average Per Attempt......... 5.4 5.9
Average Per Completion...... 11.5 9.3
Passing Touchdowns.......... 1 2
TOTAL OFFENSE YARDS........... 360 316
Cal had a solid, if unspectacular, day out of Justin Forsett:
Rushing No Gain Loss Net TD Lg Avg
Forsett, Justin 19 109 13 96 0 21 5.1
Unfortunately, it was the two costly turnovers by Nate Longshore (including the one at the tail end of the game) and the poor completion percentage (46.8%) that did Cal in.
Passing Att-Cmp-Int Yds TD Long Sack
Longshore, Nate 47-22-2 252 1 46 2
The 2007 Big Game was a game that turned on a few key plays. Cal had its chances to at least tie up the game and, perhaps, win in OT. Cal had its opportunities, but just seemed to not care. An offense that had torn a Tennessee team that would go 6-2 in the SEC apart was impotent against the Stanford D. Cal scored 1 TD and a smattering of field goals against a D that had given up 47 to UCLA, 55 to Oregon, 41 to Arizona State, and 33 to that same hap-free WSU team. It was truly stunning and, to this day, still somewhat unexplained.
Best part of the game?
Don't worry, it only gets better from here. We'll take a look at the other 2 Cal losses of this decade (Holmoe's last 2 years in 2000 and 2001) and then start the discussion in earnest with the 7 wins. I predict the discussion surrounding the #1 team will be quite spirited.
After the disastrous decade that was the 90s for Cal, even given the epic pain that was the 2007 Big Game, I think we can all agree that this series will be a joy to go through. Unless I write all the rest of these posts in the same stilted and overwrought purple prose that I used for this post. Which I will. GO BEARS!