[We are ranking the best non Big Games of the 2000s. So far, we have #10 - Baylor, 2002]
This game isn’t on the list because of historical importance. It wasn’t a season defining win. No records were set. There wasn’t a marquee opponent or a stunning upset. But it was a thriller, and it drove home the message that you had better go to every game you can, because you never know which game will be the most exciting game of the year. And you never know when you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.
When I think back to the Washington game, it surprises me how incredibly vivid my memory is of every single event from the last two minutes of regulation on - and how little I remember of anything before that point. For most memorable games you recall the plays and drives that made the game special and individual moments of greatness that transcended the final result. But Cal-Washington 2006 was the unexpected classic because nothing that happened in the first 58 minutes of the game suggested anything remarkable.
And then Marshawn went into Beast Mode.
One of Tedford’s best Cal team was sleepwalking through the game against a bad Washington team. My general memory of regulation play was that Cal maintained a lead most of the game, and I kept expecting Cal to take control and stomp on Washington’s hopes. As it turns out, my memory was a little sloppy. Cal actually trailed by seven at the half, took the lead in the 3rd, and then trailed for most of the 4th quarter. How the game stayed close is beyond me – Cal outgained Washington and won the turnover battle 5-0. But lapses in the secondary and an inability to capitalize on offense kept the game tight the whole way. Carl Bonnell would have one of the most bizarre games you’ll ever see – 284 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air, 64 yards and a touchdown on the ground, three completions of 40 yards or longer, and five interceptions. He single handedly kept UW in the game and single handedly lost it. In any case, it would take special efforts from Cal’s best players on either side of the ball to seal the game – and boy did #10 deliver. The first #10, Desmond Bishop had one of his best games as a Bear, recording 16 tackles all over the field. And the other #10, Marshawn Lynch gave what was perhaps his defining performance as a runner and as a personality.
What some may have forgotten is that Marshawn wasn’t even a guarantee to play – he was hobbled by a series of ankle injuries. Justin Forsett got 11 carries but as it became clear that Marshawn was healthy enough to carry Cal anyway his number kept getting called. He ended up with 21 carries and 151 yards – 7.1 yards a pop. Washington fans should shudder to think what a completely healthy Lynch would have done that day.
I and every other Bear at Memorial that day thought that the game sealing play was another powerful 17 yard touchdown run from Lynch and subsequent two point conversion from Forsett. And as Washington struggled to move the ball on their final drive, I began to relax. Older Blues will remind me that we can never relax. Bonnell threw up a 40 yard Hail Mary headed towards no one in particular. Three Cal defenders jumped at the ball…and batted it right into the hands of Marlon Wood, who fell forward two yards into the end zone. We’ve got overtime!
What Washington essentially did was allow Lynch and Bishop to further cement their legacies. As the student section shuffled to their right towards the north end zone, Lynch took a 2nd down handoff and charged forward on his two bad ankles for an unstoppable 22 yard touchdown. Washington needed a touchdown in response, and Bonnell made his last mistake – much like Andrew Luck three years later, he didn’t identify Cal’s middle linebacker. Bishop jumped the route, grabbed the ball, sent Memorial Stadium into pandemonium and proceeded on the most unnecessary, cathartic madcap interception return you’ll ever see.
One of my vices are youtube videos of events taken by fans as they happen – the type that perfectly capture the emotion of the moment. This game had a few. First, the UW Hail Mary touchdown from the visitor’s section:
I love this one from the North endzone. Listen to how loud everybody was – and this was the family zone! Memorial isn’t usually very loud, but when things are truly tense and the game is on the line, Cal fans are pretty good at rising to the occasion. But they still had a little extra noise left in them, and it all came out as soon as Bishop started running south:
And finally, the perfect video that encapsulated all of the madness. As far as I can tell, this video was taken about 15 feet to the left of where I was in the student section, and it captured everything. You have the student section freaking out. You have a sudden, unexpected appearance by Oski, joyfully crowd surfing through a jubilant student section. And you have Marshawn Lynch magnanimously trying to pick up Bishop after his exhausting return, then giving up and ghost-riding the whip in celebration of a truly thrilling win that nobody expected. As it turns out, Marshawn doesn’t just bring out the beast mode during the game – sometimes you need a little extra for the after party:
On a personal level this game is near and dear to my heart. My wife (at this point, girlfriend) came with me to the game. She had previously attended 2005 Cal's hideous loss to Oregon St. with me and brought home a nasty sunburn as a souvenir. If Cal lost to UW, she may have never gone to a game with me again. Instead she's been by my side for every Cal football game (and basketball game and baseball game and...) since. I'm not saying that Marshawn is the reason I'm so happily married, but I wouldn't argue with him if he tried to take credit.
So thanks to Marshawn and Desmond from turning an ordinary Saturday Pac-10 clash into an unexpected classic. When Cal has lost a game 42-3 and I question why I at times torture myself by following my Bears, I can always think back to this game to remind me why I show up each week in the fall.