Fog everywhere. Fog up the hill, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the bay, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Strawberry creek, fog on the Strawberry Canyon. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the robotic football coach, down in his office; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice waterboys on the field. Chance people on the stadium 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.
And I was wearing shorts.
Clearly, mistakes were made.
But how does this work? First game of the Cal football season, early September; summer slowly backing away for the slick entrance of fall. The 7:30 start time didn't help. Standing in the parking lot near the corner of Hearst and Euclid in the dimming light, my teeth chattered in surprising rhythm with my shivering limbs. I was counting down the time until it was time to go, unable to enjoy the BBQ, which was unfortunate.
At it was the first game of the season, I had months to wait in anxious anticipation of seeing my old ultimate frisbee friends. Months to prepare for the reliving of the glory days and I managed to screw it up.
"Sammy, what's wrong," said Delilah Perkins, my lovely wife. Even though I was doing my hardest to exude a macho exterior, she could figure out what the problem was. It wasn't just love at first sight for us, but still love at first game of the season. I explained my stupidity and she agreed to go buy a sweatshirt and pair of pants for me at The Campus Store at the corner of Euclid and Ridge.
With some modicum of warmth soon flushing away my Na'vi appearance, I was able to finally enjoy the fleeting moments of tailgate with the old buddies. Today, we'd be sitting with Delilah and her family at the game, so I wouldn't get the opportunity to chat with the ultimates as much I would have like. Who is going to remind everybody of the time we almost beat Colorado for the National Championship, if not me????? Could people go mere minutes without a retelling of the great prank we pulled on Tizzy back in Aught Five? They were relying on me! And I showed up in shorts and a t-shirt despite the stalkerish creep of the fog from San Francisco.
Soon, it was time to head north. Given the weather, it seemed like we were making our way towards the Wall. Towards Jeff Tedford, King Of The North. I bid adieu to the team and left with Delilah to meet up with her family. Along the way we enjoyed the incessant stream of acapella groups that populated the trails of the campus on game days. I don't know what sort of lab produces these carbon copies, but they seem delightfully harmless as you scurry by hoping not to miss the opening kick off.
Unfortunately, we did miss opening kick off. As we neared Memorial, I ran into Andrew Stern, an old fraternity brother from AEPi. Normally that wouldn't be much cause to stop as I never quite saw eye to eye with all my brothers. But I did Birthright with Andrew, what almost 10 years ago now? There's something about climbing Masada at an ungodly hour that can really bring somebody together. I don't get to see Andrew Stern as much as I would like, but every time I do see him, I feel the connection created from 10 days in our supposed homeland. Given how harsh the sun was there to our pasty Ashkenazi skin, I'm not sure how homeland it really is. But I couldn't just hurry along past Andrew. That is what Cal games do - they bring old friends together, separated by the din of life over those painful 9 months. Wandering like Moses in a desert, but with only one commandment: Thou Shalt Watch Old Youtube Clips Of Games Online
So, when we finally left Andrew and tried to make it to our seats, we were both surprised, elated, and disappointed to hear the ancient belch of the Cannon. According to the cacophony of cheers emanating from the stadium, clearly Cal had done something good against the Michigan State Spartans. Had we run the opening kick off back? Had MSU fumbled the opening kick off? This was an undecipherable mystery given the few facts we had at our disposal. Did it even matter, though?
Either way, hearing the iron trumpet's clarion call to cheer put us in the perfect mood for another great season of Cal football. Delilah dripped with that sort of particular frustration that consumes her when we miss the marching band. The band was perhaps the best four years of her life (outside of our marriage, of course!). She didn't want to miss an opportunity to watch the band burst from the tunnel like Athena bursting out of Zeus' head. And she had. She was unenthused.
But, again, so was I. Having to leave the close relationships of my friends to spend the 3 hours with Delilah's family was always my least favorite games of the year. It's like what they say about pizza, even if you have bad pizza, you still have pizza. Sure, sitting at Memorial for a game with the extended family was still sitting at Memorial, but it was also sitting with her extended family.
For somebody whose parents never went to Cal, I certainly married into the right family. I guess. Delilah's parents, William and Lisa Britte, met at Cal. Both of their parents met at Cal. Presumably, the generation above met at Cal and the generation above met at Cal and probably the generation above that invented Cal and the generation above that settled Berkeley and the generation above that hung out with Christopher Columbus. Either way, for somebody who had barely stepped foot in California prior to committing to Berkeley, I might as well changed my name to Samuel UC Berkeley by marrying into the Britte family.
That would normally be fine except that William Britte (Billy Britte!) viewed his large annual donation as an Bitch All You Want card. If he wasn't the owner of the Cal Football team, you coulda fooled him. When Michigan State quickly rolled down the field to tie the game up at seven midway through the first quarter, Billy grumbled about how that wasn't what he was paying for. When Cal's quarterback threw a pick six, he threw up his hands in despair and asked in all seriousness why the quarterback would make such a bad throw. Presumably, because Billy hadn't given enough money.
I knew that over in section Q, my ultimate friends were relaxing, enjoying the game, not stressing the initial success by MSU. Alas, this was the Britte family tradition to enjoy the first game together, leading me to better understand the plight of Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption.
Fortunately for my marraige, Cal started to pick things back up in the 2nd quarter. Down 14-7 to start, an explosive offense appeared, perhaps solely to placate my father in law. With the dense fog making it difficult to get the passing game going, the Cal running backs stole the show. The Bears were truly rolling on. As usual, Cal had a dual running back attack. 1A and 1B. The senior who was already making Mel Kiper Jr. drool in that "The Thanksgiving turkey is finally ready to be cut!" way that he does.
And the 5 star freshman that was going to make everybody forget about the current Face Of The Team in a year or so time. Between the two of them, Cal racked up 75 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns by the time the marching band was heading down to the field in the waning moments of the first half. Delilah perked up her seat, anticipating what was presumably yet another Michael Jackson show.
With the teams safely in their crowded locker rooms awaiting further halftime instruction from the coaching staff, the highlight of the day started for Delilah. Circles, squares, horn flashes, dance blocks, this one had it all. I knew that she wasn't enthusiastic about spending the first game with her family insomuch as the band played away from her for most of the show. She tolerated the backs of everybody's plum for the family tradition of it all.
Plus, we could enjoy the colorful explosions of the cardboard cards from the card stunts. I secretly kind of liked seeing the student section's post card stunt performance more than the marching band, but valued my physical health too much to ever even remotely imply that within earshot of Delilah.
The second half was like an elongated version of the second quarter. The offense continued to pile up points, although the defense did not show the same level of bulldog tenacity. A few miscues led to my father in law shaking his head and cursing Tedford not quite so under his breath. How quickly the positives were forgotten once a failure had occurred. A particularly bone crushing sack put the entire stadium on their feet in celebration, though. The Spartans were able to inch closer from time to time. But like a man chasing a mirage through the Sahara, everytime they tightened the gap, the offense made sure to put more space between Cal and Michigan State.
Perhaps it was due to the fact that the game started sometime Sunday morning Michigan time, but Michigan State seemed to falter as the twilight further dimmed and the stars further shone. By the middle of the fourth quarter, things were out of grasp for MSU. Truly, it was not Sparta. Billy, earlier resigned to yet another losing season after just one quarter, was triumphant in success. Cal's success was his success! As the Michigan State fans started to filter out in the tail end of the fourth quarter, he was enthusiastically aggressive towards them. He really felt like his delightfully antagonistic chants of "Bandwagon" or "fair weather" were the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that were driving the Spartans out of Memorial. It seemed doubtful that his yells and screams were even heard by the Michigan State fans who had traveled thousands of miles for the sole pleasure of sitting on the other side of the stadium from him.
To Billy, the first win returned Tedford to his status as both the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. He could do no wrong! With geographically indeterminable Presbyterian on the slate for next Saturday, a 2-0 start to the season was pretty much assured. Despite my own incompetence regarding the weather, it was a great first game. Getting to see old friends, even if for the briefest moments, brought a smile to my face. With fans fat and happy over the Spartan feast, I was ready to start the march down the hill towards BART and already looking towards the game in Reno in two weeks.