Ask any Cal fan what they think about Stanford during this week. The answers will range from "they have an excellent education to offer and I feel they are a good counterpart to Berkeley," to "I certainly hope we can beat them this year," to "I refuse to own any red clothing because of those bastards down at the junior farm college." For the time that I've been alive, I've been the one to say the third line. For those of you who don't know who I am, I have been going to Cal football games since I was seven weeks old. I graduated from undergrad there in May, worked for the football team for all four years, and only wore red due to it being one of my high school's colors.
This love of the University comes from my great-grandfather, a man who went to Cal during the Great Depression and passed the traditions on to future generations. This was a man who I believe holds the unofficial record for most Big Games attended (82 before his passing in November of 2005 at the age of 95). A man who wanted his great-grandchildren to go to the university he loved. This passion for Cal was instilled early for me, and I could see his passion for the Big Game especially. He said that the Big Game was a"Miracle of Miracles" and even had the score of the 1982 Big Game as the door code on his car. The amount of respect and passion he held for a football program that, for the majority of my childhood struggled for respectability, left a major mark that carries on with me today.
Like many, I got officially hooked on Cal football from the first play of the 2002 season, a halfback pass from Terrell Williams to David Gray and that carried on to the present. But this upcoming Saturday presents a whole new set of circumstances for the Big Game. We haven't come out victorious against the Furd since Shane Vereen put the team on his back and Mike Mohamed saved the day. I remember storming the field at Stanford Stadium, high-fiving the long snapper, and experiencing a day my great grandfather would have been proud to see. Now, it's five years later, with a completely different roster and coaching staff that has never beaten the Cardinal. For the past four years, ones that overlapped with my time at Cal, the games have not been in our favor. Out of the past few years, this one seems like the most likely to bring the Stanford Axe back to Berkeley.
So what does the Big Game mean during this era? An era where the student paper seems pessimistic at best about the football team. An era where academics and athletics are often pitted against each other, especially due to the high standards posed to the students at Berkeley. It's frustrating for those who have so much passion for the school. When we see those that don't care, it's a bit of a blow to the heart. I can't speak for everyone else, but I can say what the Big Game means to me.
The Big Game means going to the Bonfire on the Friday before the game. It means thinking of Stanfurd as the Omegas from Animal House. It means making fun of their lack of a fanbase. It means mocking John Elway for never going to a bowl game because of the greatest finish to a college football game. It means looking at the fighting Ficus that is the Stanfurd tree. It means wanting to #drop50 for revenge for the past four years of forced alcoholism. It means keeping faith, in spite of anything that has happened through the past four iterations of this game, that the next year will be different. I thought this as a kid when Cal's entire offense was Deltha O'Neal, and was rewarded through the good graces of Joe Igber, Geoff McArthur, Mike Mohamed, Steve Levy, and other Big Game heroes of the recent past. Anything can happen on a Saturday afternoon in Berkeley.
So I'm hoping that anyone reading this will want to head to Strawberry Canyon on Saturday, if only to see who will be who will be Cal's next hero. The offense has changed mightily from the Tedford to Dykes era, but the spirit of fans should remain the same. This weekend could signal the return of the Axe to Berkeley, and my hope is that anyone and everyone will be there to make Memorial the wonderful atmosphere it can be for the Big Game. I want to be able to hear the Axe yell ring throughout the stadium, to see the Axe back in our hands, and to see those folks in the stormtrooper uniforms head back to Palo Alto rethinking all the decisions that led them up to that moment. This all starts with passion for a team with a history that should be celebrated. This Big Game is about making new history after the Play, Vince Ferragamo to Steve Sweeney, carrying the goalposts down Bancroft in 2002, and the aforementioned Mohamed interception. I'm going to do my best to be a part of even more of these moments, and I can't wait for the new history to be written this Saturday.