As far as dates in Cal football history go, November 20th, 2016 isn't likely to stand out to anyone.
It was a day devoid of amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending highlights, destined never to appear on any future promo packages.
The Bears did not have a game.
They were, instead, licking their wounds coming off their seventh consecutive Big Game loss, a defeat that caused many of us, amid growing frustration with Sonny Dykes, to wonder if we would always be “Cal”.
“Being Cal", that favorite term of ours; a catch-all that basically means to expect the worst, to expect never winning, to expect failure to come effortlessly, and success only after taking the most excruciating path to get there. It has often been hard to argue with this specific view on the program ethos, and it was especially hard to do so in the aftermath of going oh-for-Axe again, although I would note that decades of tough luck and being lovable losers are certainly not unique, Cal-specific traits.
Which brings us back to November 20th -- a date that we should remember because it provided a clear reminder that we as a program are bigger than our failures, our miseries, our what-ifs and what-could-bes.
We have two guys who didn't even suit up to thank for that.
The first came courtesy of a young man we know well, who led the team through the darkness of 1-11 and back to the light of respectability two years later; a young man who was selected, anointed a franchise savior; who traded blue and gold for slightly different shades of each down in Los Angeles; who finally, finally realized a childhood dream with his first professional start, yet still remains inseparably passionate about the school he came from, mentioning it in nearly every interview and pre-taped segment.
The second came courtesy of a young man we do not yet know; who has not yet donned the uniform, nor taken a class, nor known his first Top Dog, and has years to go before he'll check off anything on this list, but signaled his intention to do so publicly, much to everyone's delight.
I am talking, of course, about Jared Goff and Adrian Martinez, quarterbacks recent past and possible future. Goff's career in Strawberry Canyon is obviously already done, but the fact that Martinez is years away and may not come or ever see the field while he is here does not take away from the point I am about to make -- for it is not Martinez the recruit who is so important, but Martinez the concept (and similarly, not Goff the recruit, but Goff the concept) and what their pledge stands for in signing to be a Son of California.
We could substitute these names for anyone else who has done the same, really, for players like Traveon Beck, Austin Aaron, Chris Borrayo, Bryce Treggs, and Cedric Dozier — guys who not only embraced the challenge of being a Cal Bear, but went above and beyond to demonstrate their own special commitment to representing the flagship with passion and class, not just for their years on campus, but for all the years to come, the same way Goff is doing right now.
They are commendable.
See, we have a tendency to view Cal football by coaching eras, using the men at the helm as a prism through which we understand the program and its identity. We are currently in the midst of doing so again, heading into the offseason conflating Sonny Dykes' shortcomings with what the spirit of Cal actually means, as if we are defined by those failures.
It’s not only profoundly self defeating, but in thinking that way, we grossly ignore the remarkable people who play under them.
This program and its identity, regardless of record, should always be understood through those who wear its colors, young men like Goff and Martinez -- the saying goes that California football cannot be entrusted to the timid and the weak, implying rightfully that it is only the strong, courageous, and full of character who take on the specific, lasting challenge of playing here; here, where the label of student athlete is more demanding and complete than just about anywhere else.
Today, November 29th, is the 10th anniversary of this website, the brainchild of several Cal band alums that has grown into so, so much more than anyone probably expected. It was, as Twist always puts it, an honest labor of love when it began, and continues to be to this day for every writer who passes through, myself included. What has never changed, despite the growing masthead and the daily smorgasbord of content, is CGB's dedication to celebrating the program and the student-athletes who represent it -- something none of us has abandoned, even when our cold, rational analysis of the games may make it appear otherwise.
There will be more Jared Goffs, and there will be more Adrian Martinezes, of course -- there were before this site existed, and there will be when this site stops existing, too. But in a moment like this, when Cal football's immediate future seems rudderless, we should beam with intense pride for the players who actually make the whole endeavor possible, the players who, far more than any loss or individual moment, embody what "being Cal" means.
We are fortunate to have a platform that allows us to do exactly that.
We are equally fortunate that you have cared to join us these last ten years.
To many more.
Happy birthday, CGB.