(3) Cal/Oregon 2007
A head coach looking for his first win in the place where he spent years as an assistant; a road team looking for its first victory in Eugene in 30 years; a pair of undefeated teams looking to establish themselves as the #1 challenger to conference top dog USC; potential Heisman candidates on both sides; fourth quarter leads and late comebacks for each; and finally, a thrilling finish with a crazy final twist that seemingly took forever for the instant replay officials to sort out. This game had everything, and the fact that it's only #3 on our list underscores just how epic the top two games were.
And the signal! Touchback!!! It's ours! At least, I think it is. From the signal on the field, we move immediately to one of the longest, tensest, most drawn-out video reviews I can remember. That's the thing about replay...while it's going on, absolutely nothing is happening. No videos or promotions or dot races or anything to distract the fans. The entire game hinges on the outcome of this review, and all we can do is just stand there helplessly and wait for our fate to be decided. Still, in the eternal wait for the final call, Cal fan's confidence starts to grow. The entire end zone starts chanting "That's our ball! That's our ball!" over and over. Looking around the stadium at various Oregon fans, you could tell a lot of them knew it too. If there was hope in their faces at all, it was hope that the refs would get this one wrong, or that they might see something on the replay that hadn't been apparent at full speed.
But then there it is! It's confirmed! Touchback!!! The BEARS are gonna win!!!!! WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! There's jumping and screaming and high-fives and hugging and exhilarated celebration and I don't think any more kisses from my wife's boss, but who knows? It's over! The Bears offense comes out in the victory formation, Nate Longshore takes his place under center to take the final knee, and Cal fans breathe a collective sigh of relief that not only are the Bears 5-0, soon to be ranked No. 3 in the nation, but our starting quarterback has returned and is OK. Nothing can stop us now.
Certainly, nothing stopped the celebration that afternoon and that night. It was an amazing day, an amazing weekend. To actually pull this game out, with all the hype and all the spectacle, to live up to the expectations and win in thrilling fashion with an incredible ending...man, what a game.
(6) Cal/Baylor 2011
H/T to DGriffin. To listen to the entire 9th inning, go here.
Could it have happened any other way? These Bears have been coming from behind all season. They already owned five walkoff wins. They had already surmounted deficits of four runs and two runs in elimination games in Houston.
And when Devon Rodriguez lined a single to right center field and Tony Renda raced around third base, KALX radio broadcaster Danny Freisinger added his own voice to the legacy of Cal broadcasting history, screaming and shouting in a fashion that would make Joe Starkey proud. We've already forgiven him for his voice, because Cal's comeback was one of the most amazing comebacks in Cal history . . . in any sport.
Erik Johnson looked well on his way to redeeming himself for his rough outing on Friday to start the Houston regional. He breezed through three innings and Cal held a 1-0 lead from a Marcus Semien double that drove in Tony Renda. But all of a sudden he lost his control, walking three straight batters to load the bases before Joey Hainsfurther smoked a double that would have cleared the wall had Chad Bunting not knocked the ball down. Johnson was pulled and Baylor finished the inning up 6-1.
It wasn't supposed to end that way for Johnson. The script didn't call for Cal's best pitcher to suffer two crushing defeats when his team needed him. And thanks to Cal's amazing comeback, that script was torn up and Johnson will again have the chance to pitch for the Bears.
The Comeback started in the 6th after Baylor had tacked on an insurance run. As was the case most of the game, the rally was fueled by Tony Renda and Chadd Krist, who started the inning with a double and a single. Marcus Semien picked up his 2nd RBI with a single, and Mitch Delfino's sac fly drove in Krist to make it 7-3.
Baylor's closer Max Garner settled down to get out of the 7th unscathed, and appeared to be safely out of the 8th when he retired Renda and Krist in order to begin the inning. But Marcus Semien picked up his 4th hit, and Devon Rodriguez quickly followed with a gigantic home run to left to cut Baylor's lead to 7-5.
Just think about how close this game was to being over. Down four runs in the 8th, and your two undisputed best hitters go down quietly against the opponent's best reliever. And despite Rodriguez's home run, Baylor quickly grabbed back momentum in the top of the 9th when Marcus Semien committed two errors on one grounder that allowed the runner to reach 3rd before scoring on a single.
What happened next . . . it can only be described as what happens to a team of destiny. Considering the following utterly improbable events:
- After a leadoff single from Chad Bunting, Darrell Mattews hits a tailor-made double play grounder to 2nd . . . and it shoots right through the legs of Baylor's defender.
- With runners at 1st and 3rd, Mitch Theofanopoulos grounds to the 3rd baseman, who fires to 2nd for the first out. As the defender turns to throw to first to complete the double play for the 2nd out, Chad Bunting makes the mistake of running home. Baylor's defender charges him, eventually getting him in a run down. The defender throws to the man covering third base, and Bunting turns and sprints home . . . AND NOBODY IS COVERING HOME! BUNTING SCORES!
- Austin Booker gets hit by a pitch with the Pac-10 player of the year on deck
- With two outs and Cal still down a run, after arguable player of the game Marcus Semien strikes out swinging on a ball well outside of the strike zone, Devon Rodriguez falls behind 0-2 to Baylor's ace, Logan Verrett. He calmly takes a ball, then lines a pitch into right centerfield, to drive in his 3rd and 4th runs of the game to end the game.
All of that in one inning. ONE INNING! We have to be honest, much of what happened was self-inflicted by Baylor, which makes the 'team of destiny' moniker that much more enticing. But it takes a good team to take advantage of their opponents mistakes, and Cal certainly made plenty of mistakes themselves.
The heroes are almost too numerous to list. Devon Rodriguez, Tony Renda, Chadd Krist, Marcus Semien, Chad Bunting, Justin Jones, Kyle Porter, Louis Lechich . . . they've all written themselves into Cal history.