bboomtho: I'll go optimistic for this one—surprising for me, to be honest. My answer is Tennessee 2007. That game for me represents the highlight of California Golden Bears football in my time as a fan. It was my first game as a student and it was an absolutely beautiful day at Memorial. Tennessee came in ranked and with a ton of swagger after having beaten us down the previous year. And from the first play of the game, we absolutely took it to them. The Follett sack and fumble, the DJax punt return... it was a really memorable, fun game with a raucous crowd going absolutely bananas.
For the more "Because Cal" answer, I'll just go with Oregon State last year, more for personal reasons. About 15 of us flew up to Portland and drove to Corvallis for the game, for our annual gameday trip—and in more typiCal fashion, we got run off the field by a bad team, a thoroughly mediocre QB, and unheralded RB corps. We fought hard and almost came back, but came up just short. Classic Cal.
For a moment: Honestly? The tree-sitters saga was so bizarre, off the wall, and uniquely Cal. Plus, it brought me to CGB!
Leland Wong: It's all about Cal hosting Oregon in 2006. Sure, it was great to win—by a fairly big margin—a Top-25 match-up with exciting offense and a dominant defense. On top of that, Memorial Stadium was rocking with the team wearing our sweet gold jerseys. But best of all was our honorary captain, George Smoot, who had just won the Nobel Prize for his work with the Big Bang. (No, not that awful TV show; but also, yes, that awful TV show.) Cal is one of the few places in the world where we as alumni can celebrate wins over ranked Pac-12 foes and wins for Nobel Prizes in the same week.
Nick Kranz: How honest are we being here? If we want to describe Cal football at its best, I'd point towards USC in '03—a back and forth thriller that kicked off on a beautiful late September afternoon and finished in twilight underneath the lights. But that's too easy of an answer.
No, if you were to try to capture the essence of Cal football, the right answer would be inconsequentially weird. Two of the more famous moments in Cal history (The Play, and Marshawn commandeering the injury cart) were thrillingly bizarre moments in games that, individually, had no real consequence nationally, or even within the Pac-10.
So, if you wanted to pick a game that truly encapsulates the sometimes mundane reality that is Cal's modern history as a football team, I might point to a game like Cal's 2014 loss to Oregon played at Levi's Stadium. Why this game? Because it was goofy. There is no real reason for this game to be. The game was played on a Friday night in a neutral stadium that nobody likes. It featured zero defense and Cal lost (59–41). Cal never really felt like a threat to win the game, and yet they were never truly out of the running until very late in the game. As is typically the case, Cal had a true standout talent (Jared Goff), but not enough talent spread around the roster to compete for anything but maybe a low end bowl bid.
Nik Jam: Yeah the team hasn't been all that great in recent years, but that makes success more enjoyable. I'd point to games like Oregon and Utah (for moments, simply look at the final play of both games) that had the student and young alums in full joy. Stuff like that is well worth the "pain".
Berkelium97: A mix of agony and ecstasy, colored by an endless, irrational, raging battle between optimism and pessimism—that’s how I would describe Cal football. A recent game that best embodies this spirit is the 2014 Arizona game. Coming off wins against mighty foes Northwestern and Sacramento State, many Cal fans were cautiously optimistic heading into a road game against #19 Arizona. A 14–0 lead for Cal swelled into a 28–6 lead at halftime. Despite the huge lead, Cal’s explosive offense, and Arizona’s inability to do anything, many of us still doubted the outcome. Most reasonable fanbases would be pretty confident after scoring four TDs and holding the opponent out of the endzone for an entire half. But that endless pessimism lingered, as it always does.
A 31–13 lead to start the 4th seemed pretty promising. A 45–30 lead with 5 minutes to go certainly seemed promising. Even after Muhammad’s TD gave Cal a 15-point lead, I vividly recall saying that this lead was not safe. No matter how promising things look, there is a pessimism among Cal fans that never seems to die. Even after Cal held the lead as the clock ticked down to 0:00, the pessimism proved not to be misguided as Austin Hill leapt into the stratosphere to catch a game-winning Hail Mary as Cal defenders meandered in all the wrong places.
Yet despite another devastating heartbreak, by Monday morning many of us on CGB were talking about how close we came to beating a ranked foe on the road. This was a team that won one game the previous year and look how far we had come! With a few winnable games coming up, we pondered bowl games and a potential winning record. Like the pessimism that lingered throughout the game in which Cal enjoyed a seemingly insurmountable lead, that optimism never seems to be fully extinguished.
atomsareenough: Still waiting for Twist to chime in and wax poetic about the 2010 UW game...
TwistNHook: When we lost at the goalline thanks to four Jake Locker runs up the middle in a row?
atomsareenough: I believe it was Chris Polk who ran it in, but yes. Lost on the last play in regulation in the last game before Memorial was closed for renovation.
TwistNHook: Yes, that is peak Cal. Can anything else truly come close?