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The greatest Cal vs. Washington football games are defined by Husky comebacks


Washington V Cal

Cal and Washington have a lot of history—besides their traditional California rivals, the Golden Bears have played the Huskies the most of any other college football program. Most of the best parts of that history involve the Golden Bears blowing astoundingly big leads to the Huskies.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a ton of information on the Cal-Washington rivalry, so we’re mostly focused on post-1980.

1904: Cal 6, Washington 6.

This is the first game in Cal-Washington history! Washington upsets a Cal team that was heavily favored to win thanks to a dude named Royal Shaw. I have absolutely no additional information about this game. I do want to note that Cal did beat Washington in rowing the next season and their boat threw the crew into the water, like the bad guys in a Disney sports movie. Take that Air Bud.

From The Glory of Washington: The People and Events That Shaped the Husky Athletic Tradition”

1937: Cal 0, Washington 0

This is practically the perfect season for the Bears. Cal won the national championship. Cal won the conference (at the time, the Pacific Coast Conference). Cal went undefeated. Cal swept its California rivals. Cal shut out seven teams. Cal beat Alabama in the Rose Bowl, its last Rose Bowl win in the final game of college football ever played. Poetic finish.

The one blemish: Cal could not complete the perfect season, tying Washington 0-0. Missing one of their starting running backs in Vic Bottari, the Cal offense couldn’t produce anything on that side, leading to a scoreless draw.

Read more on Stub Allison’s 1937 Golden Bears from this CalBear81 article!

1973: Cal 54, Washington 49 (The Almost-Comeback, Part I).

Tell me if this sounds like the most typical Cal game ever—The Bears build up a 37-7 lead, only to give up five touchdowns to Washington’s THIRD-string quarterback Chris Rowland. Cal enjoyed a rare riches at QB; Vince Ferragamo got hurt with Cal up 21-7, only for Steve Bartkowski to come in and widen the lead. But Chuck Muncie finished things off with over 150 yards and 3 scores.

Cal gained a record 625 yards in offense. Cal still nearly blew a 30-point lead with a 28 point fourth quarter from Washington.

Despite having two NFL quarterbacks in Ferragamo and Bartkowkski, Cal finished 4-7 this season, losing to Alabama, USC, Oregon, and UCLA by a combined 218-45. Being a Bear fan is pain.

1981. Washington 27, Cal 26 (The Comeback, Part I).

Cal led 21-0 in the third quarter at home. Washington then scored 17 points in a matter of minutes thanks to two Cal fumbles on their own 12 and 25 yard lines. Then Cal got fortune from a safety to extend their lead, only to immediately give up another Husky touchdown, completing a 24-2 run in just under a quarter. Both teams then exchanged field goals, with Washington kicking the game-winning field goal with 11

Washington went onto win the Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl. Cal finished 2-9.

1988. Washington 28, Cal 27 (The Comeback, Part II).

Cal led 27-3 with 263 yards on offense at halftime, then got outscored 25-0 in the final 25 minutes. Washington would score on four of its six drives and Cal would have trouble crossing midfield. The Huskies hit the game-winning field goal as time expired to complete the greatest comeback in Washington football history.

The most confusing part of this game. Washington went for two to cut it to 27-11 (correct), then kicked a regular extra point to cut it to 27-18 (why). Washington would’ve only needed two scores if the touchdown converted! Why did football genius Don James do that? What was the thought process here? So many questions.

Washington finished 6-5. Cal finished 5-5-1, but only one Pac-10 conference win.

1991: #3 Washington 24, #7 Cal 17.

Everyone talks about Cal-USC 2004 as the greatest Cal game of our lifetime, but not as many remember the biggest game in California Memorial Stadium history. The eventual national champion Huskies had their closest call against Cal this season. This video understates how close the Bears played them, but you can get a sense for just how dominant that Washington team was in retrospect.

Washington was pretty good

The Cal defense was particularly bend don’t break in this one, conceding only three points on four possessions inside their own 15. Lindsey Chapman ran off a 68-yard touchdown to tie things up in the third quarter for Cal, only for Washington to answer with the go-ahead score early in the 4th.

Mike Pawlawski led a drive into the red zone in the waning seconds to try and defeat the eventual champs (gee that doesn’t sound familiar), but a pass to Brian Treggs was deflected a few yards short of the end zone.

The Cal team got a standing ovation after the defeat. It was the second closest call Cal has had the last 60 years in attempting to make the Rose Bowl.

1993: Washington 24, Cal 23. (The Comeback, Part III)

Miami and Florida State have missed field goals. Cal and Washington have three touchdown comebacks.

One of the mort tortuous losses in Cal football history. At least in the previous comebacks, Cal was just bad at football. This season Cal had a decent Pac-10 title shot and a chance to make some real noise.

LeonPowe and Ohio Bear wrote a giant article on this game for some reason, so you should go and read that instead, but here’s the quick rundown.

  • Cal started the season 5-0. Five of the most horrifying words in the English language.
  • Cal had a 20-3 lead at halftime.
  • Cal had a 23-10 lead with three minutes left.
  • Cal forced SEVEN TURNOVERS.
  • Cal literally tried to attempt a 69-yard field goal to try and win the game (because Doug Brien was that good), only for time to run out before the kick because Keith Gilbertson forgot about snap-kick rules.
  • Dave Barr got hurt in-game and Cal would lose its next four games, ending their Pac-10 title hopes.

The 4th quarter is online, in case you want to scream internally.

1999: Washington 31, Cal 27 (The Comeback, Part IV)

Since Cal lost this game, it wasn’t vacated. Hooray Holmoe!

See if this sounds familiar. Cal had a double-digit two touchdown lead in the third quarter.

Cal assistant coach Marques Tuiasosopo, working deep undercover as a Washington QB, saw his plans go awry as he threw an 83 yard touchdown and then led an 88 yard drive to tie the game. Deltha O’Neal picked off Tui later in the game to set up a go-ahead Cal field goal, but then Washington drove down the field, Cal missed a few tackles (including on an option TO Tui), and Maurice Shaw punched it in. It was the first of many steps to Washington’s controversial 2000 Rose Bowl run.

There’s another Washington-Cal comeback on here, but that’s from 2001, and your requirement as a football program is if you don’t beat 2001 Cal, you should be fined a billion dollars. Or get subsidized by the B1G.

2002: Cal 34, Washington 27.

By this point, Cal had lost to Washington 19 games in a row, with their last victory coming in 1976. Washington was ranked 12th in the nation and seemed to be on pace to keep that going.

Jeff Tedford decided he’d had enough of that.

Kyle Boller threw for five touchdowns, and the Cal defense sacked Cody Pickett five times and picked the Husky QB twice.

Washington would fall to 7-6 on the season and begin their slow slide to the bottom of the conference for much of the 2000s. Cal would go on to enjoy their best run as a football program in over 40 years.

I like this game.

2006: Cal 31, Washington 24 (OT) (read Nick’s full account of this game).

The Marshawn game!

Outside of the cart, Marshawn had 200 yards from scrimmage (150 rushing, 53 receiving). Desmond Bishop had the game of his life, including the game-clinching interception. Cal had to overcome a 10-0 deficit and get clutch Beast Mode touchdowns in the 4th quarter and overtime. Washington threw a Hail Mary touchdown to force overtime.

Washington was not good (and this game was a bad sign of things to come in 2006), but my slight bias (I was in the 10th row of the student section that day) pushes me to love this one the mostest.

2010: Washington 16, Cal 13 (read the Golden Blogs recap).

This game was not particularly a fun one (it was a defensive slog where Cal’s defense scored the only touchdown—sound familiar?), but it had pretty solid stakes (bowl eligibility for both teams) and similar to 2002, did provide a sneak preview of the direction of each program. And it featured yet another brutal finish for Cal—a 4th-and-goal touchdown as time expired to prepare the Huskies tot he win.

Washington hasn’t looked back since that bowl game (nine straight bowl appearances, two Pac-12 titles), and Cal has struggled to find their footing since.

2011: Washington 31, Cal 23 (read our Golden Blogs recap).

A very entertaining game! Perhaps Keenan Allen’s best afternoon as a Bear (10 catches, 197 yards, a 90 yard touchdown!) was matched by a near perfect Pac-12 debut for Keith Price (76% completion rate, almost 300 yards passing, three touchdowns). Big games for Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Chris Polk helped give Washington a decisive advantage, and Washington staved off a late Cal drive and made a goal-line stand.

That last fade route to Allen. Eesh. Even a little bit more touch and this could’ve been overtime.

2015: Cal 30, Washington 24 (read our Golden Blogs recap)

This is the most iffy game on this list, because Cal honestly controlled this game and just held on for dear life. But this is probably Jared Goff’s finest performance at Cal and the best defensive effort of the Sonny Dykes era. Besides, who can forget Goff’s game-clinching “this is absolutely terrifying to watch” run to seal a 4-0 start for the Bears?

2018: Cal 12, #15 Washington 10 (read our GoldenBlogs recap).

With Cal needing to find a win as an underdog somewhere on their schedule to get to a bowl game, it came out of nowhere against the soon-to-be Pac-12 champions. For the second year in a row, Cal’s offense could not get into the end zone, so the defense took matters into their own hands, holding Washington out of the end zone for the final 52 minutes and scoring the only Bears touchdown they needed.

So if Cal is to upset a Washington team taking aim at a national championship, definitely try and take the lead. But maybe don’t take too big a lead!