clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mike Silver gives Cal fans their Big Game pep talk so we can BEAT STANFURD

Go Bears. Beat Stanfurd.

"Five laterals! Can you believe five laterals?"
"Five laterals! Can you believe five laterals?"
Mike Silver

Meet Mike Silver. He's probably cooler than you.

Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, now the NFL Network--Silver has been bringing you the biggest NFL stories to your front porch and your frontpages for the past two decades. His Twitter account has become a legendary place for trolls and idiots of all sorts to get publicly owned. He has one of the most famous postgame pictures of all time (in case you have never watched football before, it is above) that has spawned thousands of memes, only trailing Kevin Moen nailing that trombone player.

And don't think for a second he's ever forgotten his Cal roots. Even amidst his busy flight-hopping, he always finds time to make it back to Memorial Stadium, Haas Pavilion, and all things Bear Territory.

He's visited CGB before (I hope you remember his spectacular debut), but with the Big Game hanging in the balance and the Axe very close to being back in our reach after far too long, it was time to return.

Below, here are 4000+ words on what it means to be a Bear.

1. Is Stanford under David Shaw in fact the most boring team in FBS football? Going through the years, who are your least favorite Stanford teams and players?

First of all, why the fuck would I be worried about Stanfurd's sizzle factor, or lack thereof, when we are less than 72 hours from possibly reclaiming what is rightfully ours, and all that such Axe-repossession implies? I don't care if the Furd is boring; I only care if the Furd is vulnerable. And despite some evidence suggesting Shaw's guys may be entering what my friend Ajay calls their "Longshore/Riley" period, I'm sorry--beating this team is NOT going to be easy. First of all, they beat us by 50 points last year. Fifty! I was there, obviously, and I still have post-traumatic stress. And let's be honest about this: David Shaw has coached this team to consecutive Rose Bowls. Jesus. Be real. Would you take back-to-back trips to Pasadena if one of the side effects were a season of boredom? Do you know what body part I would cut off to take that deal right now? Hint: It's long. It's strong. It's something that I use constantly, and which has been known to bring a smile to my wife's face... Relax--I'm talking about a middle finger. Geez. As if.

(And yes, at this advanced stage of life, I'd probably sacrifice the finger to cross off the item at the top of my bucket list.)

Anyway, I'll get to the task at hand, and how we as an Axe-starved community must approach it, later in this interview. For now, rather than name my least favorite Stanfurd teams (the ones that wear red and white and have an S emblem) and players (the ones that play for any of those teams), let me single out one particularly loathsome individual who symbolizes the Furd's vapid, soulless, faux-smug insidiousness. Yeah, the dude who finally showed up for a Big Game in 2009-when he thought his team would actually win-and then acted all aghast when the vastly more invested and more voluble Cal section booed him in his home stadium. Befuddled, Tiger Woods then blurted out, "The second half is ours," even though his team was winning at the time. Except it wasn't. We tapped that ass, for the seventh time in eight years, and exactly five days later, his wife beat the shit out of his car with his seven-iron and his life was never the same.

Then again, neither was ours-we haven't won a Big Game since. That clearly needs to change, and when it does, it'll be pretty far from boring.

2. Jared Goff: It's obviously hard to speculate about a true sophomore, but what kind of NFL future might he have? Will he get tarred with the 'Mike Leach system quarterback' type of label?

It's actually not hard to speculate about a true sophomore if you talk to the NFL's top talent evaluators on a regular basis, which happens to be part of my job. So I'll tell you exactly what kind of NFL future he's likely to have: So bright, he's gotta wear shades.

Befuddled, Tiger Woods then blurted out, "The second half is ours," even though his team was winning at the time. Except it wasn't. We tapped that ass, for the seventh time in eight years, and exactly five days later, his wife beat the shit out of his car with his seven-iron and his life was never the same.

That's so funny that you brought up the ‘system' thing, because at last year's Northwestern game, maybe midway through the third quarter (or perhaps even earlier), I turned to my crew in Section T, which included my wife, kids and the usual age-inappropriate college friends, and announced, "We've got a quarterback." My BFF Greg, whose signature phrase even before we got to Cal was "I am right and you are wrong," loves to argue, and he declared that while what Goff was doing was nice, I was missing the larger point. "We have a coach who has a system," Greg insisted, in between sips from his flask. "This is happening because of The System." He stuck to this refrain for the rest of the day. "Dude," I said, "the kid has a great arm, makes quick and good decisions and gets it out quickly. He's got a presence back there. Put this guy (a Tedford recruit, by the way) on ANY of those post-Rodgers teams that drove us crazy with their quarterback play, and we'd have blown doors." It was so clear to me. Greg dug in, to the point where my sons STILL jokingly refer to Goff as "The System" when he makes a great throw. Obviously, as the coming weeks revealed, I won the argument; and as per usual, it brought me no enjoyment. Have I mentioned that we went 1-11 last year and lost the Big Game by 50 fucking points? FML.

Shorter answer: Goff's a sure-fire first-round pick, and quite possibly a No. 1 overall pick. Enjoy him while he's here, and pray that he procreates frequently and sends all of his kids to Cal. And I'll soon be covering some of his receivers (Davis, Treggs, Harper, perhaps others) as well, so enjoy them too.

3. What are your thoughts on Cal's athletic director search, both in terms of solid candidates, and major issues to focus on when the hire is made?

Whoa, charged topic, and one that requires some in-depth focus and conversation. I can't do that now. I was bummed to see Sandy Barbour leave. I hear great things about Mike Williams. I'm a huge fan of Mark Stephens, who was the No. 2 during the Gladstone Revolution, and a key part of the search that brought us Tedford, who took a team that had gone 1-10 and instantly turned us into winners (and Axe-snatchers... aaaah 2002, so glorious) and, within three years, had us nine yards away from a potential spot in the national-title game. Anyway, I'm open-minded, and I truly hope that whoever gets this exceptionally important job is allowed to do his/her job without undue meddling from certain high-powered school administrators. Sandy was not going to enjoy that luxury, so I understand why she had to bounce. But we absolutely, positively CANNOT fuck up this hire.

4. What's your ideal start time for a Cal game? Are you going to be at the game on Saturday? If so, we can recommend some great places to shot gun a beer and sing the drinking song . . .

I'm good with 1 p.m., but let's face it-it's all about TV, and the people making the decisions give exactly zero shits about what you or I think, so let's just roll with it.

Goff's a sure-fire first-round pick, and quite possibly a No. 1 overall pick. Enjoy him while he's here, and pray that he procreates frequently and sends all of his kids to Cal.

Will I be at the game Saturday? Does a Bear shit on a Tree? Beginning with '82 and The Play, the only Big Game I've missed was that debacle in '88, which ended in a tie (they say a tie is like kissing your sister, but given that we had a chip-shot field goal blocked at the buzzer, and Stanfurd thus got to retain possession of the Axe, said tie was like watching your sister have sex with Lane Kiffin, or something like that). And wait, you're making recommendations to ME about where to drink on football Saturdays in Berkeley? I'm summoning my Dr. Evil laugh. Trust me, I'm good. Here's how it works: Picture the movie Old School, but with an entire army of Frank the Tanks, only with more spillage and air guitar and idiocy. When you see (and hear) that army in your midst, high five us.

5. In light of incidents like Lattimore retiring and the increased coverage of CTE/concussions, what do you think the university's responsibility is to athletes? What (if anything) would you like to see Cal change?

Another tricky, involved topic that deserves a long, thoughtful response, none of which can possibly happen when I have Axe on the brain. Short answer: The world of college athletics, at long last, is becoming slightly less of a fuckover than in the past, and we seem to be looking at a future in which the kids are slightly less exploited. For example, when I buy my son a Bryce Treggs jersey, and young Mr. Treggs receives 0.00 cents on the dollar for his trouble-how fucked up is that? I know so many Lattimores. guys like Jerrott Willard, our great linebacker from the early ‘90s, who literally gave his knees for his school and gave up what would have been a lucrative pro career. The head trauma thing is a whole other frontier-darker, more complex, and very tough to address, though as a football community we're all trying. It sucks when it comes to college athletics, though, because the whole free-farm system thing is some bullshit, and I think more and more people are finally starting to figure this out.

Shorter answer: Pay the kids.

6. Which Berkeley institution that's no longer here (Raleigh's, Bear's Lair, Beckett's, countless others) do you miss most, and why?

Ah, so many choices, so little brain cells. I'm a Manuel's guy-Manny's was in the back of what is now known as the Asian Ghetto, on Durant, and in the mid-‘80s we spilled a lot of blood, sweat and beers there and ate jacked-up nachos on a regular basis. I miss Bertola's and its $1.25 triples, so much. The Bear's Lair being gone truly sucks. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the late, great Fondue Fred's: horribly cheap white wine and grease-drenched melted cheese. What could possibly go wrong?

7. What are your feelings on Lindsay Gottlieb's maulers this year? What are your other favorite Cal sports to catch on campus?

We have the best young coach in America-and one of the smartest and coolest people I know-and she's building a team that is next-level fierce, and it's really fun to watch it evolve. Two years ago, she won a conference title and took our team to the Final Four, and this year's group--with two tremendous senior stars in Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray--has that potential as well. But this is only the beginning. We're getting longer and more versatile and more athletic and more problematic, and we have a monster recruiting class coming in next year that will add to opponents' matchup nightmares. We have a pair of super-talented freshman guards, Gabby Green and Mikayla Cowling, who are 6-2--that's just scary. Courtney Range is a 6-3 ‘3' who can play on the wing and handle the ball, but we need her as a post this year so she's doing that, too. We are long and strong and relentless. Defensively, we can smother a team from end line to end line, and offensively, we can fuck with you in transition or out of a half-court set. Lindsay's gonna piss a lot of people off in the coming years; she's gonna be hated by her peers, and I fucking love it.

And honestly, I love all Cal sports. Truly. I'm so fired up about Cuonzo Martin, Sandy's parting gift to our campus. My affection for Cal softball is well-documented. I adore our soccer teams. How does Kevin Grimes run an elite program with about 94 cents' worth of annual scholarship money? I don't know, but the dude does it year in and year out. I heart my dude Kirk Everist and his polo studs. Our swimming coaches, Teri McKeever and Dave Durden, are rock stars--literally two of the very best in the world at what they do. I'm so proud of Shellie Onstead and her field hockey team, which had to play every single game on the road this year, and couldn't even practice at Cal, and still fought their asses off. And I could bang out an entire book about the great Jack Clark and his rugby program. Somebody should. In the meantime, here's what I wrote for SI back in the day.

8. What are your thoughts on the uniform craze in college football? Are you a fan of Oregonian style? Do you like Dykes's very traditional and uniform-based approach? Do you just not care as long as it gets the kids excited?

Hmmmm... tough call here.

We are loud, proud, unbowed and borderline obnoxious, but we're not wasting a bunch of energy trying to prove we're winners in life by virtue of having gone to Cal, because we already know.

Do I stake out ground as a traditionalist, and reinforce the (fair) perception that I am old as fuck? Or do I pose as a cutting-edge G with a decidedly post-modern fashion sense? Let me just say this: I told Tedford 10 years ago that we should rock black-and-gold unis, old-California-license-plate style, for Big Game--do it Notre Dame/green jersey-like, meaning we warm up in the normal shit, go back into the locker room and blast out of the tunnel like a black tornado and get Memorial crunk like never before. Tedford told me he thought he'd have trouble with the alums. "You let me handle those old farts," I said. "The kids will love it." Was I wrong?

9. What do you think should be Cal's philosophy for out-of-conference games? The A-B-C system? All elite teams? What out-of-conference game (that has either been scheduled or not yet scheduled for the future) do you want to see?

It's not quite accurate to say that I give zero fucks about this, but I might give about 0.4. I'm a weirdo-I care about conference games, and the non-conference stuff is just noise, unless we get into the rare situation (as with 2004) where those games could presumably factor into a voting fuckover that keeps us out of Pasadena, which of course would never go our way no matter what the circumstances. My motto is very clear, and my friends are sick of it by now: Win the conference, go where they send you. (And I really, really hope that in that dreamy scenario, they send us to Pasadena, even if it costs me a middle finger.)

10. Who are your favorite Cal alumni to cover in the NFL? What are the journalistic differences between working for the NFL Network and more traditional media companies like Yahoo and SI?

Did you actually just try to sneak a "what's it like working for The Man after being known as the dude who CRUSHED The Man for decades" probe into the back-end of a "Who's cooler, Marshawn or Aaron?" question? That's actually awesome--so awesome that I'm going to ignore it, at least until our next interview, when, I trust, the "Who Do You Want To Punch In The Face And Why?" standby will make its triumphant return. Anyway... I've been really lucky to have some many Cal alums to choose from during my quarter-century of NFL coverage, and I've gotten pretty tight with some of them. Off the top of my head, I love Marshawn and Aaron, Alex Mack and Cam Jordan, Lorenzo Alexander and Brian De La Puente, Mitchell Schwartz and Justin Forsett, the little dude with the huge heart... and a whole lot of others. I've had so much fun over the years getting to know the dudes I screamed for at Memorial, and some of them are my bros. And if you happen to see me with Scott Fujita courtside at Haas, and we seem a little wobbly... well, it's kind of a tradition, so just go with it.

11. We've discussed the question of which team we should hate more before: USC or Stanfurd. You said that USC is the team to hate at the moment since we generally had the Cardinal's number. Five years later, we can't seem to beat either. Who should we hate more now???

I honestly don't think I can top the answer I gave last time; it's my Sistine Chapel, truly. But, of course, I'll take a stab at it. Short answer: SC sucks, and Stanfurd swallows... or is it the other way around? It's a Sophie's Choice with the smell of soiled boxer briefs: ISIS or Al Qaeda? Mayonnaise or fermented orange juice? Parkinson's or Ebola? But hey, it's Big Game week, so... who do YOU think I hate more at the current moment? If you see me on Saturday, it won't be ambiguous. Stanfurd fans--the few thousand who have the balls to show up and admit they care, at least--believe their ownership of the Axe and team's unprecedented run of football success is their birthright, because they are so special. They think we're jealous of their Stanfurdness, when in reality it couldn't be further from reality. We don't want to be them. We would rather let Condoleeza Rice have her way with us sexually (or, even worse, invade us on false pretenses) than be them for 12 seconds. We KNOW that we're superior in every important way, and rather than snottily project an aura of imperiousness, we INVEST in the blessedness of our shared experience. We are loud, proud, unbowed and borderline obnoxious, but we're not wasting a bunch of energy trying to prove we're winners in life by virtue of having gone to Cal, because we already know. We ARE jealous of their Rose Bowl shirts, and the fact that they'll be parading around our field with OUR Axe throughout Saturday's game. This is a situation that can and must be rectified, by any means necessary.

And that, my brothers and sisters (OK, more like my metaphorical nieces and nephews-and one literal daughter), brings us to the most important question of all.

12. We've lost four in a row to Stanfurd. Can you try and get Cal students pumped on how important it is to have the Axe?

Absolutely. I am so glad you asked. And I'll start by focusing on the person who many people believe is my favorite human of all-time: Mike Silver.

There is you and your stadium, and the football team you love, and that connection it is unconditional and impermeable, and nothing else matters.

Do you know how much I want to taste victory on Saturday? Do you understand the unfettered joy it will bring me me me me me me ME? And, conversely, do you understand how much grief I'll be forced to endure if we lose for the fifth consecutive year? It's more than the fact that I'll lose a bet to John Elway, and similar wagers to a couple of Stanford players in the NFL; it's more than the harsh reality that I'll be taunted on social media (hey, that's EVERY day); it's more than the shitty digs I'll get from NFL-writer friends with dickish tendencies like Jason Cole. Really, it's the opportunity cost--the high that might have been. Saturday, if it breaks the right way, can be like some of those majestic Big Game Saturdays of years past--I'm talking '09 and '02 and '93 and '86 and, yes, '82, which I'll get to in a moment. And I understand how truly blissful I would be--and that I'm a fan who has his priorities in order. I don't give a damn about where we're ranked or who's talking smack about us in the media or how many points we dropped against Washington State or whether a majority of NFL GMs would take Aaron Rodgers over Andrew Luck (which they would) or what the point spread is. I just want to see our team come out prepared and passionate and representing this university in a manner befitting its greatness--and, ideally, to be rewarded with the sweetness of Axe-touching glory. That's a thrill that's titillating and timeless, and I want it in the purest form.

But enough about me... what do YOU think of me?

OK--snap back to reality. Even I can concede that this isn't about me. Not even close. It's so much bigger. It's about the might and DNA of this sublime school that has touched us all, and the lifelong community it has spawned. It's about shared experiences and the values that Cal has embedded in each of us--creativity; valuing diversity; questioning authority; thinking outside the box; learning to fend for ourselves in challenging circumstances; daring to care and to throw ourselves out there for the cause. It's the colors that we wear with pride and the songs that stir us to our core and the prevailing--and plainly correct--sense that we are part of something unique and awesome and greater than the sum of its parts. And it's the innate understanding of energy and particles and the power of collective defiance... all of which brings us to the two women I love most, and whose happiness is certainly more important than my own.

Like me, my future wife attended the '82 Big Game as a high school senior, experiencing the event at its most awesome, with seniors selling out and rising to the moment and players on both teams summoning extraordinary acts of game-changing excellence. And in the end--after Elway's fourth-and-17 bullet and Mark Harmon's apparent game-winning field goal, as the Stanford third of the stadium danced with jubilation--each of us witnessed an absurd act of defiance that struck us then and stays with us to this day.

The Cal student section rose as one, raucously performing the standard pre-kickoff cheer, utterly in lockstep, as if to call bullshit on what seemed to be a final outcome. They just wouldn't have it, even if their stance made no sense at the time. Four seconds remained, and as Joe Starkey told KGO radio listeners, "only a miracle (could) save the Bears." Then The Play happened, and football changed forever, and at least two high school seniors on opposite sides of the stadium became convinced they HAD to be part of the madness. Could something as unfathomable and unprecedented as a five-lateral kickoff return through the opposing school's band have been conjured and pulled off by another school's student-athletes in another setting? If you think so, I think you're missing the essence of the University of California, and all that it inspires and engenders among its people, and those who represent it on the field of play.

Two years later, shortly after I met my future wife, she drunkenly determined that "the crowd controls the game." It's a mantra that isn't always true, but it CAN be true--and if and when it happens on Saturday, and our galvanized student athletes feel it and vibe off it and turn it up a notch, there's the potential for unchecked success and an ensuing celebration that could NEVER happen in Palo Alto, the sit-back-and-pass-judgment capital of the Western United States (and which, on some level, will inevitably make every Stanfurd fan who is honest with him/herself at least a little jealous).

That's what's out there for the taking, and it starts with the students-and, for me and my wife, it starts with our first-born child, who'll be spending her first Big Game in the student section and who already has that blessed blue and gold blood coursing through her veins. Man, does she want this. Her people want this. Her future people want this. And, let's face it, we all NEED this, at least on some level, because it's poignant and because it's possible and because it's fuckin' time.

This brings us back to your question: Can I try and get the students pumped? The truth is, they don't need me, but I do have some advice, and it starts with this: Tune out the noise. Or, rather, BE the noise. There is you and your stadium, and the football team you love, and that connection it is unconditional and impermeable, and nothing else matters. This is not Snapchat, where vignettes play out and disappear into the ether. This isn't Twitter, with an endless stream of individuals blurting out thoughts and the rest of the world acridly weighing in. This, boys and girls, is Yik Yak: It's immediate and insular and need-to-know insider, and either you're in the zone... or you're irrelevant, because you're not invited. For three-and-a-half hours on Saturday--maybe longer, if that's what it takes--the ONLY thing that matters is going down inside that stadium, and nothing else exists unless you allow it to.

I just want to see our team come out prepared and passionate and representing this university in a manner befitting its greatness--and, ideally, to be rewarded with the sweetness of Axe-touching glory.

So yes, as with our football players, there is a Big Game burden on our fans. They need to put on their gamefaces and enter Memorial with unremitting focus, faith and determination; they need to be prepared, to the best of their collective ability, to control the game. And they need to embark upon this noble endeavor with a realistic realization of the stakes. Yo, Stanfurd dropped 63 on us last year. There are players on that team who've gone to BCS Bowl games every single year they've been in college. They're not going to surrender the Axe cavalierly. We are going to have to repo that motherfucker, by any means necessary. It's gonna take an A-plus game with no discernible letdowns. It's gonna be a territorial throw-down in which every inch matters. (That's what she said.) And if, by being in the moment and of the moment, we as fans can help remind our players just how much we crave a field-storming simultaneous orgasm, a pent-up eruption of euphoria--well, that's our role as sturdy Golden Bears, and if we win the game we'll know the reason why.

Shorter answer: I'm asking each and every one of you to be who you were born to be, and to go do that voodoo that you do so well. Aaaannnndd... Go Bears or go home.

Or maybe I'm just asking you to adhere to the most basic and resonant message of all, one which is far more powerful than anything I can write. We seek a mission statement-but yo, it's right there in the song, just like it's always been, and just like it shall be forevermore.

Our banner gold and blue... the symbol on it, too... means fight for California... for California through and through.