In the annals of recently Cal football memory, there are 4 home games that really stick out to me (plus 1 that probably would if I had been able to attend).
Oregon 2004 (which I was unable to attend, so I cannot really speak to its atmosphere).
and now Washington 2006
UCLA 2000 was an amazing game. A breakdown with stats and recaps can be found here, here, and here. Cal overcame a huge day out of UCLA WR Freddie Mitchell’s hands (whom Mitchell would later thank) to win in 3OT, 46-38. The articles don’t seem to note the last play of the game. In 3OT, Cal went first and scored a TD plus the 2PT Conversion to go up 8. Then, on UCLA’s 4th down play on their possession, Corey Paus threw to the endzone. I happened to be standing a mere few feet from whichever Cal player it was that deflected the potential touchdown grab. That was clearly the highlight of that frustrating year. A year where we seemed to blow many a lead in the 4th quarter (including that UCLA game where they tied it up in the 4th). By then, the 4th quarter was no longer ours. And the Hit Squad had few, if any, hits left.
I don’t think I need to write all that much about Big Game 2002. And honestly I remember very little about the game itself. Igber ran well. We won 30-7. The weather wasn’t particularly good. An objective observer would probably say that it was a boring game. But memories from the past two years (and 5 before that) were hard to shake. The year before, hoping in vain as Boller heaved hail mary after hail mary trying to snag that last touchdown in Stanford Stadium. And the year before that, as we valiantly tied the game up in the 4th qtr (Ok, maybe the 4th qtr was ours), only to have our hearts shattered with the sudden death OT loss. That loss from 2000 still pains me to this day. The few years before that, our Big Game losses had been the appetizer to the Big Game Loss Riot where hours of hard work by the maker of The Tree was ruined and the the police finally took their riot gear out of storage.
But that time, we all just stood there. I swear it was almost silent as thousands and thousands of fans were just plain stunned by what had been so close and then cruely taken away. There were even some people around me crying and the Daily Cal ran a photo of some painted fans crying. Big Game 2000 is why beating Stanford no matter how historically terrible their team may be is a true joy and pleasure.
So, Big Game 2002 means a lot more than just two mediocre teams beating up on each other with no Bowl plans in sight (especially since we had been sanctioned with the loss of Bowl priveleges). That objective observer would have been dead to rights wrong as to the excitement of the game. Also, that Big Game starred the World’s Greatest Wave. Because when thousands and thousands of fans get bored, what do they do but the wave? Over and over and over and over. I swear that was the only thing to stop our offense that day. Even the linemen wanted to do the wave!
And you sure can’t do well with linemen doing the wave.
So, yeah, Big Game 2002, everything about that is legendary. The cathartic celebration. The tearing down of the North goalpost to use as a battering ram against the security guards at the South Goalpost. The carrying of the goalpost down to Sproul. Boller crowd-surfing. Full band break off. The axe. The axe!
USC 2003 is also fairly self-explanatory. Sometimes people forget how early in the year that was. It was like the first Pac-10 game of the year. It was in late September. It was a really hot day, but the game ended in darkness. Rodgers was injured and Reggie Robertson actually lead us to victory. Frederickson missed two kicks before hitting his game winner. I wandered around the field after we had rushed it chanting "Vio-lence! Vio-lence!" Many people actually forget that. This was one of the most important victories of the Tedford (PBUH) era, putting us on the map. Supposedly, Marshawn was in attendence and it put Cal on his radar, so thank Tedford (PBUH) for that. The only problem is that we’ve been more or less living off of this game since.
When I was at Cal, we had yet to beat Stanford and we were living off of Big Game 1982. Almost 2 decades earlier, but still we endlessly went on and on and on about how great Cal was because of The Play. USC 2003 still remains, several years later, the most nationally impressive victory of the Tedford era. Since then, our most impressive game national performance includes our close loss in 2004 to USC. H-Bowl this year has washed some of the stink of our national label as "Unable to Match Hype" off. Hopefully, next year we can completely shed that label by beating Tennessee or USC (or both!).
While Oregon 2004 and UDub 2006 might not have the national panache that beating USC does, they still have more localized lures for Cal fans. Oregon has tormented us a lot in recent years, beating us far more than USC had. And UDub is helmed by the man responsible for the Big Game torments of the late 90s. Now, as I noted earlier, I was not at Oregon 2004, so I cannot speak to that. But this year, I did suit up for another exciting day of California football. And by suit up, I, of course, mean try to wear as little clothing as possible. Because that day was HOT. I got dehydrated from the standing for hours on end and the obscene heat. But damnit, us Cal fans are tough, we perservere. As seen in these photos, the student section was packed and the energy and electricity kept some of the more tired among us going.
Gotta support the team! And Cal fans were doing it.
The heat wasn’t the only brutal thing in this game. Our offense, for most of the game, was brutal. Especially in the first half. We did not score a single point until really late in the 2nd quarter. Schneider hit a FG to make it 10-3 as we went into the 2nd half. Luckily for the offense, the D was playing like a man possessed. They picked off Bonnel, who was far more mobile than advertised, not once, not twice, or even thrice, but five times (also, four, which is a very impressive pick by Follett). Every D player was trying to get in on the act. Nobody wanted to feel left out.
"Throw it to me, Carl. I want one, too!!!"
"Outta the way. This one’s mine!"
Unfortunately, even with all these myriad opportunities for the offense, it was still struggling. Longshore had decent numbers at the end of the day, but seemed off at times throughout the course of the game.
Coming out of halftime, Cal, down 10-3, really needed a boost. Luckily, they got it in the form of one Marshawn Lynch. Not sure if you’ve heard of the guy. He’s good. Pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. I remember reading LT’s scouting record coming out of college and a lot of it was "Marshawn-esque." "Similar to noted Oakland Tech Freshman RB Marshawn Lynch." And supposedly, he was in a frenzy before the game. He carried the Cal flag up the March To Victory. Then, when he saw UDub disrespecting the Cal on the field, he started yelling about how they had to reclaim the Cal and generally acting with a high level of dervishosity.
And let me tell you, you don’t want to piss off Marshawn. It will only give fans a LOT to cheer about.
"MARSHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWN. Moreover, MARSHAAAAAAAAAAAAWN!"
Marshawn was 21 for 150, with 2 Touchdowns and an average of 7.1 ypc. On the first Cal drive of the 2nd quarter, Marshawn was involved in every offensive play save the actual touchdown (which went to an oddly ineffective Justin Forsett). Marshawn had a big run. Then, he had a big catch.
And that was just the set up for one of the most amazing runs I have ever seen. A halfback option to the right, he found nobody to throw it to. So, he tucked it in and ran down to the 2 yard line. He somehow ran through a mess of UDub D players (with a great block by Longshore). You have to see the video to believe it. This is why Reggie Bush’s scouting report read something like this:
"Receptive to free houses. Also, Marshawn-esque."
Here are a few photos of Marshawn in action (albeit perhaps not on that drive).
"Straight up the gut!!!!!!!!!"
"Only 3 men trying to take me down! You gotta be kiddin’"
He couldn’t get it in on the play, so Forsett, who averaged 4.1 fewer yards per carry than Marshawn, got the TD run. Good for him. Let’s hope it carries over well to next year. Two more Schneider FGs put Cal’s score at 16. Unfortunately for Cal, a Carl Bonnel 9 yard TD run put UDub’s score at 17. With Isaiah Stanback out, people predicted that Bonnel would be more of a pocket passer. Also, that we would win going away. However, Bonnel was very mobile, continuously dodging the pass rush. And the game was REALLY REALLY close. As we entered the latter parts of the game, Washington was up 17-16. This set up the excitement at the end of the game.
With Cal down by 1 point near the end of the game, Cal’s offense finally ressurected itself for another great drive. It started with less than 7 minutes left in the game and last 5 full minutes. Longshore went 6 of 8 on the drive with a big 20 yard strike to Marshawn. That was the largest play of the drive, mostly comprised of 10 yard passes to a variety of targets. And then from the 17 yard line, Marshawn pulled another trick out of his hat. The go-ahead TD! Or so we thought at the time. Forsett scored on a run to get the 2 point conversion. That video should be watched the audacity of the call. Straight up the middle. And Forsett has to spin around breaking a few tackles to score. Gutsy, gutsy call. Clearly, Dubar didn’t make it.
This made the score 24-17, exactly a TD difference. The 2 PT conversion was incredibly important as we would later find out. So, with less than 2 minutes, UDub took over needing a TD to tie the game. They had it at at their own 22. And in 1 minute and 46 seconds, they managed to get to the Cal 40. Normally, not a bad drive. But in the situation it was a terrible dink and dunk offense. They converted 3 4th downs, each one more painfully depressing than the last. And then it was all down to 1 last play.
The hail mary.
Oft used in cinematic circles, in real life, it’s less successful than Pauly Shore’s newest idea BioDome II . The name itself recals the absolute desperation of the play. Honestly, off the top of my head, I can only think of 1 other time that it worked, the Doug Flutie time. Over 20 years ago.
We were ready to party. We just needed the official end to the game after an unsuccessful hail mary, right? Wrong, because unbelievably, incomprehensibly, incomprelievably, they converted it. Cal fans might want to watch only to see such a moment of crazy luck. Bonnel scrambled around long enough to heave a massive pass down the field. 3 Cal defenders converged in mid-air hell bent apparently on knocking it even further up into the air. Something called a Marlon Wood caught the ball off the deflection and, getting tackled, fell into the endzone. Similar to the end of Big Game 2000, the entire student section stood there stunned. I was literally as slack-jawed as a Ryan Appleby. Stunned. The UDub section was going crazy.
After the kick, the game was tied and we were going to overtime. After the initial shock wore off, I had a good feeling about OT. Our offense was showing up finally and Washington’s needed a fit of amazing luck to do anything at all. When the student section was able to rouse itself from its gaping-mouthed slumber, we rushed forward down stands towards the endzone where all the action was. All the fans were packed in there mingling with the band members, similar to the end of regulation in the UDub b-ball game. There, the intensity grew to a fevered pitch as we were all cheering on our beloved Golden Bears.
On the 2nd play from scrimmage, Marshawn did what he does best, score. Even with 2 sprained ankles, he managed to garner 22 yards for the Touchdown. It was off a deep pitch, too, so it was more like 26 yards for the Touchdown. He sliced his way through the defenders, juking a few of them with some quick leg moves. Marshawn is so amazing, because his legs never stop moving. And on this run, he pumps them a few times in different directions (while still running forward at full speed) to confuse the defenders. Truly amazing.
Then, our defense took the field. We needed to stop them. Hold them down! They got a few good offensive plays off, before Cal crushed them for a key 5 yard loss. Watch the Cal D players swarm to the running back. Killer instinct!
And then, on the next play, pure joy, pure bliss, pure ecstacy, pure love, pure happiness, pure Tedford, PURE VICTORY! That day was a day for #10, because Desmond Bishop jumped the route to seal the victory. Though if you look closely, you’ll notice that Bishop actually got caught from behind by an O-Lineman who seems to be twice as big. A minor problem, really. We were going CRAZY. Such joy, such excitement. A blowout is great, but nothing can match the feeling from an incredibly close game like that. The highs, the lows. And I’ll remember this game EPICALLY more than any of those blowouts we had earlier in the year.
Of course, then, Marshawn took himself to the next level of awesome coolishness. Claiming that he a)wanted to ghostride the injury cart and/or b)he wanted to pick up Bishop who was so tired he had just been caught from behind by the human version of a killer whale, he started driving the injury cart around the field. It was GLORY!
I don’t have the greatest camera or even the best location, but I tried to take some photos of the post-game celebration. Below in the earlier Marshawn post, I posted a great photo of him ghostriding the injury cart. But here are what I could get:
And here is video of the whole event. Some professional, some amateur, none by me. I like the ones where Oski is crowdsurfing!
Watching those videos again was awesome! Loved it! And this final video is of a highlight reel of the game set to some sort of rap music. I guess it’s what the kids are listening to these days.
"The 5th Quarter’s Ours!"
What an amazing game. This post took forever to write, but was worth it. Although it definitely had some lows, the highs were the highest all year and will never be forgotten. As UCLA 2000, Stanford 2002, USC 2003, and Oregon 2004 before it, it will be put into the pantheon of great home games. GO BEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!