The last 5 years have been a true revelation for us all. From the doormats of the conference we now stand at the precipice of elite success.
We here at the California Golden Blogs all started Cal at different times and have differing viewpoints on the last 5 years. TwistNHook, as a child of Holmoe, thinks its the greatest thing since Mama Lynch gave birth to a young Marshawn (who one can only assume stiff-armed Patrick Chung on his way out of the birth canal). HydroTech, who has no personal experience of the Holmoecaust, just thinks its unimaginably awesome in an awesomely unimaginable sort of way.
So, we decided to take a look back at Cal’s meteoric rise from Boller and LaShaun to Rodgers and Marshawn to Longshore and DeSean. And hopefully looking forward to all the crazy ways Cal players will spell Shawn in the future. Perhaps Sh3an?
YellowFever:My freshman year was the last year of the Holmoe era. I didn’t follow college football much at all back in New Jersey, what with Rutgers being putrid and all. Going to Berkeley, I found it hard to believe that our coach’s name could be pronounced "homo". I mean, isn’t that a recruiting kiss of death?
Whoops! We lost 44-17. Go team.
TwistNHook: My fav part of this link to the Cal Football 2002 Blue Ribbon Preview is a)how they call him "Jim Tedford" and b)the last two paragraphs:
Tedford faces a monumental challenge making Cal respectable in a conference that appears to be developing more and more football depth with each passing season. The Bears should be more exciting on offense and more stern on defense, but that improvement won’t necessarily translate into more wins.
The non-conference schedule includes match-ups against Michigan State and Air Force, so the Bears won’t be able to pad their record before encountering the rigors of conference play. A .500 season would be a miracle, but Cal is more likely doomed to spend another season in the Pac-10 cellar. The one-year bowl ban shouldn’t make much difference.
Just goes to show how AMAZING this "Jim" Tedford truly is.
HydroTech: I remember when I first came to Cal I had not a clue about Cal Football. All my older friends said how we sucked and only won one game the year before. Nobody was really excited for the upcoming 2002 season. But one friend of mine, who is very tall and from Vandal country, had a quiet excitement and optimistic outlook. This friend of mine seemed a little more in tune with the college football world and so I paid special attention to his comment. I remember one day he mentioned something about a new head coach who -although he had no head coaching experience- was supposedly pretty good at whatever he did prior to coming to Cal. My friend was genuinely excited about the upcoming season, and he seemed to be the only one.
Before the home opener against Baylor all my friends were telling me the same stuff. Stuff along the lines of "don’t expect to win" or "we’re Cal, we have excellent academics but crappy sports teams" or "people don’t come to Cal Football games to watch football, they come to watch the Cal Band" or "just be happy if we lose by 30 or less" or "you’ll be lucky to see a touchdown."
Needless to say, the mentality of the fans going into the 2002 season was hardly even optimistic. At least, the fans that I was hanging out with were hardly optimistic.
So on that sunny Saturday I thought I’d just kick back, enjoy some sun, and watch our team without putting in too much physical or emotional investment to cheer them on. Afterall, why spend the effort when we sucked so bad?
But something happened on that very first play. You know, THAT PLAY. Not The Play. But the play where on Cal’s first play and possession, Terrell Williams threw the ball on a halfback pass to true freshman David Gray for a touchdown. That special something wasn’t just that we scored, but what I saw in the faces around me of all the oldmen who had been through the Holmoe years was excitement, enthusiasm, happiness and optimism. All that negative talk they’ve been giving me for the past week was gone in an instant. And throughout the entire game as we piled on the other 63 points the consensus was we were a whole new team, we had one pretty slick coach, and this was the start of something new and special.
What Jeff Tedford did for Cal Football was not to just bring it out of the basement of the Pac-10, but he changed the mentality and expectations of the fans. He was out to show them that a top academic school could have a killer football team. He made us care about Cal Football again. He made it enjoyable. He made us into enthusiastic fans.
So I believe the ascent of the Cal Football program didn’t start with Baylor, but the hiring of Jeff Tedford, our savior, and God himself in corporeal form.
TwistNHook: Oh F yeah I remember that play. I’ll never forget that.
I also remember the USC game in 2001, the year before. That was probably the nadir of the Holmoe years. I remember the stadium emptying out after we did our performance at halftime. I remember just going into the stands and chilling with the OX people in the endlessly empty student sections. It was raining. USC was scoring 55 unanswered points or something. And I couldn’t have been happier. Sure, we didn’t stand a chance, but it wasn’t like we cared or anything. We were ACTIVELY rooting for an 0-11 season. I was happy to just hang out with my various friends in the stands, while a football game occurred nearby at the same time.
4 years later, Cal got equally as destroyed by USC (2005), but the scene was totally different. People were no longer happy to just hang out in the stands. People were no longer "OK" with a loss. Tedford changed that. Made it so people cared. Made it so people wouldn’t leave at halftime, because the band show was the highlight of the day. And now imagine how it’ll be in November when USC comes back. 6 years later, it’ll be a whole different ballgame. Thank, you "Jim" Tedford. Thank you.
YellowFever:That USC game in 2001 was the highlight of the year for me. I remember the mike man imploring those of us left in the crowd to think of an action we’d like to do to USC, and when he made the signal, we were all to chant _____ USC. Needless to say, there were quite a few FUCK USC chants going.
And I recall late in the game when the team was driving for a touchdown with the game out of reach. The mike man said he wanted to be rolled up when we scored - but then Boller threw a pick six. Whoops. The mike man said fuck it and we tried to roll him up anyway…except there were so few people in the stands that a few of us had to just walk him up the stands because there was no one to roll him up to. Sometimes I miss those days, when we sucked, and loved it. That’s probably the Philly fan in me. Although I’m sure Scott Fujita would disagree vehemently.
Ragnarok: OK, so the Baylor game was nice and all, but even in all the celebration afterwards, people kept saying ‘Yeah, but they’re Baylor! They’re the Duke of the Southwest’. A subsequent victory over New Mexico State didn’t really prove anything earlier. Remember, only 2 years earlier, Tom Holmoe had managed a flukey homecoming win over 15th-ranked UCLA (the original ‘7th quarter’s ours!’ game); Cal has always managed to win a few games despite itself (2001 notwithstanding).
So I don’t think anyone expected us to have a chance against at nationally-ranked Michigan State the following weekend. I know I didn’t, which is why we scheduled our fraternity retreat for that weekend. The result of that game was truly shocking. Kyle Boller had a passing, rushing AND recieving TD? Are you f’ing kidding me? Holy crap, this team might actually be good!
Of course, in true Cal fashion, the Bears celebrated their new no. 23 national ranking by being upset at home by Air Force the next Saturday. Two steps forward, one step back.
YellowFever: I have to admit I was baffled when Cal was highly ranked going into the 2004 season. Sure Rodgers would be the starter for his first full year, but he wasn’t exactly all that proven. We still had Geoff MacArthur, but J.J. Arrington would be handling the load for the first time too. I was surprised that we were ranked that high; but of course, it was nice to see that mostly validated. That is, until Mack Brown and the subsequent Holiday Bowl. Then came Ayoob. But in order to take that big step forward, I suppose small steps back are necessary as well.
Ragnarok: I think that much of that high ranking was based, in part, on the excitement following the Insight.com Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. Yeah, it wasn’t a very good VaTech team, and yeah, our defense gave up 7 touchdowns, but it was still a victory over a nationally known ‘name’ team, and that’s what a lot of pre-season prognosticators looked at in 2004. That, and the large number of starters returning.
Honestly, if Cal loses that game, they get no pre-season love, they’re not nearly as highly ranked when they almost beat USC, and Texas is already ahead of them in the polls before the end of the year. There’s no Mack Brown controversy, and perhaps Cal doesn’t come out flat in the Holiday Bowl.
Still, if you go back and look at it, Cal’s 2002-2004 rise to national relevance is rather meteoric. Not unprecedented, sure (Rutgers comes to mind), but it was too far, too fast, and we weren’t yet at the point where we could just replace our stars after they left school. The 2005 season was what economists and mathematicians would later term an ‘Ayoob trough’.
TwistNHook: I’m still stunned that Ayoob brought Cal back against WSU. Should they have been booted out of the Pac10 for that? I mean for cereal.
I agree that it might have been too much too fast. A lot of college football is perception and the perception was that Cal was overrated. Cal fans don’t like to hear it, because they fear the media. But a lot of my friends from other parts of the country kind of viewed Cal as a media darling. And not really as good as their lofty rankings. Even now I bet a lot of people don’t think that Cal is *really* a #2 team in the nation. That’s something for a team more like a OSU. A traditional powerhouse.
It’s odd how others across the nation can view Cal as a media darling. And all the Cal fans think we are being held back by the media. I guess perception is reality. But that’s just what too much too fast can do. From USC 2003 to Oregon 2007, our biggest "national" victory during that stretch was the loss to USC in 2004. In most other big games, Cal choked. And that only fed the overrated perception.
Hopefully, now things have changed.
Ragnarok: Well, I think Cal started to fight off the ‘overrated’ perception last year. Yeah, the loss at Tennessee hurt a lot, but Cal did absolutely spank 3 ranked teams (ASU, Oregon, Texas A&M, none of whom actually deserved to be ranked). No, we still weren’t perceived as a national title contender, but those victories went a long way towards solidifying our standing as a top-15 program. Plus, after 3+ years in the national rankings, Cal no longer looks out of place there, the way that Illinois, Kansas, and South Florida currently do.
"Disappointed with a 10-win season" is a far cry from where we were.
HydroTech: I think Cal is being held back by the media and it’s because Cal doesn’t have a rich history of winning. Prior to this last weekend’s craziness, Cal was sitting #3 in the AP and the Coaches’ poll with 55 and 50 point lead respectively. Now, after last week’s craziness Cal only has a 27 and 17 point lead respectively. I think it’s quite obvious that the media, and coaches are uncomfortable with the thought of Cal playing in the title game. Prior to this last weekend, there was never any talk about how maybe Ohio St. (who was #4) should be above Cal (when we were at #3). It was given and accepted. People were cool with it. Now, it seems like people are finding any excuse to put Ohio State above Cal to qualm this uneasiness they feel.
Honestly, I think Cal has the better record this year rather than Ohio State. I’m not talking about who has more wins and losses, afterall we’re both undefeated. But I’m talking about who we’ve beaten. Ohio State has been fattening up on cupcakes such as Youngstown State, Akron, and this week Kent State. Cal beat a good Tennessee team, and an excellent Oregon team AT Eugene. Cal’s Oregon win is still better than Ohio State’s win at Purdue who was barely ranked. And if you want to bring up conference strength, well, the Pac-10 has the Big-10 beat hands down.
Now, I’m not saying that the media hates Cal specifically, but they are always weary of undefeated teams in the Top-10 that don’t have a history of winning. If South Florida was in our spot, there would be tons of talk about how Ohio State should be above them. So it’s not just us. It’s just programs like us, programs who don’t have multiple Heisman winners and a multiple BCS bowl appearances.
Tedford is changing the perception of Cal slowly but surely. Five years is an incredibly small amount of time to turn around decades of crappiness. It’ll take another 5 years of awesomeness to really put Cal on the map for a lasting amount of time.
TwistNHook: I look forward to the upcoming 5 years. We seem to have gotten better each year than the last (2005 excepted). I’m incredibly excited to see what we can do going forward. What can Best do? What can Brock Mansion do? This is not to say I’m not enjoying the excitement we have now, but it’s good to know that the cupboard appears to be stocked for the future.
Plus, we still have Tedford. That, dear friends, is always enough for optimism.