A short note from TwistNHook:
There comes a time in every man’s life when they notice some changes. Down there. And their voice is deeper. And he becomes embittered to the world. It happens to all of us. It’s called puberty. Cal puberty. It’s when you start to realize that the rest of your life is going to involve feeling the unending pain of crushing defeat. Will, a friend of ours, who posts here and elsewhere as CBKWit, is going through it right now. During his transformation to the emotional void we know as the "true Cal fan", he wrote the following tirade. It is both harrowing and cathartic, and we at the California Golden Blogs hope it comforts you in your time of pain.
Almost every Cal fan past 30 has had a moment. It may have been one LA nemesis upsetting the other to leave us Rose Bowl-less (indeed bowl-less: no Pacific Life Insurance or Diamond Walnut Bowl back then) in ‘75, or perhaps it was losing to Washington in ‘91, one of 19 straight to the Huskies but this one so much more damaging and heartbreaking than most. Maybe it was more recently — Mack groveling for votes or DeSean wearing a size 10 instead of a 9 in Tuscon. Regardless, the majority of Cal fans old enough to appreciate decades of futility can remember, with painful clarity, their personal, intimate moment when they finally gave in and exclaimed, “Enough!”
My moment came, not without warning but with a still unexpected swiftness, Saturday, October 20th, in dry, scrubby Pasadena. I’m not a particularly optimistic person (no one would ever describe me as “sunny”), but what I lack in happiness I make up for with youthful naiveté. I am 23, and my first year as a Cal fan (I followed my family’s school, Michigan, before college) was 2002. The first play I witnessed was an 80 yard halfback pass involving two promising young players, Terrell Williams and David Grey, who were subsequently relegated to the bench as Jeff Tedford recruited better and better players. In the 1st quarter, Cal put up a school record 35 points.
Although I’m a relatively new Cal fan, I’ve been to southern California on six occasions to watch the Bears. I’m 0 for 6, and the least painful game was the Holiday Bowl blowout to Texas Tech in 2004. Cal fans are loath to remember (but who can forget?) SC ‘02 (Kareem Kelly’s phantom touchdown), UCLA ‘03 (net points on six field goal attempts? -1), SC ‘04 (1st & goal from the 9), the aforementioned Holiday Bowl, UCLA ‘05 (Maurice Drew), and most recently, UCLA ‘07 (Forsett up the middle for a yard). For someone who already detests LA, these losses do not sit well. Walking out of the stadium following the latest torturous loss, I dramatically vowed to never return to southern California. (This may cause problems, as my girlfriend’s family is located entirely in LA. She’s also a Bruin. Yes, this may not last). In the days since, I’ve amended my vow only slightly: I’ll return only when we play for the Rose Bowl, because although we may lose (if I’m in attendance, we almost definitely will), I couldn’t bear to miss a victory.
My brother, a sophomore at Washington State, left me a message (I had turned off my phone in an effort to numb myself through sensory deprivation) following the heartbreaking OSU game, scolding “Man up! We just got beat 56-7.” While it’s hard to watch your team get consistently blown out, and while I’m certainly not one of the masochists who want to see our program turn back into a group of lovable loser mired in mediocrity (isn’t men’s basketball fun!), it is definitely less stressful to root for a team with nothing to lose. When a successful season for Cal meant beating San Jose State and hopefully stealing the axe, it mattered little whether or not we beat teams like Oregon State. If we did, you were happily surprised and if we didn’t, it didn’t mean very much anyway. Now it matters, and it has since arguably the Insight Bowl at the conclusion of the 2003 campaign, with perhaps a brief hiatus in 2005.
UCLA mattered, and it mattered a great deal to me. I live Cal football, in that the bulk of my mental energy is spent processing depth charts, individual match-ups, injury reports, and recruiting classes. I even dream Cal football, with startling accuracy. I have dreamt the outcome of four games over the last two years; all four of my subconscious winners ended up winning their actual games, and this list includes three underdogs (Tennessee over Cal last year, Cal over UO and OSU over Cal this year) and two road dogs. I had a sinking feeling after my OSU dream, and my co-workers blame me completely for the loss.
Of course, one does not examine his priorities or a potentially unhealthy devotion after a win. Only two weeks ago, I sat on my couch, fat and happy, reveling in a Cal victory over Oregon with which I had nothing to do. It takes dire circumstances, like two soul crushing losses in the span of a week, to create the impetus for self-reflection and — maybe — even change. I grappled with the particulars of the game, as I always do (throw the ball downfield!), but helplessness and the finality overpowered the second-guessing and what ifs. It hurts.
Eventually, as my party meandered across the golf course turned parking lot searching for a morbid post-game tailgate, my analysis came to special teams and our field goal kicking. I realized painfully that with our starting kicker in the lineup, we would likely have won both prior games and one at the very least, which would place us right in the hunt for the Rose Bowl or national championship. (Tom Schneider, our all Pac-10 kicker, pulled his quad warming up before the first game). Suddenly, I said it. Enough! No More! I would no longer center my existence on a football team, even my beloved Cal Bears. This is what happens when you fully grasp that your happiness, your entire mental well-being is determined by a 20 year-old’s pulled muscle.
Most of the tailgaters were several years older than me, and having lived through leaner periods of Cal football, knew exactly what I was going through. They laughed familiarly as I ranted about my transition from youth to true Cal fan, replacing optimistic devotion with detached acceptance. It was comforting to feel the cynical kinship among us. I laughed at my absurd obsession and ate more spinach dip.
Most of the golf courses now deserted as dusk settled in, we wandered back to our car, 9 holes away. The manicured landscape was littered with trash, dense pockets marking now departed SUVs. Inspiration struck me when I spotted a lonely Miller Lite can standing upright atop a small hill. Taking a slow, then quickening run, my right arm raised and index finger skyward, I did what Tom Schneider couldn’t: I kicked off. I encountered bottles, cans, and a gallon jug of salsa, which skidded impressively across the fairway, leaving a trail of mild Pace picante. Appreciating the irony more with each kick, we increased the spectacle by lining up in formation, one person looping behind the kicker in the role of gunner-extraordinaire Jahvid Best. Only my final kick backfired, the red cup located twenty feet from the car exploding on impact, leaving my pants soaked with generic beer. I have never had as much after a Cal loss.
Where does this leave me? Well, the losses still hurt, as an hour in the fetal position on my hotel bed taught me, only two hours removed from my supposed breakthrough. I still love our school, our team, The Tedford, and I still despise stanford, ucla and $C. I’m still going to all of the games (save to those in So-Cal), I’ll still become a bearbacker once my income creeps above the poverty line, and I’ll still read all the blogs, emails, and articles I can find. Maybe now, though, I won’t be so tense that I’m prevented from sleeping (before Tennessee) or eating and drinking (before and during Oregon). Instead of relieved when we win, I’ll be excited, and functional instead of destitute when we lose. I’ll be relaxed enough to have a beer, curse the opposition, appreciate a great play, and interact with fellow Cal fans. Most of all, I’ll remember that 20 year olds playing a game, even if they are 20 year olds who attended the greatest university in the world and are coached by our generation’s patron saint, are still just 20 year olds playing a game.