With only a few interruptions since 1990, there has been one constant at the Big Game Bonfire Rally, every year, other than the flaming pile of palates and exhortations for freshmen to gather more wood: Ken Montgomery.
Ever since stepping out of the student section at California Memorial Stadium, during Cal's game against the reigning national champion Miami Hurricanes as a 23-year old second-year at Cal in 1990, the now-50-year old "Eternal Sophomore," as he calls himself, has been a part of nearly every Big Game Bonfire Rally, speaking to the crowd from the stage and introducing the team. Head coach Sonny Dykes even invited Montgomery to speak to the team after practice before the first game of the 2015 season.
He's become a consistent donor to Cal Spirit and both men's and women's sports. He's been halfway around the world with Cal football -- literally -- taking part in the team's trip to Australia this August. If there's a Bonfire, there's Montgomery. Even when the rally was moved to Edwards Track Stadium in 2012, because of a Bob Dylan concert and an October Big Game, Montgomery was there. When the drought last year, and the possibility that the titular conflagration could ignite the dry Berkeley hills, again moved the rally to Edwards, Montgomery was there. But, he won't be, this year, when the rally kicks off at 6 p.m., on Friday, at the Hearst Greek Theater.
There's no time, according to UC Rally Committee Chairman Andy Keeton, who said in an email to BearTerritory:
The Big Game Bonfire Rally is back (after its one year hiatus due to the drought) and with it, we are introducing the brand-new, 10+ ft. tall Fiat Lux Torch. The torch will pay homage to the university's traditions while striving to best represent the innovation of the current Cal community. As such, the theme of the rally will be to merge tradition and innovation. Though we have changed some of the traditional speaker parts (this was due, in part, to student feedback stating that there were too many speakers and that they found the rally too long and boring at times), we are striving to ensure that Cal's traditions are still honored while also focusing on what makes Berkeley great today.
The list of "traditional speakers" features athletic director Mike Williams; former mic man Spencer Bowen and the creator of the Bear Territory chant that bookends the Bear Republic Podcast and from which this site derives its name, Ahmad Anderson. It used to include Montgomery.
Now, it will include the current ASUC President William Morrow and ASUC senator Zaynab AbdulQadir-Morris "talking about the state of student affairs on campus," to wrap up the event, Keeton said. It will take "no longer than two or three minutes."
Despite the addition of that speech and the torch lighting the run of show should be shorter than in years prior.
"It's supposed to be shorter ... around 1.5 hour instead of 2 hours," he said via e-mail. "But a lot of this time is dedicated to the torch lighting, the bonfire, and the Cal Band."
The Rally Committee arrived on the new length over the last several years, which saw the elimination of the Cal Haka for cultural sensitivity reasons.
"We've taken random exit polls as people leave the rally to see what they liked most and least," Keeton said. "We've also had members talk to friends (from outside the realm of Cal Spirit) to discuss what could/should be changed."
Montgomery understands the march of time, and shifting priorities. Repeatedly, he stressed that he did not want to villainize any of those involved. He was just disappointed, he said, as BearTerritory caught up with him between classes -- studying for a Classics 130 quiz, on the Eschatology of Hell.
"I don't think I missed one since 2005," said Montgomery, who recently re-enrolled at Berkeley after spending the past two decades-plus in a career in communications. "[I was] flying in for them from the East Coast, LA etc., in fact, I was on a business trip in Japan and I literally put my cal hat on at the airport (and got several 'Go Bears!') on that Friday and landed that morning (thank you international date line) so Icould make the Bonfire Rally."
Upon leaving Cal in 1991 in good academic standing -- but without his degree -- Montgomery interned at a tech public relations firm in San Francisco. He's since risen to the had of global communications for a 10,000-person software company, Persistent Systems, based in India. But, when he returned to his status as a full-time Berkeley student, re-enrolling in the fall (taking South Asian 1A, India Civilizations, by the way), he initially wanted to be a part of Cal Spirit again.
Montgomery didn't want to take over the Mic Man position he once held both informally at basketball games, and, formally, in 1990 and 1991 during football season. He just wanted "to be a part of it," again, so he contacted the new head of Cal Spirit, Lauren Carey (who took over this year for the retired Diane Milano).
"I sent and email to and said, 'Hey let's get together in Australia as i'll be there.' She replies [that] she can't. Too busy. We're staying at the same hotel. If [athletic director] Mike Williams, Sonny Dykes and others have time to have a coffee with me [...] Anyway, so we finally get together in early September. We meet, it's cool ... she says she'll think about it."
Three weeks went by, and Montgomery did not hear anything about being a part of the Mic Man crew, in any capacity. The man who's been called the "Teddy Roosevelt of Mic Men," and who didn't originate the role, but perfected it with his manic energy and boundless enthusiasm (see: "Eternal Sophomore") still hasn't heard back. Given his history with the organization -- both as a participant and as a donor -- he was frustrated with the lack of communication.
But, still, there was the Rally. He'd been a part of that for more than a quarter century, introducing the team, teaching the fight song and leading chants.
"Then, I realize i have not heard from rally comm about the rally," Montgomery said. "I know these people (like the Rally Comm chair). I took him and Robert Thurman out to lunch over the summer -- he's a great kid -- but the woman who runs the rallies never sends me anything, so I sent her a note this weekend to see what is going on."
Montgomery shared the email he received from Sophie Beirne, Vice Chair of Rallies for Rally Comm:
Hi! Thank you I hope your semester is going well too! Unfortunately, with the addition of the Fiat Lux torch this year we had to cut down dramatically on speakers to accommodate for the time crunch. We only really have two speakers this year, we don't even have Phil Litts. I'm so sorry but unfortunately your speaking part was also one of the ones that was cut to make room for the torch. I hope you will still come out and watch the bonfire as a student though!
Part of the time crunch is the addition of the new Fiat Lux Torch to the proceedings, as Keeton said, which should take around 10-15 minutes (a small portion of that will be the lighting itself; the rest will be the attendant pomp and circumstance). The fundraising site for the torch indicated a goal of $25,000. That's quite an investment, and not one to be given short shrift on its maiden voyage. Montgomery readily admits that he's small potatoes, in the grand scheme of things. But, not being a part of the Rally, as he has for over a quarter century, has disheartened him, and many Cal football stakeholders.
His post on Facebook -- which eschews the details delineated here, but rather offers a simple lament on the situation -- has received 107 comments, as of this writing.
The wife of former Cal offensive line coach Zach Yenser (now at Kansas, with Rob Likens), Beth Graham Yenser, wrote: "You being a part of the bon fire pep rally was one of my favorite memories from being at Cal. Your enthusiasm for everything Cal and love for Cal football is unsurpassable. This truly makes me sad because those students and fans and football players are missing out on one of the best traditions (in my opinion) of the football season. You will always be my all time favorite fan! More should aspire to be like you."
Yvonne Sebastian, mother of former Cal safety Avery Sebastian, said: "Ken has been one of the representatives who has stood by this team through a 1-11 record when others gave up hope on this team. He encourages the players and has made the program better with his efforts. He puts the University before his own needs and looks at making the student athlete experience better in the ways he can impact. As a players parent, and players like Avery Sebastian we sure appreciated the time he spent uplifting and motivating the players. Ken has single handedly increased the pride for The University of California football program and integrated the flag to go with that fight song the players so proudly sing. Shame on those making decisions to exclude and instead of to include...We are worst off for it."
Current Bears senior Steven Moore, playing in his last Big Game as the only fifth-year senior on the roster, said: "You always killed it at the bonfire! Will be missed man."
Former Cal kicker Jordan Kay, inventor of the Rally Flip Cap, wrote: "You always killed it at the bonfire! Will be missed man."
Injured Bears safety Luke Rubenzer wrote: "Well that's bs. Sorry to hear man. Best Mic Man Cal has ever had."
Mother of newly-minted NFL touchdown-scorer Stephen Anderson, Charlene, said, "What the heck? Somebody messed up ... what's going on over there? Did you tell them who you are? You're THE KEN MONTGOMERY!! You represent Cal in finest fashion. Yeah they messed up in a big way!"
Cal rugby coach Jack Clark said, simply, "Fight ..."
"I don't want it to seem like I am more than i am," Montgomery said, in between classes. "You know, I always bring out the team. That's my thing."
It may only be five minutes, but for Montgomery -- and plenty of others around the program -- those five minutes are a Cal tradition, one that has only been halted thus far by the forces of international business, and now, it would seem, a new torch, waning attention spans, and a speech on student affairs.