Even now, to this day, I still feel like I've been cheated out of the true Big Game experience.
My first fall on The Farm was 1993. That was also the first Big Game week that did not have the traditional bonfire at Lake Lagunita, thanks to the California tiger salamanders that were discovered there. So, instead, the school put on some laser show in front of Hoover Tower. It was every bit as unimpressive as it sounds. The only thing more disappointing was the game itself, as the Bears pounded the overmatched Cardinal, 46-17.
Without that bonfire, I've always had the nagging feeling that my Big Game experiences have been missing something. I also think it may have set the tone for how I've approached most Big Games since. I didn't really share the hatred for cal that Stanford fans from previous generations may still have to this very day. Except on a few occasions, Big Game never had the oomph with me that it should have.
This week, I get the sense that many other Cardinalmaniacs might not be feeling the oomph for this year's Big Game. Granted, much of it is probably Stanford fans still feeling sorry for themselves over that U$C result and having to rearrange New Years' plans as a result. But the 116th Big Game doesn't really seem as "big" as the others used to.
I can remember something, at least one thing, from all twenty Big Games I have been a Cardinal fan for. I remember being in the locker room while Bill Walsh addressed the team after the 1993 shellacking. I remember Tony Gonzalez fumbling away the 1995 Big Game right in front of me. I remember Casey Moore, the ultimate Bear killer, who slayed cal in back-to-back Big Games. I'm still trying to forget how things ended in 2009, but I love reliving the Golden Bear Beatdown in Berkeley the following year.
Matt Clizbe knocking away Scott Frost's pass in 1994. Kailee Wong's pick-six in 1996. Kyle Boller being carried off the field after a 2002 win. Steve Levy coming from obscurity to beat Stanford in 2005. I remember all those things.
Last year's game? I can't remember a single thing from it. Nothing. It's almost like it never happened. Apparently, Stepfan Taylor ran for 189 yards and a touchdown, cal managed just three yards rushing, and the Card strangled the Bears, 21-3. I watched it. But I don't remember it at all. And Stanford won that one!
So why has Big Game been coming up small lately? I can think of four reasons.
For quite a while, Stanford and cal always kicked off at 12:30 p.m. You could almost set your watch by it. This year, you couldn't. Not until Sunday, anyway. The kickoff time for this year's Big Game was not announced until six days in advance. I think the lack of a kickoff time dampened some of the anticipation somewhat.
There is no good reason for any game, much less Big Game, to have its kickoff time announced six days before it is scheduled to be played. In my book, it's disrespectful to the folks who actually take the time, money, and effort to watch the game in person. But, in a sport where the TV networks call the shots, the viewer at home is more important than the folks who actually pay the tickets and come to the stadium.
While we didn't know what time this year's Big Game was going to be until just this week, at least Big Game week is in November. Can't say that about last year, when the game was played on October 20. The Pac-12 cited conflicts with scheduling and television programming (there they go again) as reasons why, somehow, that game had to be played four weeks earlier than normal.
It was a joke. It was an affront to both schools and their fans. And that scheduling quirk spun this series out of whack and set Big Game back.
Then, there is this: cal is no longer Stanford's most important game on the schedule. Oregon is. It's no longer the most intense game on the schedule. U$C is. Notre Dame has provided some rivalry-like moments of late, too. The higher the Ducks, Trojans, and Irish rise, the farther cal falls. And, as I've pointed out before, this is especially true for the younger Stanford fans.
It speaks to how far the Cardinal have come when they actually have bigger games on their schedule than Big Game. But it also speaks to how far the Bears have fallen off the map. Which leads to perhaps the biggest reason why Stanford-cal this year isn't exactly a must-see affair.
I haven't talked about cal football much this year because there isn't much to say. Well, not much good to say, anyway. From the injuries that have wiped out most of the team, to an ugly incident between teammates that left one in the hospital and the other suspended, to an unflattering portrait of the Athletic Department's approach to academics, it's been a rough year in Berkeley. And it doesn't promise to get much better this Saturday.
So while I still say "Beat cal" as always, I don't say it with the fervor that I used to. Why should I? Thanks to irregular kickoff times and dates, the fact that the Card have bigger fish to fry, and cal's woeful brand of football, Big Game is not even a big game right now.
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RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS
As you may have sensed from last week's Corner, I had a feeling all along, even early in the season, and especially after the way things went for Stanford against Oregon, that the Card were walking into a trap in South Central. A lot of times I like being right. Last week was not one of those times…
Four rushing touchdowns? Really? Who does Myles Jack think he is, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
Even though it might be a bit too late now that Stanford and Oregon are in their rear-view mirror, it seems like UCLA has picked a good time to start trending upwards again…
Kudos to the Cougs. Yes, they let Ka'Deem Carey get 132 yards rushing, but that defense rediscovered its groove at the perfect moment…
I can't believe I actually about an hour watching that cal-Colorado game last week. Those are the kinds of games that remind you that life is too short to be watching bad football…
It was so windy in Boulder last Saturday, I half-expected the Pac-12 Network's Roxy Bernstein to throw down to Jim Cantore for a sideline report. At least that added some entertainment value…
Not a Pac-12 thought, but… the Heisman Trophy is Jameis Winston's to lose. Problem is, I'm having trouble coming up with another worthy candidate right now. Johnny Manziel? No. His 2013 stats may be better than last year's numbers, but he's not having a better season. Not Marcus Mariota. A.J. McCarron? Please. Jordan Lynch would have a pretty good case…if he didn't play for Northern Illinois. Winston has earned his status as the front-runner, but in the absence of any other real candidates, I also think he could get a lot of votes merely by default…
Not a Pac-12 thought, but… Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. While the AFL postponed their games that weekend, the NFL played on. It was supposed to be a gesture to return the country to normalcy, but Pete Rozelle, the league's commissioner at the time, later called it his greatest mistake. Fast-forward 50 years, when today's NFL seems far more interested in your wallet and your eyeballs than in actually improving the product and doing what's right for their customers. Given that, why do I get the feeling that if, heaven forbid, the country was faced with a similar situation as it was 50 years ago, the NFL would still play on?
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Utah @ Washington State. The Cougars have this one at home. That's good enough for me. I like Washington State by seven.
Oregon @ Arizona. Much like Stanford-U$C, I've had a funny feeling about this game all along, too. I'm going to be on the safe side and say I like Oregon by 16, but don't be surprised if something funky happens in Tucson.
Arizona State @ UCLA. When the Sun Devils have ventured away from Tempe this year, they didn't show up in the first half against Stanford, blew a neutral-site game to Notre Dame, and barely beat Utah. Add the fact that the Bruins have rebounded nicely since losing to Oregon, and it's easy to see why I like UCLA by 14.
U$C @ Colorado. This couldn't possibly be a trap game for the Trojans, could it? Could it? I like U$C by 10.
Washington @ Oregon State. As long as their secondary holds up, the Sun Devils should have an easier time this week than they did against the Utes. I like Arizona State by 15. Last week: 4-1 (straight-up), 3-2 (ATS).
This year: 28-7 (straight-up), 17-18 (ATS).
Last year: 36-9 (straight-up), 25-20 (ATS).
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Troy Clardy is in his 21st year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 12th season of Cardinal commentary, Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, hear him on Pittsburgh's Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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