Please, no more foolishness.
No more talk that the Big Game has lost its meaning. No more suggestions that we find a new rival. For Stanford, there's only one Big Game, with a capital B and a capital G. And this is it.
Oh, sure, there are other important games. In any given year, there may be another team we would rather beat. But year in and year out, the Big Game really is the Big Game. Nobody ever dropped a "Beat Notre Dame" banner down the side of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Nobody ever hung a "Beat USC" banner off the Arc d'Triomphe (just ask Teejers). No, the message is, and always will be, "Beat Cal."
The Big Game has history: 103 games worth of history, starting with Herbert Hoover riding off to find a football so they could play the first one. The Big Game has thrills: five times the winning points have been scored on the last play of the game, more than in any other rivalry. The Big Game has great performances: Dick Norman's 401 passing yards, Chuck Muncie's 4 TDs, Glyn Milburn's 379 total yards. The Big Game has unlikely heroes: Mike Langford kicking a 50-yard FG, Kevin Brown leading a big upset, Tuan Van Le blocking a kick with no time remaining, Casey Moore out-running the whole Cal team for 94 yards. The Big Game has the stuff of legend: "The band is on the field!"
But the Big Game is more than heroics on the field. It's the long and glorious history of the Axe. It's bragging rights in offices and neighborhoods and homes all around the area, and beyond. It's the Father Serra statue on Interstate 280 wearing a Stanford helmet. It's blue paw-prints on White Plaza. It's the Immortal 21. It's the Stanford Band playing outside a Palo Alto office building a couple days ago. It's "unauthorized" editions of the "Daily Cal."
Find a new rival? No way. A classic, long-time, permanent rivalry can't be plucked out of thin air. It has to earn the right to be called a "traditional rivalry." The Big Game has earned that right, better than just about any other rivalry. The two schools are close together geographically. They are comparable academically (though of course, not equal). They are rivals in everything, not just football: everything from water polo to Nobel prizes. They are knit together by innumerable family ties: for example, my wife and I have 5 Stanford degrees and 3 Cal degrees in our immediate families. The bragging rights mean something, because so many Stanford grads and Cal grads work together and live together. The game matters: large crowds show up even when nothing else is at stake.
One reason it matters is that we have a lot in common with our Cal counterparts. Many of us, including me, could have gone to Cal if things had gone a little differently for us. People from the two schools are much more alike than different, really, though our very similarities sometimes lead us to emphasize our differences -- differences in politics, culture, bands and mascots. But these differences aren't as important as the qualities and characteristics we share. By and large, we can respect Cal people because we know them and understand them. That's why I hate the atmosphere of incivility that has grown up around this game in recent years. There's no good reason for the violence, for the coarsening of discourse. Let's not let the hooligans and flamers drag the level of this rivalry down. Let's not vilify everyone on the other side based on the acts of a few. Let's not talk about Cal being our b***h. Let's restore the class and dignity and respect that have marked this rivalry over the years. Let's treat these people as we treat our friends, family members, and co-workers -- because that's who they are. And of course, the things we have in common make it even more satisfying to win the Big Game.
There seems to be a sense of complacency in the air, a sense that Stanford always will be on top, a sense that Stanford has emerged as the "winner" in this rivalry once and for all. That's ludicrous. Anybody who thinks the rivalry is no longer competitive isn't paying attention. Yes, Stanford is having a tremendous run right now, with 6 wins in a row and only 3 losses in the last 17 years. But there have been good runs before, and they don't last forever. Stanford once went 8 years without a single win. Over the 25 year period from 1936 to 1960, Stanford won only 5 of 22 Big Games. Heaven forbid that we should ever see times like those again. But there's no way Stanford's current success will last forever.
Those who say the Big Game doesn't matter anymore are depriving themselves of one of the most satisfying feelings in sports: the feeling of dominating a rival. Instead of downplaying the importance of this game, we should be soaking in the aura of success in which we are living right now. We should enjoy every last second of it. We should glory in our victories. We should proclaim the importance of every one of these wins. We should revel in our triumphs while we can, because we don't know what the future will hold. A Big Game win is always something to celebrate.
In fact, anyone who says it doesn't matter has it exactly backwards: the more we win, the more it matters. Some day we're going to lose, and on that day we will find out exactly how much it does matter. Because it's going to be ugly. We will find out exactly how bad it feels to lose to them, and to watch their fans celebrating and taunting and tearing down the goalposts and ripping up the field. I don't ever want to see that moment. And if it were to happen this year . . . I shudder to think how much of Cal's pent-up frustration would be released if they should pull off what might be the biggest upset in Big Game history. Believe me, we don't want that. Winning this game is just as important as ever.