In a season full of dark moments, the darkest yet could still be to come. This Saturday, Stanford travels to Berkeley to face the Bears. It's no secret that people with Stanford affiliations aren't exactly welcomed with open arms at Berkeley. BearFan doesn't exactly roll out the red carpet (or would it be blue carpet?) for Cardinalmaniacs™ when Big Game is in the East Bay. I'm sure most of us know a few people who refuse to attend Big Games at Memorial Stadium because of the boorish atmosphere that tends to develop.
This year, things could get especially nasty. I don't think it's a stretch to say that the 109th Big Game is perhaps the most dreaded event in recent Stanford Football history. Stanford is wrapping up an all-time bad season. The Bears, despite their South Central setback two weeks ago, are still one of the best teams in the country. Watching the Cardinal take the field on Saturday could be like watching Sonny Corleone pull up to the toll both.
Believe it or not, there are some things I actually like about cal. Berkeley, despite its many, many, many flaws, is a far better "college town" than Palo Alto. About the only time I like Stanford's band more than cal's band is when our guys play "Swingtown" during the introductions at basketball games. Outside of that, cal's band is superior in just about every way imaginable. Their fight song is so good that another school had to rip it off and call it their own.
I respect their athletic department, which seems to have cleaned up its act over the past few years. And I have great respect for their football program, which has turned around 360 degrees. Errrrr, 180 degrees. Sorry, I was channeling Jason Kidd there for a second.
Yup, life is good for the Weenies. Yet, even though their football team's fortunes have changed, I'm sure one thing hasn't: their near-maniacal hatred of Stanford and all things Cardinal. Only in Berkeley could 10,000 people all be yelling for one person to "take off that redddd shirt." Only in Berkeley could an entire stadium blatantly disrespect the Star Spangled Banner by changing its lyrics and referring to the rocket's "blue" glare. Only Carl Lewis has done more damage to our national anthem.
For the longest time, it never made much sense to me. Stanford only gives cal any serious thought when their football and basketball teams are squaring off. But in Berkeley, Stanford is in cal's head 24/7/365. They hate us. Why? For the longest time, I couldn't figure it out.
Then it occurred to me: cal hates Stanford because, well, we are Stanford. We are Us. They are Them. They will never be Us. By most accounts, We are better than Them. And those facts drive Them bonkers.
Think about it. Beyond the Eucalyptus Curtain is a world unto itself. A beautiful, expansive campus. A reputation for excellence unmatched virtually anywhere else in the world. A certain irreverence that prevents its people from taking things too seriously. The feeling that something special is always taking place on that campus, that anything is possible, and that you could be a part of it. And if you are a part of it, it becomes a part of you wherever you go.
I'm lucky enough to be a part of Us. You Cardinalmaniacs™ are also lucky enough to be a part of Us. Heck, with all of the things We have going for Us, if I was one of Them, I would hate Us too!
As for football, We have two things that They don't. We have the facilities that They can only dream of right now. We have the spacious practice fields, and the comfortable football offices They don't. Most importantly, We have the gleaming new football stadium that is arguably the best in the Pac-10.
The other thing Our football program has that They so desperately want: a recent trip to a Rose Bowl. Every time I talk with my cal buddy, he always boasts about how indestructible Marshawn Lynch is, how unstoppable DeSean Jackson is, and how nasty the cal defense is. And usually all I can do is nod and dread.
But during every conversation, my cal buddy always asks me one question: "What's it like?" As in, what's it like to watch your team play in the Grandaddy Of Them All? And since I know what it's like, I get all nostalgic and warm and fuzzy as I regale him with all the tales of that cloudy, chilly New Year's Day in Pasadena. And all he can do is nod and dream. A recent run for the Roses isn't a dream for Us. Nor is a new football stadium.
So even though most of the animosity this Big Game week is still coming from Raspberry Ravine, this year's Big Game once again boils down to Us… and Them. No wonder They gloat so much about having The Axe and the superior football team. When it comes to comparisons, it's about all They have.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
Big Game in December? Wow. Doesn't something just seem fundamentally wrong with that?
What a great moment for Oregon State kicker Alexis Serna, who booted the game-winner in the rain last week to beat the Ducks. Remember how his collegiate career started? After that day in Baton Rouge, few could have foreseen everything that's happened to him since. Is he the best kicker in recent Pac-10 history? I can't think of another one…
Yes, his in-game coaching decisions, his handling of quarterbacks, and his handling of some other off-the-field issues surrounding his team left a lot to be desired. But when I hear Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love say "we're looking for a higher platform," that tells me one thing: Dirk Koetter was fired mainly because he couldn't beat U$C and cal…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… I want to root for Michael Vick. I really do. I thought he had finally made The Leap a few weeks ago. But every time I think I'm in his corner for good, he just keeps giving me reasons not to root for him. Watching the Falcons lose to the Saints, I started thinking that maybe Vick wasn't the biggest reason for their losing streak. Atlanta's defense was awful, their running game and pass protection were non-existent, and their receivers couldn't catch fish in a barrel. So maybe you couldn't blame Michael Vick for the Falcons' problems. Then I heard Vick's postgame soundbites, in which he blamed his receivers and his offensive line, then suggested that "maybe" he could be doing some things better, too. Maybe. He had me until that one little word. And that one little word wouldn't have resonated with me so much if I hadn't heard him do the exact same thing with the exact same words after another loss a few weeks ago. Then I saw the footage of the face of the Falcons franchise flipping the bird to the fans as he was coming off the field. Inexcusable. I was behind Michael Vick for most of Sunday afternoon, but one little word and one middle finger changed everything. The sooner Michael Vick grows up and learns the true meaning of the word "accountability", and the sooner Falcons management and coaches stop apologizing for him and kow-towing to his every beck and call, the better off they'll all be. Looks like Jim Mora, Sr. was right after all…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… the last time Stanford fans saw BYU quarterback John Beck, he was stinking up the joint in a 2004 loss to the Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. What an incredible finish he put together in their win over Utah last week. Maybe one of the best plays of the season…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… think some college football scores are meaningless? Think again. If Michigan hadn't scored that "meaningless" touchdown against Ohio State in the closing moments of that game, they would have lost that game by eleven points instead of three. Without those "meaningless" eight points, no one is talking about a rematch. And without most of U$C's "meaningless" 50 points against a seemingly harmless Arkansas squad, the Trojans don't have the inside track on the other slot in the BCS title game…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… what a great story Wake Forest has been this year. And what a great fight song they have, too! For my money, the best fight song in college…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… sorry to keep piling on Michael Vick here, but let me ask you something… who is the better quarterback right now: Michael Vick or Vince Young? The Tennessee Titans don't have anywhere near the talent on offense that the Falcons do. I don't even think it's close. But they found a way to erase a 21-0 deficit with 10 minutes to go against a very good football team. Vince made big plays, and his teammates responded to him. Vick makes incredible plays, but even though he has more to work with than Vince, he sure doesn't seem to make his teammates better. Bottom line: right now, if I had to choose between Michael Vick and Vince Young, it's a no-brainer. I'm taking Vince…
U$C @ UCLA. A part of me wants to think that UCLA might actually hang in this game for much longer than they probably should. But in the end, with U$C's offense clicking on all cylinders, UCLA's defense won't have enough to hold them back for long. I like U$C by 19.
Last week: 1-1 (straight-up), 0-2 (ATS).
This year: 21-14 (straight-up), 17-18 (ATS).
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