My First Big Game
November, 1962. The quiet roars we'd been hearing for weeks were the echoes of a national sigh of relief. Khrushchev and Castro were dismantling the Soviet missiles in Cuba ("Cuber", in the parlance of President Kennedy). Keeping some of the parts in Havana to slap onto old Studebakers, and sending the rest back to Moscow to use for spare parts on stoves and refrigerators. And a maybe a few Volgas. That was a Russian car. Sort of.
But the only roars I was hearing at the time had nothing to do with something as irrelevant and abstract as nuclear friggin' war; they were the ones I was imagining after Stanford scored some touchdowns in the upcoming Big Game.
The Big Game, 1962! I couldn't believe I was really going to be there.
November 23. Hell, it was my first time in Memorial Stadium, so can you blame me for being a little nervous? My job that day: friggin' usher. I was being asked to guide total strangers to their seats in a section above the five-yard line, west side, north endzone. I mean, there I was, a skinny, know-nothing sophomore from Armijo High School in Fairfield, a Solano County town in the heart of "Bear Territory". And there I was that morning. In the belly of Oskie.
Our high school was a blue zone. Half the faculty graduated from Berkeley or Davis. Bob Briggs, Armijo band director, would return to his alma mater five years later to lead the Cal band and eventually become legendary director of the Weenie outfit. Fairfield and Cal had a spiritual connection at the time that makes today's "San Francisco" and "Democrat" seem tenuous by comparison.
I hated Cal. I hated most of my teachers, too, especially during Big Game week because they taunted me mercilessly. All because I was a vociferous, annoying Stanford fan who barked at them every chance I got, really obnoxiously, reminding them that our own high-school mascot was a freakin' Indian, that their coach, Marv Levy, would likely be fired after the game, and that Iowa had obliterated their overblown hero Joe Kapp in their last Rose Bowl appearance ('59).
Not only that, I "guaranteed" a Stanford victory in the upcoming Big Game. And I made bets with a few of them. For real money.
So here was the deal: at every Cal game, certain guys on the Armijo football team had the chance to be Memorial Stadium ushers. Our athletic director (and driver-education czar, Ed Hopkins, was an Old Blue (of course) and wrote checks to his alma mater. See how long ago this was? A high-school coach/drivers-ed guy could write that kind of a check.
We got to the stadium early. About 10:30AM. We were the first ones through the gates because we had to undergo much-needed orientation training, such as learning where the restrooms were located and how the rows were lettered and seats numbered. Not too complicated. The toilets, by the way, were as dilapidated then as they are today. Just seemed like there were more of them. But I digress.
Okay, now the people started wandering in. Lucky for me, I had no one to escort. And I hesitated to make eye contact. God, what a slacker. But so what? It was a Cal section and everybody seemed to know where were going. One thing that sticks in my memory: attire. Men in sportcoats and slacks, many in shirt and tie, were the norm. Ladies in heels, some in hats, yellow chrysanthemums everywhere. And the aroma of cigar smoke - a different epoch, for sure. Mad Men gets is absolutely right.
Suddenly, the teams entered for warm-ups. The Cal student section roared when the Bears appeared. Clunky blue helmets, and navy blue jerseys with a bunch of yellow stripes up the sleeves like old-school rugby shirts. Gold pants, no stripes. High-top black cleats. Good quarterback, Craig Morton. A few minutes later, enter the Tribe. Boos shook the building. I loved it! I saw my heroes in the flesh for the first time! Glistening white helmets, no stripes or ornamentation any kind. Made them look like astronauts. White jerseys, red pants, white socks to mid-shin, black shoes. Mostly low-tops. The QB was Steve Thurlow, who would go on to play for the New Yawk football Giants. He mainly ran. The fullback, Ed Cummings, also played linebacker on defense. It was the last year of two-way players. Backup quarterback was a guy named Clark Weaver who maybe weighed 175 pounds. He would be the star that day, in the second half, and turn a dull 13-3 deficit into a sparkling 30-13 Indian win. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Okay, so out of the south tunnel comes the Stanford Band, looking and sounding absolutely nothing at all like today's Incomparables. Still, the contrast to the Michigan-like Weenie Band was stark and dramatic. The Weenies in white leggings and tunics, the all-male Stanfords in red blazers, white turtlenecks, and oxford gray flannels. The dollies, adorned with red feathers in their Indian-bead headbands, completed the picture. And to my adolescent eyes, they were beautiful. Especially the daughter of legendary Stanford QB Frank Albert. More on her, later.
Minutes later, from the north tunnel, the marching weenies high-stepped onto the turf. Sounding and looking exactly like their descendants today.
Kickoff. Morton's Bears dominate. It's 13-3 at the half and it wasn't that close. Maybe Marv Levy will keep his job. Maybe I'll have to return to Fairfield, and Monday classes, with my pride in tatters, paying off those bets with money I didn't have. God, spare me from this fate.
The Indians received the second half kickoff and out on the field jogs Weaver. Might Coach Cactus Jack Curtice have something up his sportcoat sleeve? Weaver went right to work, completing passes left and right. He then went to the old razzle-dazzle, tossing a wide lateral to halfback Chris Jessen who found sophomore Bob Howard in the endzone for a touchdown! South end of Memorial Stadium erupted and so did I to the chagrin of those around me. Punk.
It was downhill from that point for Levy's Bears. His fate, and Cal's, were sealed. Stanford kept the axe. Post game, everyone was on the very muddy turf of Memorial Stadium and it was a very amicable scene. My usher brothers and I, like heat-seeking missiles, went straight for the Dollies. We just wanted a closer, uh, look. I can still see their legs, sneakers (no boots yet). No panty shots, however. As the band and the Dollies headed off, Scott Chalmers, one of my close buds, reached out and swiped Ms. Albert's feather. She gave brief chase. Scotty melted into the crowd. Punk!
On the ride back to Fairfield that evening, in the back of the station wagon, Chalmers passed around his trophy feather. It smelled like perfume. Lucky bastard.
On Monday, I strutted around the halls and classrooms, not exactly endearing myself to our Cal alum faculty, gloating and preening, ostentatiously collecting bets. Levy got fired, but so did Curtice. I just wished I had that feather.
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