Cal Game Day diary

Seven weeks ago, I delivered a gameday report on USC's Pac-10 opener against the Oregon Ducks. To see the contrast between our Trojans from that point of the season to now is incredible, and it becomes more obvious with each passing game that this is truly a team of destiny.

Back in late September in Eugene, teams like the Ducks went in believing they had a fair shot at defeating our Trojans. Then, we heard plenty of trash talk from fans as well as the deafening roar of the crowd when they grabbed the early lead was indicative of the tough road USC had in their quest for a third straight national championship.

As we rolled into Berkeley, there seemed to be a palpable sense of inevitability. Other than some Cal students took their time walking in front of us on the street, not a single protest, even when we signal our arrival by blaring "Conquest" from our stereo speakers.

I figured it would be a good day as I saw plenty of Trojan fans decked out in Cardinal-and-Gold. We made the long trudge up the hill for the pep rally and the game, and found the greek theatre beginning to fill with the Trojan faithful.

A couple of So Cal Spellouts alleviated our wait as the band?s arrival was continuously delayed. Finally, less than an hour before kickoff, we could hear the drum roll of the Spirit of Troy marching in. This time, we enjoyed the vigorous (albeit brief) performance of Dr. Bartner?s charges with one of Tom?s friends, a longtime veteran of the Trojan Marching Band who gave us special insight into the band?s rituals, as well as the TMB-customized lyrics to some of the songs (which are not suitable to be printed).

Making our way to California Memorial Stadium, it resembles the LA Coliseum only in the basic shape and architecture. But the similarity ends there, as the charm of the old Gray Lady simply cannot be compared. There is very little room to move about as concession lines spill into the pathways; it?s obvious that this stadium needs to be heavily remodeled or demolished!

We make our way to benches that stand for our seats. Fortunately, we are right on the aisle, and are surrounded by fellow members of the Trojan family. In fact, we are in one of four distinct sections of Cardinal-and-Gold at regular intervals in the stadium. Compared to the small sliver of USC fans jammed into Autzen Stadium, we feel downright at home.

In fact, I know we have them from the moment the Cal band takes the field, and their drum major stumbles and loses his baton. It's a sigh of relief considering the closeness of the Bear games ever since Jeff Tedford took over.

Sure enough, Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob plays right into our defense's hands, as Darnell Bing picks off a pass on their first possession. Nine plays later, LenDale White is in for the touchdown. Cal comes back to our end of the field and scores a field goal, and I wonder if they are going to stay with us.

The teams trade punts and as USC drives down to the goal line, Matt Leinart shows us his seldom-used wheels as he takes the ball in for a six-yard touchdown run. With the team piling up first downs, the TMB strikes up Fight On! to the grumbling of the Cal student section.

Leinart scores yet again and we're up 21-3. This is set up by Chris McFoy's end-around. I break out my No. 82 practice jersey and cheer for Chris to get his first TD of the season and his career. But as our defense picks off Ayoob twice more, I can't help but hear grumbling from our section about playcalling. One fan was incensed that Reggie Bush would allow a punt to roll out of bounds. I try to reassure him to respect No. 5's decision-making ability.

All in all, the game feels like a day at the office. I keep track in my head three numbers; 34, 87, and 229. 34 as in the number of yards Dwayne Jarrett needs to break 1,000 for the season, 87 for LenDale White to join Bush in surpassing 1,000, and 229 for Leinart to get his third straight 3,000-yard season. All three are accomplished by the late fourth quarter, an exclamation point on our statement as an offensive juggernaut. I point out to friends that Leinart is probably the only quarterback in conference history to win games at all 10 Pac-10 stadiums.

Cal fans have muted respect, and their biggest cheers come in the fourth, when Ayoob is benched after his fourth interception, this time at the hands of Ryan Ting! Most of them are headed for the exit as the clock winds down. But the Trojan fans stayed in sizable numbers, so much so that there were more USC fans watching the TMB's postgame encore than there were Cal fans watching their own band.

Making our way through the dank corridors, we see fans and autograph hunters awaiting the team to emerge from the locker room. Tom gets the opportunity to get an autograph from AD Mike Garrett, who gladly obliges. Another prized signature comes from fullback David Kirtman, who signs a pic of him chest-bumping Steve Smith at the Orange Bowl (Smith had already signed it back at the Oregon game). I asked Kirtman how it felt to carry the ball as a tailback toward the end of the game, and he said emphatically, "I LOVE IT!!!"

Once again, a great pleasure to watch this team for the ages in action. Two more to Pasadena, I'M IN!!!


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