If I think back to Cal's one-time eight game winning streak, and a lofty top-ten national ranking, I have to only shake my head at how shakily the team, once discussed as a potential candidate for the national championship, finished the end of the season. After blowing out those schools they were supposed to in the first half of the year, Cal struggled to beat Washington in overtime at home, lost in ridiculous fashion to Arizona, and couldn't finish off USC in Los Angeles. Today, though the team came away with a win, 26-17 over Stanford, in the 109th Big Game, it seemed we were more often holding our head in our hands and groaning after Cal plays, than we did cheering, as the team made inexplicable plays, saw too many dropped passes and played ragged against a woeful team they should have demolished.
And look what a college football snob I've become.
The Cal Bears, combined with USC's 13-9 loss at UCLA today, tied for the Pac-10 conference championship (though the first tiebreaker is obviously their loss to the Trojans), sported a 9-3 regular season record, and went undefeated in all 7 home contests this year, six of which we saw. Before tomorrow's polls come out, Cal is currently ranked #21 in the country, a far cry from recent years, where the struggle was to see if they could win more than a handful of games. And now the team has won 5 Big Games in a row versus the hated Stanford Cardinal, and we have been present for the last three.
But all those great things seemed to pale when we saw Cal do battle today at Memorial Stadium. With the wind whipping through the bleachers, Stanford owned the time of possession seemingly from the game's onset, marching down the field the first eight minutes of the quarter. That they stupidly chose to "go for it" and fall short on fourth down meant Cal had dodged a bullet. Yet, even with that gift, Cal went to halftime with only a 13-10 lead, on the back of a fumble recovery for a touchdown by the team's defense. For those scoring at home, at the time it was Cal Defense, 7, Cal Offense, 6. Against Stanford, who came into the contest with a 1-10 record, and left 1-11, we should have been a lot closer to dominant than dormant, and the fans let the team know it, as you could hear scattered boos (including mine) as the team trudged to the locker room at halftime.
As Stanford continued to keep the game close, Cal led 23-17 into the 4th quarter, and we could just sense what always happens in the Big Game - the underdog would somehow sneak ahead. I would have bet even money that in minutes, it would be 24-23, Cardinal. I started getting e-mails on my Blackberry from colleagues, asking if Cal would actually lose this game. From the stands, I typed back, "They suck right now, but I wouldn't trade places with Stanford."
Stanford of course failed to score. Thank goodness. Later, in the 4th quarter, Cal hit a field goal to extend the margin to 9 points, or two possessions, and ran down the clock, until finally, the scoreboard read 0:00, and we had won. Though we had bitten our nails, and cursed out the squad, they had managed to play just well enough not to lose, and they kept the freakin' axe. That's all that really matters.
Now, at least for us, the Cal season is basically over. They play Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on December 28th, and barring a change of heart and/or miracle, we're not going. So Bears, thanks for a great season. Though you didn't make banner headlines across the nation, you did well, never losing at home, and setting a school attendance record. We were happy to help.
Listening to ''Eastway'', by Inner & Outer (Play Count: 2)