This year, rather than some simple patsy setting up game one for an easy Cal victory, the 12th-ranked Golden Bears were tasked with taking on the 15th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers, who had spanked Cal last year 35-18 in week one, in a contest that was even more wide open than the final score indicated. This year, the team didn't fade, but responded in a big way, scoring in the opening minutes, never trailing, and walking away victorious by a 45-31 margin.
The Scene on the Field After the Big Win
The game, nationally televised on ABC, started at 5 p.m. Pacific, and didn't end until after 9 o'clock, after accounting for 76 points of offense, and nearly as many TV timeouts. But the nearly 73,000 of us there to root on the Bears and the Volunteers didn't mind the game's length, or even the ridiculous lines to get food and drink amid the human throng. (For a good example, getting two $5 Diet Cokes took me from 3 minutes before half-time, through half-time and five minutes into the third quarter)
With last year's game fresh in our minds, combined with national comments questioning the Pac-10 conference's toughness, yesterday's contest was more than a game - it was time for revenge, to represent the conference, the school and the program. This was a time to let those from ESPN to the SEC to know Berkeley isn't just a town for washed-up hippies and well-meaning tree-huggers, but a team to be reckoned with.
After the Bears elected to kick off, Tennessee's quarterback was rocked by a sack, forcing a fumble into the hands of a Cal defender, who ran 44 yards for the early score. After some more back and forth drives, Cal Heisman hopeful DeSean Jackson returned a punt an electrifying 77 yards to make the game 21-14. The amazing thing about his return was not just his shaking and jiving away from defenders, but that he did it even with the entire stadium expecting him to, as the Cal student section and Young Alumni yelled "DeSean Jackson!!!! DeSean Jackson!!!!" when he took the field.
Cal went to the locker room at halftime up 10, leading 31-21, having scored by way of defense, special teams, and offense (three times) by the end of the second quarter, giving the cannon (a Cal tradition after every Bears' score) plenty of work.
As the third quarter began, Cal received, and took their first drive back to the end zone, opening up a 17-point lead at 38-21. While Tennessee managed to pull within 7, at 38-31 later on, they could get no closer, as Cal added on one more touchdown, and wound down the clock as the capacity crowd went crazy deep into the night in Berkeley.
Four hours of football nearly erased a year's worth of bad memories and frustration, and has the Bay Area buzzing again about these Cal Bears and what they could do this year - as many are already looking ahead to the team's match with USC later this year as a game that could have more than the Pac-10 conference title on the line. Regardless, we will be back in our seats, working hard to lose our voice, and cheering on the Bears.
(Additional Recaps: Narduzzi Nation, The Band Is Out on the Field, Yahoo! Sports)