BERKELEY, CA–Twiddling around twitter on Friday, I stumbled across a vintage story on the Big Game: the 117-year rivalry between Cal and Stanford. The 1990 tale spun a yarn about how Cal students tricked Stanford into canceling its own Big Game bonfire.
It got me reminiscing on how I devised a devious scheme to fill up the bladders of every campus Cardinal by posting phony “Out of Order” signs on all of Stanford’s bathrooms the day before the Big Game of 1985.
We worked in teams of two. A pal and I enlisted a frat house to assist, and armed with hundreds of bumper stickers my collaborator’s father had printed for the occasion that read, “Major Plumbing Overhaul: Do Not Use, Acme Plumbing, Palo Alto, CA,” we mapped out every bathroom stall on campus and went to work.
We were finally outed late in the day by the secretary of the law school’s dean, who screamed: “They’re Cal kids!” But this occurred not before making hundreds of members of the student body writhe and wriggle. We made the news, getting interviewed by Live-105, and as we were being chased off campus, we saw dozens of “Acme Plumbing” vans screeching on campus (who knew?). I felt great satisfaction for having done my part to carry on a tradition that had lasted a century.
As my reverie faded back to the present, I checked the date and realized the Big Game was only hours away. I could drive through the night from L.A. and make it in time to wave blue and gold pom poms.
With the exuberance of Clark Griswald, I told my kids, “We’re going to the Big Game!” They cried, they grumbled, they pleaded that I was destroying their social lives. So I cried, I grumbled, and I pleaded they were destroying my joie de vivre, and we formed a détente.
Powered by two Venti dark roasts from Starbucks, I flew over the Grapevine, up the I-5, power-napped at the grandparents’s crib, and made our way into Berkeley for the 1 p.m. kickoff.
As we scalped three tickets from a kindly hustler, I stopped my kids at the gate and said: “Look, the Bears will always break your heart. As soon as you accept that fact, you’ll have a good time.”
It was a day like any other. The Bears had been on a Big Game losing streak. Their preppy archrivals had kept their Cardinal axe for the past four years. But there was hope in the air: Stanford, too, had sucked all year, and the Bears were on an upswing.
Armed with hope and churros, we made our way to the nosebleeds and started screaming for our team. And they did not disappoint. Because if you have no expectations, they simply can’t disappoint.
The Bears quickly revealed themselves to be the inferior team in nearly every way, which just made that torch in my heart burn a little bit brighter.
As halftime neared, my daughter screwed up her face and said, “Stanford’s band looks weird.”
I said, “As much as I hate Stanford, I flippin’ love that band.” And then I explained to her they’re the only marching band permanently banned from Disneyland and that kind of street cred doesn’t come lightly. As they proceeded to slop around the field spelling out incomprehensible words, led by a bandleader dressed like Elvis, circa “Viva Las Vegas,” my daughter, too, fell in love with the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band. As shirtless horn players in togas collided with drummers wearing mushroom hats, the pain of the Bears’s dismal score was somewhat eased. By the third quarter, Stanford led 31 to 7.
Visions of last year’s 63-13 flogging creeped into the collective conscience of the nearly 60,000 fans in the stadium.
Then, something amazing happened. The Bears began a stream of plays where they didn’t just suck. They sucked epically.
It was truly one for the history books; “Groundhog Day,” with a pigskin.
With only a couple minutes left in the third quarter, the Bears scored a touchdown. The crowd erupted with joy! Chants of “God Bless America” were heard throughout the crowd. It wasn’t going to be another embarrassing ass-whooping.
But a referee ran onto the field. There was a flag on the play, and the touchdown was overturned by referees after a replay review.
So what did the Bears do? They scored another touchdown! The crowd erupted with joy! “God Bless America,” was heard through the aisles.
But a referee walked onto the field. There was a flag on the play, and the Bears got hit with a 15-yard penalty.
So now it was 3rd down at the 16 yard line. And the Bears scored another touchdown! The crowd erupted with joy! “God Bless…” Wait, what?
There was a flag on the play, and the Bears got hit with a five-yard penalty.
So after scoring three bizarro touchdowns, it was now 4th and 21, and these Bad News Bears kicked a field goal bringing the score to 31-10 and making it clear this Big Game was playing out as Cal vs the Referees, with the Cardinal riding shotgun.
My kids were ecstatic to bear witness to such legendary folly. They could say they’d witnessed the Bears snatch defeat from the jaws of defeat in epic style.
We were down by 28 points in the fourth quarter, and I racked my brain for a 29-point play, but I had nothing.
We got our icing on the cake with a final turnover in the last seconds, placing the Cardinal in their end zone. But in a rare act of benevolence, Stanford chose to let the time run out rather than opting for another touchdown, leaving the final tally at 38-17.
“Well kids,” I said. “That was a great game.” And I meant it.
They agreed. Not every team can make three touchdowns equal zero. That takes skill.
As I walked down the “Drug Free Zone” of Telegraph Ave., the aroma of pot heavy in the air, I thought, “Oh well, we’ll take ’em next year.” Well, probably not, but a girl can dream.
Photo credit: GoStanford.com