I am big on Big Game traditions. Every year, I exclusively wear Stanford shirts the week before the game; every year, I embark on a misguided quest to teach everyone I know the lyrics to “The Dirty Golden Bear”; every year, I visit the Axe one last time, just in case.
But my favorite tradition only takes place every two years.
For the last seven road Big Games, my dad and I have hopped on BART at Union City for the ride to Berkeley. Station by station, the trains are colored red — a deep cardinal mind you, not the fountain fuchsia currently planted between Hoover Tower and MemAud. We all playfully ignore the blue and gold speckled in our midst. We’re a tense brotherhood in this calm before the storm; we chatter of 1982 and 1990, Oski and the Tree, last-minute injuries and last-minute field goals.
Once we’re off the train, this pseudo-pack hikes uphill to the game, ready for the chance to embarrass the Bears their home turf, to watch the disgust on Cal fans’ faces as they stream out of Memorial Stadium in the third quarter.
Of course, it doesn’t always go that way. Stanford football’s recent road woes are shared by yours truly; my 7-7 Big Game record includes an unacceptable 3-4 clip at Memorial Stadium. But those three wins are perhaps my three most distinct football memories, even though two, both of them close games, bookended losing seasons and the third, a blowout, was hardly an unexpected triumph.
The 1998 Big Game is the first sporting event that I remember attending. We won, and even five-year-old Joey knew that meant that all was right in the world. (As Stanford was making its Rose Bowl run the next season, I astutely asked, “Daddy, weren’t we really good last year too?” We had gone 3-8.)
Fast-forward to 2000, and we were again sitting in the corner of the endzone, this time with a classic on our hands. The Card had blocked two punts and scored one of the best touchdowns I have seen to this day — Luke Powell faked like he was going out of bounds to avoid tacklers, only to tiptoe 75 yards further down the sideline for the score — but regulation ended with the score knotted at 30.
I didn’t quite understand the overtime procedure, but at that point it was just four years old in college football so most other fans weren’t used to it either. Cal took the field first, stalled and kicked a field goal — wide! — only to have the play called back on a false start. I can’t remember another penalty called against the other team that I’ve been upset about.
The Bears, of course, missed their second attempt, meaning a Stanford score would spell sudden victory. The Bears, of course, expected conservative play calling from Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham. The Cardinal, of course, called play-action on second down, and Randy Fasani found Casey Moore open a few area codes behind the Cal defense for the touchdown.
That would become the most reenacted play in the history of the Beyda backyard, and the first of many Stanford play-actions that I have had occasion to cheer for. But more importantly, for that one moment on Nov. 18, 2000, a downcast Memorial Stadium was overpowered by a little sliver of euphoria: ours.
All good things must come to an end, however, and our next trip to Berkeley saw the Cardinal’s seven-year Big Game streak — the longest in the series history — snapped in convincing fashion. It would be 10 more years before Stanford won across the Bay.
And that win would resoundingly make up for those 10 years. The 2010 blowout was such an emotional high, most of us were laughing with joy when Stanford took a 31-0 first-half lead. Andrew Luck leveling a Bears defender on a 58-yard run was the perfect tonic for nearly a decade of suffering through losing seasons.
We may have waved the Cal fans out of their own stadium that day, but who knows what to expect tomorrow afternoon. Last year’s three-point escape proves that better than anything, and Stanford is only favored by a few points this year. Big Game always can — and likely will, at different points Saturday — go either way.
But it’s worth the risk, worth the price for student tickets. There’s no better feeling than beating Cal, at Cal. If you’re lucky, you get to do it every two years, and no, TV doesn’t count.
I don’t care what it takes; pay the $65, scalp tickets at the gate, steal them from a friend that goes to Berkeley (having such a friend is already a punishable offense). Get to the game tomorrow, and most importantly, beat Cal!
Joseph Beyda is just as astute today as he was 14 years ago, recently telling anyone who would listen that Stepfan Taylor did not get into the end zone last week. Email him the photographic evidence at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu or follow him on Twitter @DailyJBeyda.