By Jana Persky
In the week leading up to the annual football rivalry game between Stanford and Cal, campus takes on a spirited atmosphere with red fountains, “Beat Cal” banners decorating the sides of Meyer Library and the train whistle in White Plaza providing an hourly reminder that Big Game is coming.
The organization responsible for carrying out these traditions is the Stanford Axe Committee, a group of approximately 30 students that describes itself as the “custodians of Stanford spirit, tradition and revelry.” While the Axe Committee promotes school spirit at events throughout the year, Big Game week represents the group’s most significant effort.
“It is a lot of coordination but since most of the things we do during Big Game week are traditions, we kind of know what we’re doing,” explained Jenni Allison ’16, the Axe Committee director of campus outreach.
The Axe Committee kicked off the week leading up to the 116th Big Game with a rally held at Cobb Track and Angell Field that included fireworks, appearances by the football team and performances by student groups.
Axe Committee Chairman Daniel Kozlowski ’14 said that the Axe Committee decided to move the rally from Old Union to the track stadium for the 2012 rally and saw a marked increase in attendance. This year, Kozlowski said that while attendance was still strong, it was lower than expected, which he attributed to the colder temperature and the football team’s deflating loss to USC last weekend.
Many of the other components of Big Game week, such as the dyed fountains and collection of Beat Cal banners, are traditions with decades of history behind them. Though the look is similar, the banners hanging from Meyer Library this year are of higher quality than years past.
“We used to make them by hand, but this year we ordered them so it’s a little more fancy,” Allison said. “But essentially we keep most of our traditions the same; we just tweak things.”
Kozlowski noted that with Meyer Library tentatively scheduled to be demolished next year, the Axe Committee will have to find a new location to hang their banners.
“That’s going to be an interesting challenge going forward — we have a few ideas but I think it’s largely dependent on the facility,” Kozlowski said. “The only option I would say that is really as visible is Hoover Tower, but I don’t know how feasible putting [a banner] on Hoover Tower would be.”
The Axe Committee’s namesake responsibility — protecting the Axe — takes on additional importance during Big Game week.
Kozlowski said that the Axe is removed from its usual home in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center and taken to a secret location for safekeeping. He would not disclose where it was kept or how many people knew the current location.
Allison said that when the Axe is brought to various Big Game week events such as the rally or Gaieties, the Axe Committee takes special precautions to protect it.
“When we have it, we have to be physically chained to the Axe —they’ll wrap like a tie around your waist, so that if somebody wants to take the Axe they literally have to take like three Axe Comm members with them,” Allison explained.
Kozlowski said that this type of security is why no one has been able to steal the Axe since the Axe Committee in its current form was founded in 1983. Before that, the Axe was protected by a variety of organizations, which led to a series of thefts.
“We have not had anyone try to steal it from us in a very long time but [members of the Cal band] do come every year and we must assume that they are coming to attempt to steal it and thus we must protect it,” Allison said. “Even though they’ve never managed to get anywhere near the Axe — because that’s Cal and they can’t figure things out. “
As the week wraps to a close, the Axe Committee turns its focus to the actual Big Game, where the Axe can be won and lost in earnest.
“It’s a relationship between Cal and Stanford that has been going strong for the last 120 years,” Kozlowski said. “Even if we are rivals on the field, I think we really want to celebrate both our schools and each other.”
Contact Jana Persky at jpersky ‘at’ stanford.edu.