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From fan to field: Growing up with the Big Game

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In 1990, then-redshirt freshman wide receiver David Shaw ’94 stood on the sidelines as Stanford enacted its revenge for The Play, pulling out an improbable Big Game win. Stanford stole the game with a late touchdown, a failed two-point conversion, fans storming the field, a penalty, an onside kick, a roughing-the-passer call and a game-winning field goal.

The memory sits uniquely in the mind of Shaw, now the head coach of Stanford seeking to protect his perfect record in nine games against Cal.

“I have never been part of a game like that, especially when you look at it as a rivalry game,” Shaw said. “Both teams played their hearts out and it came down to the last second. That’s a game I can still just think about it and feel that energy and emotion.”

The next year, No. 21 Stanford shocked sixth-ranked Cal in front of 86,019 people in Stanford Stadium. But it’s possible no one was as shocked as Teresa Richardson that day. 

A plane flew over Stanford Stadium that read, “Teresa, will you marry me — Kevin. Beat Cal.”

Kevin Richardson, a Stanford linebacker from 1984-89, pointed the plane out to the former Stanford All-American volleyball player he was with. As he tells it, the situation failed to hit her for a few moments. 

Once the Stanford Hall of Famer realized that she was the eponymous Teresa, Kevin pulled out the ring, on the spot.  

“And they got married,” now-senior quarterback Jack Richardson said. 

With Cardinal-tinted blood, it is no surprise that Richardson followed the team closely growing up. He chose to attend the University and play on the football team as a walk on, being put on scholarship after spring practice his sophomore year.

“I’ve been going to Stanford games my whole life,” Richardson said. “I have a picture of myself in front of the Axe when I was just four years old here in Chuck Taylor Grove.”

Richardson is one of a few Stanford players who grew up with the rivalry. While 70 players on the Cal roster are from California, only 30 from Stanford call the Golden State home.

“We’re not just a regional recruiting team,” said offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard ’09. “We get guys from all over the place, so they didn’t necessarily grow up around this rivalry.”

“Even if you don’t know much about this rivalry, when you get there on game day, you’re going to feel that energy,” Shaw said. “We got to use that energy in a constructive positive way.”

“Some of our freshmen get it,” Shaw added. “West Coast kids get an idea that this is a different game. We need to prepare as well as we can on the X’s and O’s side, and at the same time to be able to play with emotion, but not let the emotions rule us.”

Ryan Beecher, a fifth-year inside linebacker who came into the season buried on the depth chart, is one of those players that has always gotten it. A native of Fresno, California, Beecher grew up watching Stanford Football. His mother, Julie Ryan Beecher ’85, and aunt, Katie Ryan ’90, both graduated from Stanford. Two years before him, his sister Annabelle ’17 added to the legacy of Stanford graduates. 

“It’s just a rivalry that’s been ingrained in me for a long time,” Beecher said. “It means a lot to everybody involved.”

Last year was Beecher’s favorite Big Game memory. He recorded a tackle, but more special than that, Stanford’s punter, now-New England Patriot Jake Bailey ’19 called Beecher over before the end of the game. 

“Beech, come with me,” Bailey said. “We’re going to be the ones to grab the Axe from the Axe Committee.”

So, after the final whistle, Bailey and Beecher ran out onto the field at Memorial Stadium with the Axe. 

Another inside linebacker pushed into action due to injuries has been freshman Tristan Sinclair. Like Beecher, Sinclair has family ties to Stanford and grew up in the Bay Area, attending San Ramon Valley High School. Unlike Beecher, Sinclair’s house has some blue and gold. 

“Growing up in a house with a family divided — my mom went to Cal, my dad went to Stanford, and my sister actually ended up going to Cal, too — [the Big Game is] a big deal,” Sinclair said. “As a kid growing up, I went to every single one.”

When the Big Game was in Berkeley, Sinclair would watch with his mom’s parents, who had Cal season tickets. That didn’t stop Sinclair from telling Richard Sherman ’10 after a game that it was his dream to play at Stanford. 

Although Sinclair’s sister will be cheering for her alma mater, his mother is planning to switch allegiances. 

“She wants us to win,” Sinclair said. “She said it tears her apart but she wants us to win.”

Shaw brings his own kids to the games, both the ones on the Farm as well as the ones up in Memorial Stadium. 

“They’ve been a part of it now for a while and they know the difference,” Shaw said. “Even my nine year-old, he knows the difference when it’s Cal. There’s a lot of things said in the stands that a nine year-old probably shouldn’t hear.”

For freshman running back Austin Jones, who was a middle school transplant to the Bay Area, the Big Game is not something he grew up with. At Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, however, the fondness for Cal was not hidden. 

“A lot of teachers at my high school went to Cal,” Jones said. “Everybody was like Cal, Cal, Cal when I was over there.”

Jones’ best friend and high school teammate, cornerback Tarik Glenn Jr., now plays for Cal. Jones has also been texting back and forth with Makai Polk, a wide receiver from Richmond now suiting up for the Bears.

“I think we have all of our mini rivalries in between us, especially with me,” Jones said. “It’s a more personal week, especially with the whole streak.” 

“We want to make sure our seniors go out winning this game,” Jones added.

The seniors are one win away from an unblemished record against the Golden Bears. 

“It’s really special to live out that dream I’ve had my whole life, being at Stanford going on my fourth Big Game now,” Richardson said. “I know myself and the senior class are really excited to get another dub and keep the Axe where it remains.”

Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Daniel Martinez-Krams '22 is a desk editor in the sports section. He is originally from Berkeley, California. Contact him at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.