By Inyoung Choi
It’s 3 a.m. and a crowd of students bustle with energy under the “bird cage” in White Plaza. They await Om Jahagirdar’s ’23 whistle.
Short. Short. Long.
Three blows on the train whistle, and Jahagirdar declares to the dark, “There are now 106 hours until Big Game.”
From inside the tent, a crowd of nearly two dozen students look up from their computer screens and collectively chant: “BEAT CAL.”
Welcome to literally the middle of the first night at the Axe Committee’s annual Big Game campout.
Inside their alcove, students wearing sweatshirts and windbreakers with the Axe logo snuggle beneath sleeping bags and layers of clothes. Remnants of devoured bags of Sour Patch Kids and Trolli gummy worms are scattered on the center table.
It’s clear from the food stash that a long journey is ahead. Adjacent to the microwave and fridge lay boxes of caffeinated sodas, energy drinks, bagels, cookies and an assortment of fruits awaiting demands for sustenance.
Some members are chatting and laughing while others are deep in papers or problems sets. They sit with a view of the Claw, where the Stanford Band holds its annual bear-ial of Cal’s mascot, Oski the Bear. The teddy bear hangs from the top of the fountain, which bleeds red.
“I think that the best part about the Big Game is the tradition,” said Alex Hou ’21, the financial officer of the student-run Axe Committee. Hou had been on-site since the very beginning at 11 a.m. on Monday with just a short 90-minute break for class.
“Everything about Big Game week is just awesome,” he said. “From bear-ial to [lighting] Hoover [Tower] red [and hanging] up a “Beat Cal” sign.”
“We hype up the crowd, and we hype up campus,” he added. “When we actually go to Big Game, it’s just great being on the field and feeling the atmosphere around.”
The Axe became the physical manifestation of Stanford and Cal’s long-time rivalry when Stanford Yell leaders first used the symbolic beacon in 1899. Since then, the Axe has been through a notoriously tumultuous journey. Students from both schools have carried out a series of thefts for the sacred Axe. The most recent theft occurred in 1973, when a trio of Stanford students, dubbed “The Infamous Three,” pulled off the heist, the eighth to date.
Since then, Stanford has protected the Axe with high levels of security. The Axe rests safely on display in the Stanford Athletics Home of Champions until shortly before Big Game, when it is guarded with extra caution at an “undisclosed location.”
“It is very, very safe right now,” Hou assured early Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, the AxeComm camps out in White Plaza for the same number of hours as the number of Big Games held so far. With the 122nd Big Game set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, the AxeComm ritual began 122 hours in advance at 11 a.m. on Monday.
“To have people out here for a week, that’s a lot of opportunities to talk to each other and get closer,” Jake Wilson ’22 said.
Every AxeComm member takes at least five three-hour shifts in the “Birdcage,” and the club is commonly joined by spirited students outside of the club.
“It’s a good way to get a sense of community,” Conor Rokos ’22 said. Rokos is responsible for taking charge of the committee’s week-long events leading up to the Big Game.
“It’s been really fun to get to know people and [hang] out with people late at night,” said Sydney Nagy ’23 of her first year celebrating the Big Game tradition.
Stanford leads the cross-bay rivalry 64-46-11 and will vie for its 10th-straight win on Saturday. Stanford also leads in Axe-stealing, with a 4-3-1 record. Once the game begins, members of AxeComm will take turns tying their body to the Axe. With two minutes remaining in the game, AxeComm and the UC Rally Committee partake in what is known as “The Stare Down.” At the conclusion of the game, the winner of the Big Game will take home the Axe until the next year.