This year will mark the 123rd Big Game between Stanford and Cal. The game dates back to 1892 when the Cardinal defeated the Bears in a 14-10 victory in San Francisco. The Axe Yell, which came before The Axe trophy, was introduced by yell leaders. In 1846, yell leader Billy Erb (class of 1901) crafted The Axe trophy. Last year in 2019, the Cardinal fell short of a 10-year winning streak as the Bears stole The Axe. Stanford alumni share their memories of Big Game week and what Big Game means to them.
Big Game week on campus is a magical time. One of the week’s traditions includes the red fountains across campus. Pedro Gonzalez ’11 shares that he was a bit confused when we first saw the red fountains and thought there was an issue with the water system. Gonzalez has always watched Big Game, whether it’s from home or in-person. “We have some friendly competition and trash-talking in our family text thread the week of Big Game,” said Gonzalez, whose in-laws are both Cal alums. He is planning on watching this year’s game through a virtual viewing party with some friends.
As time goes on, some traditions die and new ones are born. Kent Smith ’88 surmised that Big Game is not as big a deal as it used to be, pointing to the fact that there is no longer a bonfire. Previously, the Stanford Axe Committee held the Big Game Bonfire at Lake Lagunita. The Axe Committee voluntarily discontinued the bonfires in 1994 as a study later determined that the bonfires posed a threat to the California tiger salamander.
Smith remembered that he once caught a mouse that was painted blue and gold in Meyer Library and presumed that it was dumped in the library by someone from Cal. He has personally attended every Big Game since his frosh year in 1984 — this year’s game would have marked his 36th year in a row of attending the game. “I remember lots of excitement that week, building day by day,” Smith wrote in an email to The Daily. One of his memories includes helping build a large Stanford helmet with his fraternity, which was then placed on the Father Serra statue on Highway 280. This made local and national news.
Asked what he would like current students to know about participating in Big Game festivities, Smith wrote, “I would suggest that students lean into the tradition, the spirit and the history behind this rivalry. Finally, get in the stadium early on game day (no late arrivals!) and cheer the Cardinal on to victory. We must win the Axe back!”
Thomas Maravilla ’75 spoke of how much fun he had during Big Game week as a student, including when his fraternity traveled to Berkeley’s stadium to paint “BEAT CAL” on the field.
As an alum, Maravilla has had Stanford football season tickets for over 30 years. He has a tailgate set-up each year for football season. Maravilla said that he enjoys the opportunity to relax under the oak trees at Stanford Stadium and to catch up with friends at his tailgates, which he has held for the past 20 years. “Campus is a very special place. Make your own memories there,” wrote Maravilla.
Gonzalez shared a similar sentiment: “It will always be an event that brings people together.”
Thank you to Pedro Gonzalez ’11, Thomas Maravilla ’75, and Kent Smith ’88 for sharing their Big Game memories.