Friday, October 05, 2007

The California Golden Bears, The #3 Ranked Team In The Nation

I haven't written about the Golden Bears since the big win over Oregon, and with a bye on Saturday, now seems like a good time to bask in the glow of a #3 ranking in the national polls.

It’s hard to put into words how amazing this seems to me. For years, the measure of a successful Cal football season was whether the Bears defeated the Stanford Cardinal. First year I was at Cal, in 1980, our record was 3-8. But with an upset victory over Stanford that kept them out a bowl game (and handed John Elway another defeat, something he suffered three times in four outings against Cal), we considered that season a great success.

Sure, there have been some ups – the Bruce Snyder years were very good, with consecutive bowl games, a Top 10 finish, even a New Year’s Day bowl game. But Snyder’s teams never managed to beat Stanford, and it was only after he moved over to Arizona State that he was able to steer a team (the one led by Jake Plummer) to the Rose Bowl. Other than that, it was one disaster after another: Joe Kapp, great guy, great Bear, great fan…but lousy, lousy coach. Keith Gilbertson, also a good guy, but one of those coaches whose destiny is to be a coordinator – not a head coach. One promising year of Steve Mariucci before the 49ers snapped him up, followed by five disastrous years of Tom Holmoe, again a good guy but one who consistently led his teams to underachieving seasons. It got so bad in 2001 that Cal managed to squeak out its one win only by virtue of the fact that they decided to play a make-up game (one that had been postponed after 9/11) against equally awful Rutgers, a game that most fans just wished would be cancelled.

And then came the messiah, in the form of Jeff Tedford. It’s been all good since then, and it started with the very first play of scrimmage – a trick-play 75 yard touchdown against Baylor. Since then: bowl games every season except the first (when the Bears were on probation), Top Ten rankings, national television, Heisman contenders. And most importantly, five consecutive wins over Stanford, the first time in the history of the rivalry that the Bears have been able to pull that off.

And now, #3. If the Bears win out, they will be in the BCS Championship Game, a feat that would have seemed literally impossible just a few short years ago. The road won’t be easy – this year, every team in the Pac-10 (even Stanford) looks competitive, and some of them are better than that – the two-game road stretch against UCLA and Arizona State will be tough; the Washington game on the road looks like a classic trap game; and of course there’s the matter of the nation’s #2 team, the USC Trojans. But, one can dream.

This week, receiver DeSean Jackson is featured in Sports Illustrated, where he is called “the most feared gamebreaker in the nation.” After a couple of mediocre outings, Jackson played a key role in Cal’s critical win over Oregon, and if he can make the most of his upcoming national TV spotlights, may play himself back into the Heisman picture. Best of all, the article comes on the Bears’ bye week, meaning the dreaded SI curse can’t have an impact.

During the game on Saturday, I was at the meeting of the Board of Directors for the association where I work, and it was just as well – I might have had a stroke otherwise. We were monitoring the game via wireless Internet, but just as things got really interesting in the 4th quarter, there was a presentation for me to give – which allowed me to kick off with a good laugh line, saying that I was less nervous about the item I was about to deliver than I was about the outcome of the Cal-Oregon game.

So far, 2007 has been so good. Roll on, you Bears!

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