At 5-5 fading Stanford is, inexplicably, 6-point favorites Saturday at Memorial Stadium against the 5-5 rebuilding Bears. Stanford hasn’t missed a BCS bowl in the last half decade, Cal hasn’t been in possession of The Axe during that run.
Saturday, things change.
Change, in fact, has already come. Last year, the Bears at 1-10 were losers of nine in a row going into the Big Game. They faced a 9-2 Cardinal that went on to roll the Bears 63-13, represent the Pac 12 in the Rose Bowl and be upset by Michigan State. The upsets haven’t really stopped since then as the Cardinal has managed close losses to USC, Notre Dame and Utah and a pair of blowouts at the hands of Arizona State and Oregon. With the exception of Army and Oregon State, they’ve failed to cover.
Last year, I gave 32(.5)* reasons Cal would beat the 32.5-point spread against Stanford.
I was wrong.
This year, I’m doubling down with six reasons for Cal to cover …and win (yes, take the moneyline).
So here you go:
6) Besides the early ’60s, Cal has never been five years without the Axe: In 1899, Stanford yell leader Billy Erb used the Stanford Axe at a baseball game between Cal and Stanford. Shortly after, Cal stole the Axe and put it in a bank vault for three decades. On April 3, 1930, The Immortal Twenty-One, a group of Stanford students whose names nobody can remember, stole the Stanford Axe at Cal’s annual Axe Rally. Three years later, the Big Game’s victor was awarded sole possession of the Axe. Cal is facing its fifth straight year without the Axe. It’s never not gotten it back at home after a four-plus year drought …especially in the rain.
5) Jack London. Went to Cal and did not graduate. Instead he only wrote The Call of the Wild, White Fang, To Build a Fire, An Odyssey of the North, Love of Life, The Pearls of Parlay, The Heathen as well as his homage to the Bay Area—The Sea Wolf all while pretty much drinking himself to death by age 40.
4) 1924: Both teams came into the game unbeaten with a berth in the 1925 Rose Bowl on the line. With its star Ernie Nevers sidelined due to injuries, Stanford trailed 20–6 with under five minutes to go, but rallied to score twice to force a 20–20 tie and earn the Rose Bowl bid. Cal is still looking for revenge.
3) Reese Witherspoon. Went to Stanford and did not graduate. She’s in a movie which opened Friday about a girl who is all fucked up and never camped before but did (parts of) the PCT. I’d take Jack in the Klondike any day.
2 a) Being the Big Game underdog has never had much to do with the outcome: In 1947, at the 50th Big Game, winless (0-8) Stanford led the Pappy Waldorf-led 8–1 Bears with less than three minutes left in the game. Cal scored on an 80-yard Hail Mary from Cal QB Jackie Jensen to Paul Keckley to clinch a 21–18 victory. In 1959, Stanford quarterback Dick Norman threw for 401 yards (then an NCAA record, and still a Big Game record), but it was not enough to hold off the Bears, who won 20–17. Then there was 1986, when a 1-9 Cal team defeated a 7-2 Stanford team 17-11 in head coach Joe Kapp’s last game.
2 b) There is a lot more at stake for Stanford: Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is currently averaging fewer than 200 passing yards per game; last year it was 171 going into the Big Game but he had a running attack. The QB on everyone’s mind is Cal’s Jared Goff whose bettered Hogan by more than 1,200 yards (3,398) and doubled his touchdown total (30) and only three more interceptions in more than 300 attempts. A win gives Stanford its longest run of six-win seasons since the New Deal and makes them bowl eligible. A win makes Cal bowl eligible for the first time since the 2010 season. Though the Vegas Bowl against BYU may be on the line, for Cal it’s all about the icing on the cake for this season of surpassed expectations (Vegas had their over/under at 2.5 victories in August) a young and fast defense, and a potent offense led by the Pac-12s next great QB. A loss at Memorial Stadium for the Cardinal means much more than loss of bragging rights: A date with no. 9 UCLA in Pasadena the day after Thanksgiving means Stanford is at risk for its first losing season since 2008, Harbaugh’s second season.
1) Memorial Stadium will aways be home to the greatest 8 seconds in college football history: 1982—The Year of The Play. Cal, six point underdogs, was leading 10-0 at halftime, but the Bears’ took the backseat in the second half on three Elway-orchestrated drives. Then, with :08 left, Stanford coaches called a time out and got the field goal unit on. The kick was good, and Stanford led 20-19 with :04 left. This is what happened during the ensuing kick-off (you know, in case you need a reminder…)
Regardless of what happens, Saturday’s match-up shouldn’t be as big a disaster as the inaugural (as in first time they called it the Big Game) Big Game in 1900. The game was played on Thanksgiving Day at Richmond Field in San Francisco (before the Kezar was built in 1925). During the game, a group of fans watching from atop the nearby S.F. and Pacific Glass Works fell into the building when the roof collapsed. Thirteen people died and 78 were injured. To this day the Big Game’s Thanksgiving Day Disaster remains the deadliest accident at a sporting event in U.S. history.