Stanford is an overwhelming favorite for the 116th Big Game, to be held at Stanford on Saturday, so you can expect the usual flood of clichés.
You know what I mean. “Throw out the won-lost records for this one,” “Anything can happen in the Big Game.”
Hogwash. The Big Game is no more unpredictable than any college game — or did you really expect Utah to beat Stanford this year? College players are very young men, capable of a wide range of emotions which makes their actions often unpredictable, on and off the gridiron.
But for the most part, the Big Game has followed form. That’s especially true of the last two decades, as one school’s program has thrived while the other’s has wallowed in despair. First, it was Stanford winning seven in a row during the Tom Holmoe era in Berkeley. Then, it was Jeff Tedford winning seven times in his first eight years at Cal. Now, it’s Stanford’s turn again, as its program has been on the rise while Cal is beset with woes, both in the graduation rates and academic work and with what has been a season rivaling the worst of the Holmoe years.
I don’t expect that pattern to change on Saturday. The upsets in this rivalry have usually come when the better team is overconfident, but Stanford is licking its wounds after last Saturday’s loss to USC eliminated them from any chance to get in the collegiate championship game. The strength of the Cardinal offense is its running game, and the biggest weakness of the Cal defense is its inability to stop the run. Tyler Gaffney may run for 200 yards in this one.
But even when the game itself is lopsided, this is a rivalry remarkable for its civility, though the Cal frat boys are sometimes out of line when Stanford fans walk by on the way to games in Berkeley.
Tedford was the offensive coordinator at Oregon, and when he came to Cal, he noted the big difference between this rivalry and the accurately named “Civil War” between Oregon and Oregon State. Fans for those teams often don’t go to the game when it’s in the other team’s stadium because fights are certain to break out in the stands during the game.
It’s much different for the Big Game. Though students feel an intense rivalry — I was certain Stanford students were evil when I was an undergraduate at Cal — there’s a mutual respect that grows between alums. As I have for years, I’ll be sitting at a table at the Guardsmen’s luncheon today that is equal Cal and Stanford grads. That’s a tradition started by Dick Schutte, a Stanford alum who was a very close friend for many years until his death five years ago.
There is much more than a football game, too, as students and alums plan many events during the week.
But none of that will ease the pain when Stanford crushes the Bears.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cal vs. Stanford
WHEN: Saturday, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Stanford Stadium
TV: Fox Sports 1
RADIO: KGO (810 AM), KTCT (1050 AM)