Before kickoff for the 116th Big Game on Saturday, some Cal tailgaters wore shirts that read, “We’re gonna be so good next year,” while nearby, Stanford tailgaters set up two satellite dishes to transmit other college football games being played at the same time.
Both groups appeared to see a home team win as a virtual foregone conclusion.
“The theme this year is, we will win the party,” joked Eddy Kleinhans, the Cal public address announcer and tailgate organizer. “Better food, better booze, better people.”
Ten-year-old Stanford fan John Quinlin bet his father that their team would beat the rivals — who had won one game this entire season — by 20 points. Stanford was favored to win by 32 points and the host Cardinal surpassed that total with the highest margin and most points scored in Big Game history, 63-13.
“Incredible,” John said while waiting for Cardinal players to sign a football postgame. “We won by 50!”
At the annual Guardsmen Big Game Luncheon held at the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel on Wednesday — which Stanford head Coach David Shaw and the band did not attend — Cal football announcer Joe Starkey said the teams’ records “have an impact on how big of a deal it is each year.”
“The sizzle is much lower this year because of Cal’s bad year,” said Starkey, who has called games since 1975. “Traditionally there’s a big rush for tickets and it’s usually 60-40 with more attendees for the home team.”
Golden Bear fans occupied only a few sections near the end zone at Stanford Stadium, where there were plenty of empty seats although the game was announced as a sellout. During halftime, the Stanford band ended their performance with formations spelling “ODDS” followed by “FAVOR,” in case fans needed a reminder.
Some of the loudest cheers came late in the second half when it was announced that Arizona had beat Oregon 42-16 in a major upset that allowed Stanford to reach the Pac-12 title game despite a crushing loss to USC a week earlier. Postgame, Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney said he became aware “when the crowd went wild.”
“It’s huge to hear,” he said. “Especially with the [Cal] game pretty much put away at that point.”
Although “nothing” will change the historical rivalry, Stanford alumnus J.J. Hamlyn, 50, believes there was a greater rival in another team this year.
“The Oregon rivalry is as, if not more, exciting for Stanford fans,” he said.
Cal head Coach Sonny Dykes didn’t have much to say to Golden Bears fans at the season’s end.
“It is what it is,” Dykes said, adding he had “never seen anything like this.”
On the state of the rivalry, Shaw said, “I think Cal has hired the right man” to coach and that the team has good skill positions and potential.
“They’re building but they know it’s going to be a process,” he said. “This rivalry is going to pick back up very soon here.”