AP file photoStanford quarterback Andrew Luck celebrates after the Cardinal routed Cal 48-14 in 2010’s Big Game. Stanford continues enjoying success atop the Pac-12.

AP file photoStanford quarterback Andrew Luck celebrates after the Cardinal routed Cal 48-14 in 2010’s Big Game. Stanford continues enjoying success atop the Pac-12.

No love lost in Stanford-Cal rivalry

This Andrew Luck kid from Stanford? Just diplomatic enough to keep the coach happy. Just candid enough to keep the alumni ecstatic. 

“We definitely respect Cal,” said Luck, discussing Saturday night’s Big Game at Stanford, “and I think they respect us. But it doesn’t mean we have to like each other.”

Which is the reason most of us have to like the Big Game, even when it isn’t a big game, and this year it’s an “if only Oregon weren’t in the Pac-12” sort of game.

A little Bay Area animus between Occupy Berkeley — is there a quarterback in one of those tents? — and Leland Stanford Junior U. makes it all worthwhile.

This is No. 114 of a series that has provided plenty of mischief, enough arrogance and a trophy, that old fireman’s axe, to be held aloft and then hidden where even the CIA or the other school’s undergrads can’t locate it.

College football isn’t what it used to be around here. You can reminisce about history and rivalries, about Markey Crane’s fumble or Joe Igber rushing for 226 yards, but basically the teams that matter are the 49ers — particularly now — and the Raiders.

You love to sift through those old Herb Caen columns about coeds and corsages and crew-cut fraternity boys who hoisted martinis and stubbed out cigarettes in ashtrays taken from a night club. But does it have any relevance in the present?

Does anyone know about Paul Keckley or Gary Kerkorian? About Craig Morton or Stanford’s only Heisman winner, Jim Plunkett? It’s been 29 years since “The Play,” which means the kids on the team don’t have a clue about Kevin Moen or Gary Tyrrell, the trombone guy.

It’s the here and now that counts in this what’s-happening society.

It’s whether Luck can bounce back from what he described as his “worst game of the year, I guess,” the mess against Oregon.

It’s whether Jeff Tedford, who has won seven of the nine Big Games since becoming Cal coach before the 2002 season, can quiet some of the critics who, while admitting he has done a great deal, contend he hasn’t done enough.

Big Games are strange, and the reference isn’t to the five-lateral play. Stanford was a favorite in 1986, Joe Kapp’s last game as Cal coach — but somehow the Bears won. The Cardinal managed to win in 2001, 35-28, despite five turnovers and 10 penalties.

This will be Luck’s final Big Game. One would hope it’s not Tedford’s final Big Game. Cal has a defense, but it has lost not only to USC, but UCLA — at times an awful team. A Stanford victory, and the Golden Bears go zero-for-the state, losing to the three other major schools.

A year ago, in one of the more noncompetitive games in the century, a 48-14 Stanford win, Luck completed 16 of 20 for 235 yards. No less significantly, he turned a broken play into a 58-yard gain.

The teams nearly brawled after the coin toss.

“The Cal guys did a lot of trash-talking before the game,” said Jim Harbaugh, then the Stanford coach.

As Luck pointed out, the teams don’t have to like each other. And they don’t.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

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