California Golden Bears: The Ready for Primetime Players?
Last Saturday in Berkeley, feelings were running high, with the kind of spirit they haven't had, well, one hopes, since 1959.
Maybe it was a result of what is usually the longest offseason in all of major American sport, producing an effect on the opening day of college football akin to, ironically, the last day of school. Maybe it was because everybody was another year older, and any (and, for the most part, condoned) excuse to regress into post-adolescence is more welcome than ever. Maybe, on a related topic, it was those long and tall pours they give you at the campus pub, The Bear's Lair.
Or, maybe, just maybe, there's something special in the air about this season, something the fans can't put their finger on just yet, but know they can feel.
Whatever it was, don't buy the media storyline that Cal needed, and achieved, redemption against some Old Line State Twerps, er, Terps. Sure, Maryland was due some payback after handing the Bears a first-round defeat in basketball earlier this year and an upset loss in football last year (while also handing Jahvid Best a loss of his lunch).
And having Maryland start at 10 p.m. College Park time, under Saturday night lights at Memorial, was certainly turnabout and fair play, considering that Cal had to play in Byrd Stadium at 9 a.m. Berkeley time the previous season.
Let's not confuse all that with actual rivalry, though.
Coach Jeff Tedford, his players and the fans know that the program will truly rise or fall based on its conference play this year and that, while an interesting dish, this turtle soup was nothing more than the very first starter on what will be a long 12-course (or hopefully, 13-course) menu.
Tedford was brought on as coach just a few years shy of a decade ago, and any assessment of his tenure is incomplete without an appearance in that big game.
No, not the one they traditionally play at the end of the regular season against that other university from the Bay Area.
You know, that other game, the one they play in that town where the little old lady is from.
In the stadium that other California public school team with the other ursine mascot plays its games every other autumn Saturday.
The game that would smell as sweet by any other name.
Tedford's reign, which Cal fans can only irrationally hope continues until the end of time, has undoubtedly been one of the oases in the desert that is Cal football in the modern era. But without leading the Bears to at least a Rose Bowl appearance, it will continue to be perceived as a tenure that, while successful, is wanting.
And this season is as good a shot as the Bears have had at the Rose Bowl since 2004. It might be an even better shot, considering how much better the Trojans were back then than everybody else (not that they're slouches now).
Yes, on Saturday, Kevin Riley looked fantastic out there; the returning receivers seem to have gotten better at catching his zippy throws; the younger receivers (especially the potentially electrifying Marvin Jones) already seem to be developing a rapport with him; Jahvid Best was Jahvid Best; and the defense, for the most part, lived up to its already extraordinary hype.
We won't know anything about this Cal team, though, until at least after Oct. 3, the Bears' rendezvous with destiny, when they perhaps cement their status in the Tedford Era as a conference bridesmaid to USC (usually alternating with Oregon or Arizona State at the altar), or, instead, determine for themselves a new course, a course that realizes the vision of Tedford and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, one that ends with Cal as a bonafide west coast college football power, and with a new and shiny athletic center to boot.
That reminds me, there is one thing we know for certain.
Yes, I confirmed it myself.
Those trees and the damn hippies that were living in them are most definitely gone.
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