Cal-USC 2009 and the Limits of Emotional Investment in Football

WarderroCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2009

BERKELEY, CA - NOVEMBER 23:  Fans of the California Golden Bears carry quarterback Kyle Boller #7 aloft following the 105th Big Game against the Stanford Cardinal at Memorial Stadium on November 23, 2002 in Berkeley, California.  California won 30-7.  (Photo by: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

I'll say it right now, though my readers may already know: I'm as big a Cal fan as they come.

A season ticket holder for three years running, a regular at noon rallies, and an eternal Rose Bowl dreamer, I can even name how many sacks reserve defensive lineman Ernest Owusu has this season (two, for those interested).

So yes, the Bears' recent slide (to use a generous and non-offensive term) has been painful to swallow.

And yes, I was there among the 72,000 fans on Saturday shocked and confused at our team's ineptitude—together "in one voice," as the Cal football promotion suggests.

However, I did gain a valuable lesson during the 30-3 shellacking.

It was not that the Trojans' place atop the Pac-10 power structure is unlikely to shift anytime soon (barring a serious NCAA investigation or Pete Carroll's sudden departure to the NFL).

And it was not that USC's marching band needs to learn songs that contain more than three notes (that one is a given).

No, my friends, that night I learned firsthand the necessity of limiting one's emotional attachment to a football team. 

For that, I'd like to thank a certain Cal fan, who I shall name Robert Yudof, whose actions that night kept grabbing my attention.

Starting with Kevin Riley's killer end zone interception in the first quarter, Mr. Yudof remained in the exact same pose in the stands throughout much of the quarter: sunken shoulders, head down, and hands on his lips, as if trying to keep himself from crying.

Of course, there was nothing to laugh or cheer about for Cal fans for the entire game (except maybe briefly during Mike Tepper's hurdling run), but Yudof was different.

As the contest progressed, Robert could barely keep his eyes on the field anymore, as his fingers were pinching his brow.

Occasionally, he would look up—hoping, pleading, praying that some good fortune would come upon our Golden Bears.

But it was not to be, and he remained in his sullen pose.

During halftime, while the rest of the student section sat down to watch the bands perform or got refreshment, there was Yudof: sitting down, his hood covering his head, and his face down in between his knees.

At one point in the game, when an ill-conceived double reverse to Jeremy Ross was stopped in its tracks, he screamed in a noticeably cracking voice:

"That play never works! It never works!"

And then came the back-breaker. 4th-and-2. Riley rolls out. Jahvid Best wide open in the flat. The last hope for a comeback, or anything positive.

Overthrown. Not even close.

Looking back into the stands, Yudof originally was nowhere to be found. But then I looked back, and there he was. Sunken in his seat—when all Cal students were standing—head in his knees once more.

Though he was wearing dark sunglasses, at one point I could have sworn a tiny tear slid down from his eyes and along his pale cheek.

That must have been the last straw for him. I could only imagine what the rest of his night was like—heck, maybe even the rest of his week or month.

As I walked out of the stadium, I thought to myself: This isn't right. What I had seen could not have been normal, even for the most die-hard of fans.

Going away, I only wished the Yudof would somehow get a grip, along with some perspective—and if not, get a doctor.

A single football game, no matter how humiliating the outcome, is not supposed to inflict such emotional damage on an individual. The buck must stop somewhere.

Heck, even final exams aren't supposed to do that to a person (and this is speaking from a Berkeley student's perspective!), but certainly not one football game.

Yes, the blowout left a bitter taste in all of our mouths, but guess what? Players have to get up and live (and play another day). They can, and have to, move on—and so must we all.

Yes, we can vent about tough losses (such is the life of a Cal fan), but fans must also keep things in perspective.

You may be a top fan, Robert, and that I respect—but let's not go over the top; let's take a deep breath and draw a line. 

I don't know who you are. In fact, I may never see you again.

But I want to thank you for the lesson you taught me—that the emotional trauma you may well have suffered on Saturday should not be the level of attachment for any fan to any sports team.  

My only hope is that you (and other Yudofs out there) take a minute to realize the same.