As a fan of both Rice and Cal, this college football season has been one of unmet expectations.
After one of the most successful years in school history, Rice (0-9, 0-5 C-USA) looked to be competitive in the always wide-open Conference USA West. Cal (6-3, 3-3 Pac-10) seemed poised to challenge USC's dominance of the Pac-10 and end the school's 51-year Rose Bowl drought.
Of course, both teams have struggled. Rice is last in Conference USA in both scoring offense and scoring defense. A year after a 10-win season, the Owls seem destined for an 0-12 finish. Cal has lost games to conference rivals USC, Oregon, and Oregon State by a combined score of 103-20. The Golden Bears are headed once again to a middle of the road bowl game.
Such developments can be hard for any fan. Many take to message boards to vent their anger. Under performing players are thrown under the bus for losses. Some call for coaches to be fired. The direction of the program is often questioned.
For me, watching Cal lose an important game or seeing Rice lose routinely by large margins is frustrating. It is easy to fall into the trap of blaming players and coaches for defeat.
However, an incident in Cal's latest loss last Saturday has me rethinking my priorities.
By now, college football fans are familiar with the video of Cal running back Jahvid Best's frightening fall after a leaping touchdown dive.
The play was surreal. Watching the game live at home, I went from worrying about Cal's defensive struggles against the Oregon State passing attack to wondering if I had just saw a player die in front of my eyes.
The image of Best unconscious, body stiff and clenched up, deeply affected me and will be seared in my memory for years to come.
As I watched both Cal and Oregon State players look on in concern and a growing number of trainers, paramedics, doctors, coaches, and family members surround Best, football took a back seat.
Though the game was an important one for Cal's dwindling Rose Bowl chances, the results of the game became secondary. The only important thing to me at the time was Best's health.
I often take sports too seriously. I become consumed by my teams' wins and losses. Watching sports no longer becomes fun, especially as the losses pile up and expectations aren't met.
The injury to Best reminded me and other fans that college football is just a game, a game played by young men who give their all for their institutions. How well a group of 18-22 year olds do on a Saturday football contest should not affect my mood, regardless of outcome.
Even if Cal makes a repeat appearance in the Emerald Bowl or Rice goes 0-12, the teams are still worthy of my support. I see no reason to call out individual players for mistakes or suggest the coaching staffs should find other jobs. Cal's Jeff Tedford and Rice's David Bailiff, recent struggles notwithstanding, have resurrected dormant program and have done so without compromising the rigorous academic standards of their respective institutions.
That alone should be cause for celebration. Because there's definitely more to life than college football.