Arizona State's season is hinging on how much success the Sun Devils have Saturday afternoon in Strawberry Canyon.
The great and memorable Sun Devil Bruce Snyder was the last ASU coach to win at Memorial Stadium. The year was 1997.
Since 2005, California is 29-6 at home. The only schools that have won on the Memorial Stadium turf are Oregon State and USC. Both schools accomplished that feat three times, ('05, '07, and '09).
Over that same stretch, Autzen Stadium (regarded as the Pac-10's toughest stadium) has graced the Oregon Ducks with a 30-5 record.
So why is California's home field such an advantage?
I have had the privilege of being behind the scenes on two occasions at Memorial Stadium, and each time the thought of a victory quickly evaporated. See Cal's 35-7 win two weeks ago.
First, Memorial Stadium is a very "weird" setting for college football. I say weird because everything about the atmosphere and environment at Cal is unlike any other in the conference.
Heck, one of the best plays ever in football history took place on that field, with a trombone player nearly making a "tackle."
As for the road-trip aspect of the game, the team stays in Oakland, right by the airport. The team is left with a 30-minute drive to campus.
Then, once arriving in the heart of campus, another traffic-riddled, time-consuming drive up the narrow frat row strip leading to the team entrance at the stadium gates.
And all that travel is with a police escort.
Upon arrival at the stadium, at first glance, one's first question is..."Will this stadium hold up throughout the game?"
Honest to God, if Sun Devil Stadium is "Condemned" (Sun Devil Stadium needs an estimated $215 million to $350 million within the next five to eight years to remain open), then the necessary repairs for Memorial Stadium were long overdue.
The seats are wooden. The stadium has no lights, or limited at best. For night games, which are extremely rare, portable generated lights are the best that can be done.
Once inside the stadium, the locker room (located less than 50 feet from the entrance gate, attached to the concourse level) might be the size of my apartment on Mill.
Not a joke. Have you ever tried getting 60 football players, 20 coaches, 20 staff members, and all their gear and equipment in a one bedroom apartment?
Not to mention the fans pile into the stadium hours before the game. as players are getting taped and stretched out on the concourse level.
But hey, once you are finished getting your ankles taped, you can grab some nachos while listening to the home team's best hecklers.
Finally, upon final preparations for the game, normally the strength coach leads the team up the tunnel and out onto the field. Not at Cal's Memorial Stadium.
A segmented staircase made of wooden 2x4s (railing included) will take you downstairs to field level. Now I said normally THE (as in one) strength coach leads them out for warm-ups. At Cal, numerous trainers and anyone with eyes is making sure no one falls, slips, or "eats it" on the stairs.
Oh and the staircase is open to the concourse as well. For the Sun Devils, the last two trips to Berkeley, have brought rain showers.
Last time I checked, old wooden, rickety material, and wet pavement in the tunnel with big football players wearing cleats make up a horrible recipe.
Many think of Iowa or Wisconsin with "interesting" locker room decor, but just jam everyone who is associated with the road team in a 750-square foot Physical Education locker room with only two, um, toilets.
Talk about getting into the opponent's head.
With that on your mind, once the game starts, one of the most intelligent student sections in the conference, if not the country takes over.
There is dead silence when Cal has the ball on offense. Well, until Desean Jackson or Marshawn Lynch go wild, or presently Shane Vereen.
Then it is deafening with celebration and jubilation. Especially when the cannon on Tightwad Hill sounds off.
By the way, the cannon looks like it is pointed directly at the visiting sideline, luckily only shooting blanks.
The educational, yet amusing signs, cheers, statements, chants, etc during timeouts and breaks in the action are pretty entertaining and rightfully so, and extremely distracting. Especially when the papers and cards are thrown towards the field.
However, the crowd's colorful antics do not exceed the noise when the Golden Bears' defense is on the field. Granted, its not Autzen Stadium in terms of decibels, but the noise level at field level is pretty impressive for a bowl-style stadium.
And the field turf, the actual playing surface is unlike any other in the conference. Unlike the common surface FieldTurf, Memorial Stadium is equipped with Momentum Turf. Everything about the Bears' home environment is just a little bit different, right down to the actual playing surface.
But sometimes, that extra advantage is the determining factor in a game decided by inches.
All in all, Cal is an unsuspecting yet very difficult place to play and results have shown that. Cal is 3-0 at home this year, and ASU has struggled in Berkeley.
And once again, with the Sun Devils coming to town Saturday, rain is expected.
But the bottom line is, there is still a 100-yard football field with two goal posts, and the job at hand is still to win the football game. The outside distractions just have to be put out of mind.
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