When I was five years old, my dad came home from work with a gift. It was white with red lettering. He nailed it on my door, and I asked him what it was. He replied it was a banner, and that the “STANFORD” printed on it represented a local university.
I didn’t know much about the system, so he continued to explain to me that after eighth grade, you go to high school, and subsequently, college. In this case, my father had come from a seminar at Stanford Hospital and thought it would be a good idea to get me to start thinking about these things.
As luck would have it, the Cardinal football team was playing their arch-rival on the road later that month. My dad bought two tickets and we drove across the Bay Bridge from the Peninsula to watch.
We arrived two hours early. My dad wanted me to see what a real university looked like, so we walked around the city.
I originally thought the circus was in town; street vendors sold a variety of random objects and the scents of unfamiliar food permeated my senses, with people of all shapes and colors sporting crazy looking hair and tattoos galore. The campus itself was amazing, with the various architectural styles of the buildings and hilly paths.
Something about this Berkeley place was so unique, but I couldn’t quite quantify why I was having such a good time in the enemy’s den.
And then there was the game—a contest so important, they called it the Big Game.
A sea of blue and gold overwhelmed the sprinkling of red and white around Memorial Stadium. When I asked my father why the "bad guys" had so many more fans, he just shrugged his shoulders.
At halftime, we stood in line to buy hot dogs when we heard some inappropriate heckling behind us. I turned around to find college-aged kids in red yelling profanities at an elderly couple wearing blue sweaters.
Food in hand, we returned to our seats. As the game wore on and the cheers grew louder, I started joining in. GOOOOOO!!! BEEEAAARRSSSS!!!!! GOOOOO!!!! BEEAAAARRRRSSSS!!!!
Fittingly enough, the game ended in a tie, and it was decision time. Upon arriving home, I told my dad that I had made up my mind; I liked the other school. I informed him that I wanted to go to Cal instead.
My father raised an eyebrow, grinned and said, “Fine. But we’re going to make a deal. I’m going to leave this banner up there until the day you get in.”
Every day for 13 years, I stared at that hideous felt triangle just waiting for the day I could rip it off my door.
And there were definitely some days when I would go home from school thinking that it would never happen.
When I finally received my acceptance letter, my dad let me do the honors and wondered if I was going to bring it to the annual Big Game Bonfire the night before the game.
I said I’d rather throw it in our fireplace and celebrate with him instead.
In 2009, I returned to my old school in Watts after teaching fourth grade there for four years, and Ana, one of my former students, approached me after school.
After catching up, she asked me what happened to the Cal banner I once nailed on the door to Room 7. I told her I had left it in the closet when I cleaned everything out, but that my replacement had probably thrown everything away.
She walked to the door and opened it.
Amid all the books and tapes, it was still there.
She inquired if she could have it for her room, and all I could do was smile.
This Saturday marks my 23rd Big Game, and regardless of the outcome, it never gets old.
Win or lose, LET’S GO BEARS!!!