Before the start of Saturday's game, California's entire team came up to join its captains for the the traditional pregame coin toss, in part to trash talk and in part to show their solidarity against a strong Stanford team that has only lost to No. 1 Oregon this year.
Stanford's players responded accordingly by coming up to midfield to show their opponents they weren't intimidated.
And as is customary, in such a violent sport as football, when two teams with long-standing rivalries and a general dislike of each other come together like that, there will be tension, trash talk and usually an exciting game afterward.
Even before the start of the game, there was a little more than that, with Stanford reserve WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson losing his cool and swinging at a Cal player taunting the team. He was ejected from the game, Stanford was assessed a penalty, and no doubt Jim Harbaugh will talk to him about the virtues of keeping his cool.
Then the game started, and was virtually over by halftime.
They difference between the two teams was that Stanford's players—with the lone exception of Patterson—kept their cool and focused on playing football, rather than trying to intimidate their opponents. And unlike their opponents, they also played like they cared.
Jim Harbaugh summed it up best: "(Stanford players) kept their poise. I don't like that kind of football where you try and talk and intimidate. ... Just play football. Shut up and play football."
Who was the MVP of Big Game?
And that's exactly what the Stanford Cardinal did.
Unlike their rivals from across the bay, the Stanford team played with toughness, grit and class, and simply overwhelmed their opponents in the 48-14 win. Heisman candidate and possible No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck led the team to scores on all eight possessions he was in—he had 235 yards and two TDs passing on 16 of 20 completions, and three rushes for 72 yards, capped off by a 211.7 QB rating—before being replaced by backup Josh Nunes (Alex Loukas was injured on a previous play).
Cal's backup QB, Brock Mansion—in for the injured Kevin Riley—was a lowly 19-for-37 passing for 173 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a QB rating of 88.7. In fact, if it wasn't for Harbaugh resting his starters in the fourth quarter and bringing in backups, it could have and probably would have been much worse for the Cal Bears.
For a Cal team that was touted as one of the best and best coached up-and-coming teams a few years ago, this will be hard to swallow. After nearly winning against No. 1 Oregon—albeit by faking injuries all game long —and being one win away from bowl eligibility, they simply did not show up, and were rightly embarrassed in front of their own fans. It appears that those days of Cal being a quasi-football powerhouse and when Jeff Tedford was hailed as a genius are over; there's a new sheriff in town.
This win is important for Stanford for many reasons.
First, it brought Stanford's record to 10-1 and provides a chance for an 11th win of the season if it can take care of business against the Oregon State Beavers next weekend.
Traditionally not a football powerhouse, it is only the fourth time in history that a Stanford football team has won 10 games in a season. The other teams are Glenn "Pop" Warner's 1926 side with a 10-0-1 record that finished with a 7-7 Rose Bowl tie against Alabama (notably, the last Rose Bowl tie), Clark Shaugnessy's 1940 side with a 10-0 that won the Rose Bowl against Nebraska, and Bill Walsh's 1993 side that finished 10-3 and won the Blockbuster Bowl against Penn State.
Second, it keeps the Cardinal in contention for a Rose Bowl bid should Oregon lose two consecutive games (very unlikely), or win out and have Auburn lose against either Alabama or South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game. Should Auburn win out, the Rose Bowl is contractually obligated to take either TCU or Boise State, and Stanford will have to settle for a different Bowl; the other BCS bowls could still take them.
And finally, this win was a firm statement game declaring unequivocally that Stanford is better than Cal. Not to mention the added bonus that this made up for last year's close Big Game loss when Luck had one of his worst games that culminated with an interception toward the end of the game. It was a statement game from Stanford, Jim Harbaugh, Andrew Luck, and the proud and classy members of the Stanford football team.
And they made that statement by pounding on a hapless Cal Bears team that was all talk.
In the end, all the jawing, the trash-talking and the pregame insults (and even Patterson's ejection) didn't faze the Stanford football team. And for the most part, they didn't let themselves stoop down to their opponents' level. They played the way they always do. They just shut up and played football. And they did it with class.
The boys in Berkeley would do well to take some lessons and learn some class from their neighbors across the bay. But of course, the most important thing is Stanford's got the axe. At least for another year.