It hasn’t been your typical Tedford season. Expectations have been low from the get-go, infused with a brief sense of hope for several games, only to be dashed by our team’s shortcomings and inexperience. No one really knew what to expect, so we just plowed ahead, hopeful that our team would rebound and vanquish the ugly memories.
So it’s back to basics: like Tony says, time to hate your neighbor. Now we’re at our rivalry game, standing at 6-4, hovering between modest success and another let-down season. And for the first time since 2004, beating the ‘Furd matters.
Oh, I’m sure 'taining the Axe has been important, and it’s meant something for Cal fans jockeying for position between Vegas and San Diego, but every year from that magical ‘04 campaign onward, a Bears win over the Cardinal was treated with certainty rather than with jubilation.
There was an arrogance to the way we watched each passing Big Game, as if we were judging the merits of those victories based on past (and superior) performances. We didn’t just want to win, we wanted to win with style?
Remember that uncomfortably close 2006 game, where the Bears struggled to do anything and slogged to a 13-10 halftime? After losing both a BCS berth and the Rose Bowl, the Big Game didn’t seem so big anymore.
If the Cardinal had been marginally better that day, they could have won outright. But their incompetence doomed them to another loss. Their revenge would come a year later.
Strangely, even though we lost last year, even that Big Game didn’t feel like anything more than an afterthought. No one knew what to expect as we lost, and lost, and lost again. Relinquishing the Axe made me feel more numb inside than pain; the Bears had already lost enough in the previous few months that we were used to the feeling. It couldn’t get much lower than that.
But now the ‘Furd are back. They’re not a doormat anymore; they’re a few fourth quarter defensive stops from being 7-4 and right up there with California. As it is, they’re 5-6 and hovering at the edge of bowl eligibility. As discussed at CGB, there are bigger stakes to beat the ‘Furd this time around. The Bears cannot lose three games in a row like they did last season or risk another offseason of depressing second-guessing.
Letting them win in Memorial would be devastating, right on par with Oregon State last season or Arizona the year before. It would build up the Cardinal for their own Rose Bowl campaign of next season (all the signs are pointing toward an 8-9 win team in Palo Alto in 2009). It would reinforce the idea that Tedford can’t win big games in November anymore and that our program has gone as far as it can go under his stewardship, baseless as those accusations would be.
So for once, this game matters to both sides. It’s not just to win the battle for each other. It’s to keep our place on top of the Farm. Memorial sleeps Golden Bears. Wake up to reclaim the prize.