Racing out of Stanford Stadium still amped from the overtime thriller, I mash the accelerator on my rental silver Ford Focus. Thanks to egregious California rental taxes, for two days this little go-kart cost me $153, and I intend to get my moneys worth. The feeble engine whimpers, sputtering up the ramp to Interstate 880. Fifteen seconds elapse to reach cruising speed at 60mph. I zip northward briefly, before the inescapable clutch of California traffic sucks me into its soul crushing vortex. The forty mile drive up to Berkeley is not going to be an easy one. I’m crawling my way to Cal to see the Golden Bears host UCLA in a night tilt, the tail end of a Saturday Bay Area doubleheader.
After an hour lumbering up the interstate, I pull into downtown Berkeley. With its ample stop lights and narrow streets, the town is ill equipped to deal with the influx of game day football traffic. I scour a few side streets for free parking, shoehorning the tiny rental into a spot on Piedmont Avenue, a few blocks east of the infamous Telegraph Avenue – an icon of 1960’s hippie culture.
Changing my crimson polo for a navy t-shirt, I walk a pleasant tree lined side street up to Cal Memorial Stadium. Strolling past handfuls of dingy frat houses, students spill onto the sidewalks clutching red solo cups, the Korean K-Pop viral sensation “Gangam Style” wailing away over loudspeakers perched on second story windowsills. A few street food vendors line the avenue, manning stainless steel carts billowing aromatic steam. Opting for a few small tacos, chicken and beef, they come garnished with fresh cilantro and onion, far better than any Sysco crap found in the stadium.
When I thrust a lone finger into the air, a few scalpers swarm me. It’s a big game for the Cal Bears against a heated in-state rival, but tickets are still plentiful. We haggle for a bit, but when I walk away the grizzled trader relents, agreeing to my $20 offer. From the outside, the stadium gleams with new glass louvers, the white limestone façade glinting shades of pink and orange with the setting California sun. Originally carved into the Berkeley hillside in 1923 as a tribute to World War 1 veterans, the historic stadium underwent a modern facelift for the past two years. Tonight was the official rededication.
After some extra pre game ceremonies, the two bears take the field as a brisk evening chill fills the air. A sloppy game ensues. Although both teams move the ball well, racking up nearly 900 yards of offense together, there are nine turnovers between the two, UCLA guilty of six of those. Cal takes advantage of the mishaps, with quarterback Zach Maynard slinging four touchdowns and 295 yards. At halftime, the 57,643 spectators all remain seated. Each seat comes outfitted with a colored square of card stock. As part of the rededication ceremonies, Cal has a card stunt planned, a phenomenon they claim to have invented back in 1910. Spelling out “Memorial Stadium” in Yale Blue and California Gold, the fans have good reason to stand, as the Golden Bears would later walk away with a 43-17 victory, and a chance to turn their dismal season around.
It’s a lot of work catching two games in a single day, and logistics have to be well planned to make it happen. But hitting a couple of Pac 12 games gave me yet another glimpse into college football on the left coast, and spending an afternoon in the temperate climate of the Bay Area is always a pleasure. Like any major metropolitan area, both of these teams take a back seat to some of the bigger professional spectacles in town. On this particular weekend, both the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s were in baseball playoff games, and the San Francisco 49ers had a home game. While college football is simply overshadowed in that environment, both teams still enjoy the ardently passionate fan bases that make college football so unique.
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