It was a beautiful morning in Seattle. Mostly cloudy with patches of lighter clouds, dry, and about 41 degrees. The traffic around Husky Stadium was rumored to be horrific; the parking even worse. A plan had hastily been formed the previous evening. I would pick up my brother in law Chuck in the north and we would head down I-5 to the Northgate mall park and ride to catch the Husky special bus from there. On the way to Chuck's the radio was already full of traffic advisories. Crowds were beginning to mass for the Huskiesí last home game, a game in which the local news radio announcers said the Huskies might have a chance, then laughed heartily at their own folly. We left Chuck's at 10:30 and hit the park and ride at 10:45. The buses were waiting. We got on and two minutes later we were bound for U Dub. The dawg fans were friendly. When I remarked to Chuck that I still had two tickets to try to get rid of, the fan in front of us offered his skepticism and remarked "Six weeks ago would have been the time to sell those." He complemented us on our team and asked, as I have been asked before this season by opposing fans, if we were selling out Memorial Stadium now. I said no, for most games we were 10,000 - 15,000 short. His shocked reaction was one I was also familiar with. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the stadium. The transportation plan had worked well. Too well. We were way too early.
With nowhere else to go, we decided to go on in. Once inside, our worst fears were realized. Like Memorial Stadium, there is no beer sold inside Husky Stadium. There are, however, Starbucks ringing the entire facility about every fifty feet. Chuck stopped for coffee as we exchanged "Go Bears!" with the many blue and gold clad fans who had also arrived too early. We toured the stadium, stopping to chat with various jovial Husky fans who complemented us on the our success and bemoaned the fact the "We (the Huskies) suck." There were probably only a few hundred people in the stadium at this point, the over eager Bear fans and the true blue (purple?) Husky fans. These were the hardcores. They knew their team was bad. They knew they would probably be creamed today. They informed us that their team had not beaten the spread all season. But they didn't care. They were there to support their team and have a good time. They were me during many a Cal season. I couldn't help but like them.
We circled the stadium, passing too many Starbucks to count, and finally headed up the ramp to our seats on Level 3. Our friend from the bus had warned us to bring an oxygen mask. After several minutes of climbing the ramp, we finally got to Level 3, passed another Starbucks, headed through tunnel 43, and proceeded up the stairs. I had opted to forgo seats in the Cal section, low down in the end zone and unprotected, in favor of seats on the 40 yard line under the large overhang that would shield us from any potential rain. Little did I know the seats were in Canada. Out of breath and a little dizzy from vertigo, we settled into our seats in the next to the highest row in the stadium. We wouldn't venture back down into the thicker air until the fourth quarter.
The seats had their advantages. We had a great view of the entire field. The Husky band formations looked quite good from an in-stadium equivalent of Cal's tightwad hill. It was easy to see the plays develop and the open receivers down field. Not that Aaron Rodgers could hit any of them in the first half.
The coin was tossed by soldiers in Iraq and the Bears elected to receive. It went downhill from there. We were surrounded by a smattering of Husky fans interspersed with Bears. The six year old a few seats to our left was particularly vocal in his support for the Bears. However, as Bruce Adams of the Chronicle wrote, "Cal came out flatter than the surface of Lake Washington on Saturday, ... eventually winning .. but stinking up Husky Stadium in the process." A Cal fan sitting to our right came over to commiserate. Turns out he was a bartender at Henry's, although he graduated ten years ago and lives in Newport Beach, California. I began to question this, but he promised me a Golden Bear Saturday morning before the Big Game, and I just let it rest.
Husky fans had a lot to cheer about in the first half and while parts of the stadium were still pretty sparse, there were enough of them to make some noise. They dawgs were playing their hearts out in their last home game for 15 seniors and their head coach. I'd been in their place and didn't grudge them their excitement. I had a feeling it wouldn't last.
Halftime brought a medley of show tunes from the UW band and pathetic stats for the Bears who had a one point lead at 7-6. It looked like J.J. Arrington would not break Chuck Muncie's single season rushing record in Seattle after all. Maybe it was for the best. He would now have the chance to do it in front of the home crowd at Big Game.
Four plays into the second half the tone was set for the rest of the game when Justin Forsett fell on the ball in the end zone for a Cal touchdown on the punt blocked by freshman Greg Van Hoesen. The Huskies immediately came back with a 77-yard touchdown pass, but the die was cast. Soon the Husky crowd fell silent as Cal racked up the points. Interceptions, a 36 yard run by Rodgers, Arrington and Lynch finally producing yards on the ground, and the halfback pass from Lynch to his cousin, freshman Robert Jordan. The bears had decided to show up after all.
As Husky fans streamed out of the stadium, we decided to take in the rest of the game in end zone with the rest of Cal faithful. We made it in time to see Lynch's 70 yard touchdown run to make the score 41-12. Someone in the crowd yelled "Go for two! Beat the spread!" The view of the field was not nearly as good as the seats in Canada, but the view of the Cal cheerleaders was much better. And it was good to be middle of the throng of cheering Cal fans. Adam Duritz was rumored to be on the sidelines, but we didn't spot him.
The final seconds ticked away and as the game came to a close, Gilbertson could be seen on the video screen smiling and talking with his players. He looked relaxed, relieved perhaps; he was done in Seattle. There was only one more potential embarrassment next week on the other side of state versus the Washington State Cougars in the Apple Cup. Fueled by emotion, his Huskies had held Cal to their lowest point total of the season in the first half. But it wasn't enough to bring down the Golden Bears. Perhaps in the spirit of Joe Kapp's Bears in his final season, it will be enough to conquer the Cougars next week.
That's of little concern to Cal fans. Our Gilbertson era is long gone. As the Bears came over to celebrate the victory with the fans, the band played, the cheerleaders danced, we cheered and silently chanted the mantra of Golden Bears astonishing 2004 season. "There's only one game on the schedule..."
See you at the 107th Big Game.