Inside track to the Holiday Bowl


How Cal became the #3 team in the nation

"Got to pay the dues if you want to be an Old Blue, cause you know it don't come easy" - with apologies to Ringo Starr

The weekend started, as so many weekends do, with United Airlines screwing us over. There was nothing easy about the now-annual Northwest HO'TFAA trip: Tough travels, tough environment and a tough game. Somehow we made it through to survive and advance.

The weekend began on Thursday for Dave, as he had to fly to Vancouver, B.C. to retrieve his father's belongings from a storage locker. You would think that since he is already in the Northwest, he could fly to Seattle or Portland and connect in to Eugene on Thursday night. No, this is the world of commercial air travel. It was not only cheaper to fly back to San Francisco, then return to Eugene, in fact it was not even possible to get from Vancouver to Eugene through another Northwest city. So, Dave flew into SFO Thursday night, placed his head on the pillow for a moment, and woke up to catch a flight back to Eugene.

We spent the morning hiking through the hills of Eugene, calling Vic for updates on his trip down from Seattle and calculating the odds and the over/under on Doug's arrival. Vic stared down several blinding thunderstorms driving five hours to Eugene. "It was good as long as I had tail lights to follow, but when I couldn't see red tail lights in front of me, I had no idea where I was going."

He arrived timely, bringing with him the coordinates to an internet video of William Shatner's performance of "Rocketman." Three Shatners appear simultaneously, with each one an even more ludicrous version of the first. The third one dances and gyrates to the solemn reading of the song. Was it serious, was it tongue in cheek? As Shatner himself has said of those who imitate him, "I don't get the joke."

A quick analysis of the arrival schedule into Eugene showed that Bertozzi's flight coming out of SFO was on time. This was both good news and bad news, because it meant that he had to get to SFO on time. As Vic and I studied the San Diego schedule, we assumed that he would be taking the flight that arrived with two hours to spare in SFO, not the flight that had a 26-minute connection with the Eugene flight. As we learned later, our assumption was wrong. "I even paid extra for the privilege of having a connection that I could not possibly make," Doug said. "I should've known that getting to Eugene at the scheduled time was about as likely as a Bear's win at Autzen."

As predicted, we received a text message from Doug: "Already screwed by United. Flight is an hour late." We deciphered its meaning. Doug had earlier explained that he would text us from SFO, so were hopeful that he was in that airport and just an hour delayed. Again, we were wrong. Doug was stuck in San Diego, cursing the minutes as they crawled by, waiting for his chance to get to SFO. He had no chance. By the time he reached SFO, his 26-minute connection window was closed. All other flights were booked, but United's superior customer service left Doug a voice-mail explaining how they were going to solve the missed connection: He would fly out Saturday morning,to Portland and then Eugene, arriving at the airport at halftime (possibly early third quarter) of the game. This was not acceptable and set Doug off. "NO! Don't you understand? The BEARS are playing Oregon at TWELVE-THIRTY! NOOOOO!"

"You don't have to shout or leap about, you can even play them easy." - Ringo Starr.

But we're dealing with United. Playing it easy wouldn't get Doug to the game on time, and the grown man sobbing uncontrolablly in their ticketing line forced them propose a solution. A final seat was available on the midnight flight from Las Vegas to Eugene. Of course, he had to get to Las Vegas, giving the trip as many laterals as The Play. San Diego-SF-Vegas-Eugene (Moen-Rogers-Garner-Rogers-Ford-Moen) in 12 hours. The plan was just crazy enough that it might work.

"Fine, book it", Doug told the ticketing agent.

Meanwhile, back in Eugene, a simple indoor soccer game ended in a near-brawl. Details are sketchy, but Dave reports that after the whistle, the whiner from the other team took a gratuitous kick at Christie. A second later, Cheri was running after her, "I'm going to kick your ass." Fists clenched and arms locked, but cooler heads broke it up.

"Peace, remember, Peace, is how we make it." - Ringo.

The night continued at various Eugene brew pubs, along with a walk through campus and the graveyard. Max's (Kip's of Eugene) had gone a little upscale. No longer were the bar stools missing their seats. Ah, the days when you couldn't sit at the bar, but you could be impaled at the bar. Toothless Louie was nowhere to be found, presumably because Jake Peavy was not pitching that night. However, a half-dozen Cal fans controlled the bar with their chants as we walked in. Dave held court at the bar, imparting his wisdom to the random guy sitting next to him. We settled in on the skunky IPA, along with an occasional snake bite. As the hours rolled along, the older patrons thinned out and the college students rolled in. We held serve at the bar as long as possible.

Stranger events were unfolding in Las Vegas, where Doug had an hour to kill at the airport. Given the bad fortune of choosing United as his airline, Doug was due for some good luck, and he found it in the airport lounge. The four aces on the video poker machine netted him $360, which made his total winnings $460 (voucher from United for $100 for his troubles). In the end, Doug made about $40/hour on his trip to Eugene.

The pub crawlers moved on to Luckey's for pool, beer and music. A fine keyboard-based rock band (Master Slash Slave) finally got the crowd moving when they invited anyone still standing at the end of the night to come on stage for the final song. This included the "biker-Singer" (imagine a young NSS in a leather jacket with motorcycle boots). Somewhere near the end of the set, we lost Dave in a crowd of people who were listening intently to his philosophy of the importance of the final seconds of life. It was deep, especially for 1 a.m., and we had to drag him away from the conversation.

We nearly made it home when Dave realized he had left his license at the bar (deposit on the pool table). Back to town we went, finally leaving Luckey's again at 1:30 a.m. Seeing how we were within a half-hour of Doug's scheduled arrival, we returned to the airport, figuring that it would save Doug one more frustration in travel (no cab, perhaps?). It was 3:00 a.m. before we crashed, completely wired.

Saturday morning arrived very quickly. A bright, sunny fall day in Eugene, with a 20-year drought for Cal at Autzen Stadium.

Autzen Stadium is a great stadium to see college football. This write-up from Wikipedia:
Autzen was named in a 2006 issue of The Sporting News as "The most intimidating college football stadium in the country," thus, giving it the nickname "The Autzen Zoo." .....One of the biggest upsets in Oregon Football history took place on September 20, 2003 when the Ducks upset the third ranked Michigan Wolverines 31-27. A then record crowd of 59,023 fans made so much noise that left some in the Michigan press, who were used to seeing games in front of crowds over 100,000 people, very impressed. The Michigan Daily was quoted in an article regarding Autzen Stadium: "Autzen's 59,000 strong make the Big House sound like a pathetic whimper. It's louder than 'The Swamp' at Florida, 'The Shoe' in Columbus, and 'Death Valley' at Louisiana State. Autzen Stadium is where great teams go to die."

This was, of course, the place that some great, and some not-so-great, and some downright pathetic Cal teams had been dying in since the last victory in 1987. Add in the fact that Cal was 0-5 as a underdog since 2004....but this was a new day and would be different.

"Forget about your past and all your sorrows" - Ringo.

Decked in Cal gear, we entered the indoor practice facility for beers, a live band and mingling with the Oregon fans. It was a love-fest, as the Oregon fans congratulated us on our season and wished us well.

"Open up your heart, let's come together. Use a little love and we'll make it work out better." - Ringo.

The game was tense. Neither offense could generate a good scoring drive in the first quarter. Oregon finally broke through after a Cal penalty, and led 10-3 at half. The second half, by contrast, was the shootout we all expected. We had figured Cal needed to be up at least one in the turnover battle. As it turned out, we needed all four Oregon mistakes.

The team with a packed house of fans flinched, while the road team played mistake-free. Who expected that? As the lead flipped back and forth in the fourth quarter, our stomachs tightened. We'd been here before in Autzen - a fourth quarter lead vanishing inexorably. I felt the presence of impending doom, but Doug remained confident.

"I don't ask for much, I only want your trust, and you know it don't come easy." - Ringo.

The Cal offensive line bored holes through the Oregon defense, Jackson came up with the big plays, and the Cal defense was holding tight. They gave up long touchdown drives, but redeemed themselves with two interceptions. One big play, one big play by the defense was all we needed. As Oregon's receiver stretched for the goal line.....

"Here within your reach, if you're big enough to take it." - Ringo

....Cal's defensive back jarred the ball loose. It squirted into the end zone and rolled out. The decisive play happened right in front of us. We saw it and knew what happened. "Touchback, touchback" we screamed, giving the one-armed flying eagle signal. The refs on the field agreed, but the replay booth intervened, to chants of "Oklahoma, Oklahoma" from the Oregon fans....

As the replay official took the field to present the findings we all realized what it must be like to hear a jury verdict.

"Foreman, have you reached a verdict?", the judge asked.

"Yes, your honor, we have. After reviewing the videotape we find that the Cal Bears...."

The silence was deafening. It took a good 10 seconds for it to sink in; the call on the field would stand. The Bears prevailed. We were wrung out, nerves firing randomly, weak and exhausted. It was a grueling game to sit through. It never comes easy for Cal.

Just then the text message arrived from T - "What did I say about turnovers?"- referring to his prediction that Cal would win if we got three turnovers. "T was WRONG!", Greig screamed. "It took FOUR turnovers to win." Another text message arrived from Malie... much shorter and to the point - "Whew..."

One Oregon fan offered his analysis, "You know who your best offensive player was? Dennis Dixon!" We nodded in agreement. The previously Heisman hopeful Oregon QB HAD been a huge factor in the victory.

We also talked about the surprising performance of the Bear defense.

"Cal's defense won that game", Greig said.".

"Bend but don't break", Doug replied.".

"No", Greig replied, "they broke. Several times. But they kind of snapped back too." ".

And so that's how we decided that the new name for Bob Gregory's team would be the "Bend, break, but sometimes snap back defense."

We took the long walk back across the river, stopping to yell at Lee Corso as the crew applied his microphone and makeup. Oregon fans picked up on the cheer and cursed Lee Corso for jinxing them. It seemed that Cal and Oregon fans could both agree on dissing Lee.

"I hope you guys beat U$C!" shouted Duck fans as we left. "We hope you beat them also!" we shouted back, making hatred of the LA Trojans (of Exposition Park) another thing victor and vanquished could share.

Post-game, we held court at yet another brew pub, controlling the sidewalk corner to high-five Bear fans and drink more IPA's. We even tried the "Pink Floyd" cocktail. It turned out surprisingly good. We figured they could garnish it with a safety pin and call it the "Punk Floyd."

Back to Max's for more IPA's and snake bites. The same Cal fans were there again celebrating. Also present was a long-bearded man in long black coat and fedora. We figured him for either a philosophy or math professor. He could have also been the Schwartz of Eugene. We heard him say to the man on his left, "Can you get this round? I'll get the next."

One older woman came in from the patio to celebrate the Cal Bear victory. She had watched the game, after a round of high-fives had a serious question for us:

"Are you guys going to be in town tommorrow night?" she asked.

"No, why?"

"Because the Fetish party is happening at Diablo's tommorrow night"

We were unimpressed, and she could tell. "C'mon honey", she now spoke directly to Dave, "don't you want to eat sushi off of an almost naked woman?"

"You?" Greig asked her, as politely as possible.

"No, baby, someone much hotter!".

We informed her that despite the promise of model-quality sushi tables we were leaving town and would not, regretfully, be able to attend. She left us, slightly disappointed.

We celebrated long into the night. Results were coming in from around the country, and it looked like Cal could rise as high as, wait...#3 before the weekend was over. The season was not yet half over, but Cal had survived a huge road test, and now the LA Trojans (of Exposition Park) would have to do the same - in Eugene and Berkeley. (ed. note: And evidently in LA against Stanfurd.) As we calculated the numberous scenarios for the rest of the season, we also remembered to bask in the moment of a huge road win before a national audience, with friends and family together to share it.

The Holiday Bowl was looking VERY solid, we decided.

"The future won't last, it will soon be over tomorrow." - Ringo.