The "good old days" were not always so good. But it was a simpler time. In the days before the cell phone, before hotfaa.com, before the blog, the weekend was simple.
Show up at Kip's on Friday, and wait for people to arrive. Drink until the morning hours, roll out of bed for a 12:30 game and watch Cal lose. The post-game barbecue might consist of Vic's portable Hibachi, with hot dogs plumping, then rolling off into the dirt. We'd warm our hands over the 11 briquets laying in a shallow pool of rain water.
But this is not your father's Big Game (although I think it is now your father's hotfaa). We execute the weekend with the seemless precision of a Montana-to-Rice slant pass.
Friday night began at the Kip's of San Francisco - Beale Street Bar and Grill. Like Kip's, it had the upstairs/downstairs bar, and like Kip's, it had never been trendy and never would be trendy. The regulars begin arriving, calling in for location code by cell phone.
"It's across the street from a construction zone," I tell Vic.
"Perfect," he replies.
The beer is cold, the scotch is thin, and the mini-tacos are downright excellent. What we lack in the Kip's jukebox is made up for in Vic's stirring renditions of "I'm not your stepping stone" and "Back in the USSR." The hotfaa choir pipes in with background vocals "Oooooh wheee oooooh ... "
With Journey not scheduled to appear in a Reno casino that night, DeMar is able to join us. Stump makes his appearance, and so does the mysterious "Fringles." Who the hell is "Fringles" people ask? He is one of the many names that my son laughs about.
"What is it about your friends?" Cal asks me. "Their names are all so weird. You've got T, Bert, DeMar, Stump, Fort, Vic, Ridge, and now Fringles."
Mark Coffrini, aka Fringles, comes via Drake High and he hasn't changed. Still critiquing slow drinkers, "You're such a pussy nursing your beer like that." Of course, he is the first to depart the group.
Stump gives us a discourse on strippers. Portland, he informs me, has more strip bars per capita than any other city in the nation. Stump's hometown of Ventura has just one, despite its proximity to the porn industry. He tells us that the best time to see strippers outside of the pole bar is at the Burbank airport on Thursday afternoon. "They're all flying to Vegas to work there over the weekend."
He laments the prevalence of breast implants. "They all look alike," he says. "You can practically identify the plastic surgeon who did them. 'Oh, you got a Dr. Silverman, didn't you?'"
More fascinating topics are discussed. Paul Stanley, we decide, had the best solo album of all of the members of Kiss.
After a short stop at a large propellor, we go trendy at the Cosmo Cafe. Malie is greeted by two women at the bar, "How come you have six guys?"
"Well," we reply. "She's the former lead singer of Bow Wow Wow. They were a very popular band in the early '80s."
More drinks are consumed. Some opt for the Pez candy-flavored Cosmopolitan, while another goes for the "strip-the-paint-from-the-walls" Vodka and soda. Dave chats up the band.
We must scramble to the Peninsula to find Bert. It's a three-car monte on the way down. The stereo is blasting Kiss covering the Ramones:
We need change and we need it fast
before rock's just part of the past
because lately it all sounds the same to me.
The final stop of the night is the former Island. This is not your alcoholic grandfather's Island. It's gone upscale, with a DJ spinning reggae and people crowding the small bar. We meet someone who works at Stanford Credit Union.
"Are you a loan officer?" I inquire.
"Assistant Branch Manager," she replies.
"Are you pegging your interest rate to the result of the Big Game," I ask. "Will the lending rate go up if Stanford loses? Just for fun?"
She has no idea what I'm talking about. Meanwhile, Dave is checking out the DJ. "They think this is cool, but I've been listening to reggae since before they were all born."
We leave fairly early. Survive and advance, we figure. Another trip up 101, this time Pink Floyd soothes us home:
Someone sent the promised land
and I grabbed it with both hands.
Saturday arrives late and what a welcome that is. With a 4 p.m. kickoff, there is time for a bloody mary breakfast and a very long tailgate. DeMar and I arrive first. Despite the chain fence along Arboretum, we find the back entrance to the field as Blue Oyster Cult sings conspiratorially:
Three men in black said don't report this.
Pepe, Carol and the Davis family arrive in the T-Bear and this is not your undergrad Big Game. Two barbecues are cooking, a propane stove is burning to warm up the barbecue sauce. These guys think of everything. Claire brings California rolls, everyone brings so much ice that we've run out of coolers.
The T-Bear is a big hit, complete with its Cal insignia on the seat covers. The only flaw is the stick shift, which is plain chrome. We tell Pepe that he can get a better one at "goldenbearheadgearshiftknob.com"
While on the subject of websites, we launch another - "Wheresthekips.com." The mailing will go to all corners of the globe, where former Cal Bears can submit for consideration the Kip's of their town.
To keep the kids from interrupting our website development meeting, Dave has brought a helium tank to fill balloons. Cheri has brought a pinata. Next year, we figure to add a clown, a magician, pony rides and an inflatable playground.
Nauenberg arrives on motorcycle and kids of all ages climb aboard to start the engine. Zack foregoes the first half of the USC game to take in his first ever Big Game. Stump calls in, unable to make it because of traffic. "Who had Stump and the under?" T calls out.
The game is, of course, not your 90s Big Game. We win with a big 4th quarter and Steve Levy joins Big Game lore. Bertozzi looks at the clock. With 9 minutes left and a 10-point lead, he says, "We need two defensive stops and two first downs to win it." Instead, we get another touchdown and the Stanford crowd packs their seat cushions.
"You can all leave now," Bert yells loudly. "Maybe you can bring Bill Walsh back. He really was a genious, you know."
The post-game party continues with buckets of beer from Ridge's trunk. His son Kevin is now a remarkable 4-0 in Big Games. Pepe brings out a lantern and the ribs are still warm. Unbelievable execution.
Cal and Christie hide in the darkness of the T-Bear's front seat and lob goldfish crackers at the fans walking by. They can't see it, but they can feel it hit their head. "WhatthefuckwasTHAT!" one yells as the cracker strikes.
As the party winds down, we all do realize that is not the simple Big Game of the past. We've finally figured out how to do it perfectly. Cal has even figured out how to win. But perfection is fleeting.
Next year may bring the game after Thanksgiving, and the year after that we don't know if any of us can get tickets after Stanford's stadium goes on the Atkins Diet. We say goodbye, we shake hands and give an extra hug. Of course, the Big Game is always the end of the intense hotfaa season and we know it may be a long time before we see each other again.
This time, there is a special poignancy. We don't know if it also means the end of the Big Game as we know it. If so, at least we know we finally got it right.