The speculation was over....Cal's victory over Stanfurd in the 105th Big Game had landed them in the Insight Bowl, to be played in Phoenix on the day after Christmas. Not a great bowl, to be sure...lacking in the prestige of the Motor City Bowl or the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl...but still our first bowl game in the new millenium.
In the early 1990's I had 4 chances to see the Bears play in a bowl game. Every time I figured: "Ah, what the hell, I'll pass. I'll go see them NEXT time they play in a bowl." But then Mariucci deserted us after one season, and the scourge of the Holmoe years began. At Cal the good coaches leave fast, but the bad ones stick around for a long time. It took 5 years and a 1-10 season to get rid of Holmoe, despite my cries for his head in the 1st quarter of the 1st game of his 1st season. I made a Vow in Holmoe's third season (a fine 4-7): If the Bears ever got to another bowl I would go.
HO'TFAA would not be attending this game, either due to expected apathy or previous fulfillment of Bowl Vows. Out of desperation I was forced to bribe family members to go:
The situation with my brother-in-law might prove annoying. I would have to explain that it would be a "game", not a "match". It would be played on a field, not a "pitch". And we would be trying to score "touchdowns", not "tries".
But hopefully Bob would be our Uncle.
On a side note, I'm a quasi-fan of rugby. At one time I even knew the difference between a ruck, a scrum and a maul. And British rugby fans are at least as boozed up (i.e. "pissed") as American football fans. Finally - can anyone not enjoy singing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot"? The song is far more inspiring than "Sons of California", and almost as annoying as "Conquest".
Fufilling my long-time Vow meant deserting my wife and her friends and family the day after Christmas. My flight would be leaving Norman Mineta San Jose International Airport at 1:20 p.m. The line for the flight had a small but deeply rabid group of Cal fans, including Joe Maningo's (starting Cal LB, #9) brother, Carlos. Carlos played for the Oregon Ducks AND managed to graduate from college, and he had some interesting observations about the Bears and college football as a whole. Other fans chipped in with their observations about the upcoming game and the team in general and my anticipation was starting to grow.....
The Southwest flight was due to arrive at 4:05 p.m., so of course we got in at 5:00, probably due to some disruptions in the time-space continuum. Southwest has, over the last few years, managed to successfully transform itself from a no-frills, low-cost, efficient, airline into....well....a no-frills airline. The flight attendant apologized for the delay by getting on the PA and leading the passengers in a "Go Bears" cheer, but it was strangely subdued.
Pre-game activities amounted to a stop at Jefferson's, across from the BOB. Cal's #1 fan, Adam Duritz, looked somewhat lost in a sea of Virginia Tech fans. When asked for his prediction for the game his response was simple: "We win?". This seemed like an unusually tentative and terse response from a pop icon, but it might be due to some reluctance at answering an unshaven, bleary-eyed, middle-aged man screaming "Hey, Counting Crows boy - what's your prediction for the game?" at him. As we left "Mr. Jones" came on the jukebox; we were unclear if the song was meant as a tribute to Adam or as a tribute to Virginia Tech's star running back Kevin Jones. Somehow I was sure the RIAA would be getting involved.
The next sighting was another old-time Cal fan - Maureen Loty. (No longer her last name.) Maureen seems to be stuck in a time-continuum of her own...the woman looks almost EXACTLY like she did in 1984. Her husband, Art, is an Old Blue, and both of them were looking forward to the game. Maureen owns a golf cart business in Vallejo - please look it up if you need a golf cart.
The final sighting was a friend of the Amazing Lyn Blakemore (nee' Bertozzi.) And so once again I got to hear myself described as "Lyn Blakemore's brother."
We got to the stadium and tried to find our seats. The usher informed us to "Just keep going up those stairs until you can't go any farther." It wasn't clear if he was talking about the actual seat location or physical exhaustion.....the climb was a steep one...and my ears popped about half-way up. Vendors in this section were selling hot dogs, beer, and the oxygen bottles used by mountain climbers. (Sales of the oxygen bottles would be brisk in the final 6 minutes of the game.) My sister wondered if Adam Duritz had gotten a better seat. "Better than THIS?!" I asked, figuring he probably did have a seat below the death zone. (Late in the third quarter the "Fan Cam" showed us where Adam was - standing on the sidelines next to the team. So...yeah...he did have a better seat.)
The roof of the BOB opened and a target was placed in the center of the field, and then the announcement came over the PA system informing the crowd that the "Flying Elvii" (Elvises) would NOT but jumping, due to national security concerns. How Al-Queda came up with the idea of using Suicide Flying Elvii is beyond me, but I for one was glad that these evil-doers were apprehended.
Our seats were at the top of a sea of Blue and Gold. The group of frat boys in front of us seemed rowdy and drunk, which was a good thing, until we got a whiff of them. These guys were, without a doubt, the most flatulent people I've ever encountered. The stench was truly amazing. (I figured it had to be beer farts, but the stink diminished noticeably in the 2nd half and then started up again in the final minutes of the game, so it might have just been nerves.) One of the brothers, "BA", had on a pair of Cal boxer shorts, which he must have been very proud of since he wore his pants around his ankles the entire game. They also had a charming little ritual they performed after every Cal touchdown - they'd form a huddle and start pushing and pulling and screaming and jumping all over each other. (Somewhat like a cross between TV Football and a barfight in "Ben and Don's Red Carpet Room.") It was cool! It got a little out of hand when Cal took the lead, as the huddle (now including Richard and myself) sprawled across multiple rows of seats and several fans minding their own business. Security came and took "BA" and one of the other brothers away, but they were back in like 10 minutes so it was all good.
This Insight Bowl featured lots of prizes for lucky fans. The prize guy would come out and give away digital cameras, TV's, trips, all sorts of stuff, and each give-away was broadcast on the BOB's big screen TV. Most of the gifts seemed to be going to the fans in the better seats, but finally near the end of the 1st half the prize guy made the trip up to our section. We were all waiting to hear what row and seat would win the next prize when someone started a "Take off that Red Shirt" cheer directed at the prize guy. Seems like the Insight Bowl officials had not done their homework....he was wearing a red shirt...and soon thousands of Cal fans were screaming madly at the guy. The jeering completely drowned out his attempts to make the prize announcement, and so he finally retreated. One can only speculate as to what the rest of the audience thought of the whole thing.
Our section did itself proud in the cheering department...the stinky Phi Tau's jumped in and provided critical mass for any cheer that seemed relevant. "Roll on You Bears" was a particular favorite, as was "Fire Tedford" in the 1st quarter. (In retrospect the "Bear Territory" cheer with a 14-point lead was probably a mistake, and there didn't seem to be any opportunities to do a "The Draw that Worked" or a "The Bear Who Turned the Corner" cheer....)
Of the game itself - suffice to say that Fredrickson's chip shot was probably a lot more suspenseful to the Cal faithful than anyone else in the stands.
"Jackson's on 3rd" was the official site of the pre and post-game party for Cal fans. It was very crowded, and 90% of those in the place were wearing Blue and Gold. One young lady, dressed in Cal colors, was undulating suggestively on top of the bar, but I didn't want to ruin the illusion by getting too close. Several members of the team showed up and took turns on the microphone leading cheers. We drank, sang, and cheered for several hours, letting out a few beer farts of our own. I was hoping the Cal band would make an appearance, especially since we didn't have any pizza for them to steal, but they were a no-show. Probably for the best, because by 11:00 p.m. "Jackson's" had run out of tap beer and most bottled beers. This pointed to either prodigious consumption by the Cal faithful or an amazing lack of planning by the bar manager. Maybe they thought the bowl game wasn't until next week?
The locals started showing up around 11:30 p.m. and were distressed to find their bar taken over by a large crowd people all cheering about a team they hadn't heard of. The news of a beer shortage did little to endear us to the natives, and a minor amount of hostility was in the air. We decided to leave after one man started asking Lyn where her brother was partying that night, and then refused to believe I was her brother. (At least this time I WASN'T "Lyn Blakemore's brother.") It is still not clear as to whether this was the most pathetic attempt to chat up a married woman in history, or just drunken idiocy.
I was awakened at far too early an hour the next day by my niece Haley demanding attention from her "Uncle Doug". Unfortunately 6-year old girls understand little about Vows, and even less about hangovers. So I spent the rest of the day in a typical post-game mode...slight exhausted, slightly hungover, and quietly happy.
One can be sure that somewhere Joe Kapp was imbibing something, if not tequilla.
And probably letting out a beer fart or two.