Because of Pac-12 scheduling conflicts, the Big Game, between Cal and Stanford, was moved to mid-season, which may seem like a small deal, but I believe it ruins the Big Game tradition.
The 115th Big Game will be played for the first time in history before November.
A look at the past is needed to put things in perspective.
After a long, depressing drought, the 2002 California Golden Bears regained the coveted Axe by defeating Stanford 30-7. That began the Jeff Tedford era.
That was my first-ever Big Game.
Even at 13, I understood the grandeur of this tradition. Growing up in a Cal household I was constantly reminded of how evil those Cardinal were. My father—normally a genial character—once told me as a kid with the most sincere, serious look I’ve ever seen in his eyes, that if I chose to go to Stanford, he would disown me as a son. The Big Game, to me, is the annual catharsis of all Bears fans pent up “FURD hate.”
This became no more blatant to me than after seeing the 2002 victory live.
The student section poured onto the field. They carried then-quarterback Kyle Boller off the field in some sort of crazy mix between rock concert and Bar Mitzvah, crowd-surfing to the exit. They ripped down the goalpost like it was standing in Berlin in 1989. It was an extraordinary display, which only further reinforced my love for Cal and the tradition of the Big Game.
Fast-forward to today and many things have changed.
Tedford has peaked and may be on his way out of Berkeley. There’s a new Memorial Stadium. Stanford is a nationally ranked program. Kyle Boller is retired from the NFL, and the Big Game is being played in the middle of the season.
Rivalry week in college football is one of the most intense, competitive, special things in all of football, and to disregard that is blasphemy. The tradition of the Big Game has always been dear to fans on both sides, and this scheduling mishap is disrespectful to its importance.
Going back to the 2002 Big Game, we all knew the Bears weren’t going to a bowl game, but a victory over Stanford was Cal's championship. They won the Axe. For a Cal fan that validates a season. Think of what it would have been like after Joe Starkey called The Play and he signed off with “Well, next week we play Utah.” The fact that Cal ruined John Elway’s last college game and possibly took the Heisman away from him only adds to the victory.
I believe traditions like the Big Game are the essence of college athletics and what separates college and pro football. Although this may be a small issue, it has a greater meaning to the game itself. I know if the 2002 Big Game were earlier in the season it wouldn’t have had the same feel to it. Plus, they tore down the goalposts, how would Stanford play next week?