I moved to the states when I was 16. The only thing I knew about American football is that it was a game played by dumb fat Americans that was the anti-thesis of the elegance and strategy of soccer.
Oh, how wrong I was. But we'll get to that.
Before coming to Berkeley, I only saw one football game: my high school's homecoming game my junior year, where my high school's team lost its 34th consecutive game (Two back to back winless seasons + a one-win season before that). The hype of freshman year buoyed my excitement, and I got season tickets to fasten out with friends rather than care about the outcome of the game. The 7-5 2011 season was forgettable besides the fact that it was the only winning season for Cal football during my four years there.
Coming into 2012, I rebought the season tickets, but this time I was coaxed into doing so by my football fanatic friend Daniel. Daniel breathed Niner football, knew about the details of the game, and was kind enough to educate me.
Here are my buddy Daniel and I at the 2019 Cal vs. Oregon State game. I owe him a debt of gratitude for making me fall in love with Cal football… Or he owes me reparations…
Coming into Memorial, UCLA had a 4-1 record, a #25 ranking, and a then presumptive top QB of the 2013 NFL Draft: Brett Hudley. UCLA was favored to win by 2 points.
Cal, on the other hand, had a measly 1-4 record, coming off three losses to Ohio State, SC, and ASU. Despite having a future All-Pro at WR in Keenan Allen, and Super Bowl Champion CJ. Anderson, Cal looked for us in the stands like it was dead on arrival.
It started like I expected, with a Cal drive stalled by another Zach Maynard interception. That's when I groaned with the rest of the crowd, and the whole stadium was ready for the repeat of Zach's ASU game performance from the previous week: 9-28 126 yards...
Another hit was UCLA scoring a quick touchdown with DE Cassius Marsh lined up at TE.
The final confidence shattering event was the injury to the reliable DB Marc Anthony and uncertainty about his replacement DB Kam Jackson. On all counts: how wrong we were.
2nd quarter was ours. However, every Cal TD scored was due to a UCLA mistake, whether it was a Hudley missed backward pass recovered by Nick Forbes or a muffed kick-off return. UCLA kept us in the game, and Maynard turned in an excellent performance after his pick.
UCLA ended its last possession of the half with a pick, and Cal went into the half with a 16-7 lead.
In the 1st half, Cal went: INT, FG, Punt, TD, TD
UCLA went: TD, Punt, Fumble, Missed FG, INT.
UCLA received the ball and ended the drive with a punt from their end-zone that Keenan Allen took 20 yards into the UCLA 37 and one play later:
Another hype moment from Bigelow. What a player who had so much hype develop over a season. I have yet to see the Cal fandom to generate much hype over a player during the season.
Cal responded to a UCLA TD with another quick strike by the Cal passing offense (something rarely said during my time as a Cal fan till the Goff era). It was Keenan Allen whose presence I couldn't appreciate besides the "damn he's agile" remark.
But I do know that this was roughly the moment I started to fall in love with Cal football. The whole stadium rocked with excitement as the cheers and chants intensified. The chill air circulated from the hills, and even the back and forth turnovers (fumble, interception, fumble, and interception) couldn't cool down the stadium. The hype train was gone, and it never stopped for me.
The party kept going with a Maynard QB sneak and then a massive run by CJ Anderson to cap off the game and get the whole stadium singing
I still remember the cool air. The excitement. The singing and walking down Frat row drunk on the crowd's energy.
I miss that every Cal home game has to measure up to this standard. It's why I love late afternoon games, as the golden dusk bathes CMS.
Since then, I have been obsessed with football. With the strategies, the moments, the plays, players, and coaches. So when another game like this happens in front of my eyes, I can fully appreciate every moment.