September 1st, 2007. The #12 ranked California Golden Bears hosted the #15 Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday Night Primetime on ABC.
This was my first experience in Cal fandom. Actually this was my first experience in College fandom. First Cal game. First College game. First Football game in person. And boy, was it one for the ages. Earlier in the day before heading out to Memorial Stadium, I remember watching ESPN on the TV of the lounge of Ehrman (Shout out Floors 1&2 fam!) and seeing Matt Ryan as the Boston College QB, Appalachian State upsetting Michigan in what would end up being Lloyd Carr’s final season as Head Coach. And then the March to Victory and enter Memorial Stadium. The atmosphere, the chants, the slight onset of claustrophobia with the sheer number of people in the student section. (Student section tickets sold out within moments of it releasing online, so I snuck in after buying a normal ticket.)
The game was a revenge match for the Bears who were embarrassed in Knoxville just the season before, 35-18. The Bears had just lost offensive juggernaut Marshawn Lynch and defensive leader Desmond Bishop to the NFL just a few months prior. HC Jeff Tedford looked Senior Justin Forsett to replace star in Lynch, and for Junior Worrell Williams to fill the needs left by Bishop. The hype surrounding the explosive Cal offense led by Desean Jackson and the steady yard eating Volunteer offense led by Erik Ainge and Arian Foster was immense. And then. Kick-off at 5:15 PM behind the roar of 72516 fans in attendance.
Arian Foster receives the kick and future Cal Stars in Jahvid Best and Mike Mohammad makes the tackle. It’s still crazy to me to think Jahvid’s first action as a collegiate player was tackling Arian Foster. A few plays later linebacker Zach Follett, practically snaps Erik Ainge in half, in one of the most symbolic Cal photogenic moments ever (See below). Not enough can be said about the sack-fumble. Follett came off the edge untouched with insane speed and just homed in on Ainge from across the line of scrimmage. Worrell Williams then picks up the fumble and takes it to the house for the first score of the game. Another cool moment was seeing current Kansas City Safety Eric Berry in as a freshman, ranked the #1 CB in the class of 2007.
Let’s go in hype order here instead of chronological order. Jahvid Best gets the first rushing attempt of his career and takes it for an 8-yard gain, followed by a 2-yard run and then an insane 34-yard run. We got the glimpses of what Jahvid was going to be at Cal in this game. Next hype up was the Robert Jordan touchdown. The athleticism, awareness, and creativity to jump sideways over the incoming defender into the endzone was ridiculous. Last, but definitely first, Desean Jackson’s punt return. The vision, creativity, audacity, speed, elusiveness, and swag. Watching it still gives me chills to this day, and is still in my Top 5 jaw-dropping sports moments of all time. I still vividly remember the angle in which I saw this happen from the student section and how it played out. Absolutely stunning. No words. Just watch.
3rd & 4th Quarters
In the second half, Lavelle Hawkins and Desean Jackson took over the aerial attack while Justin Forsett took over on the ground. The second half is where we finally saw the explosive offense of this Cal team that everyone was so hyped about. They took over and it quickly got out of hand for the Vols. The Cal defense also stepped up big time with DE Rulon Davis making a goal-line stop twice, with one coming by covering Arian Foster in the flat. I also had no idea Desean dislocated his thumb in this game only to pop it back in and keep playing. It wasn’t evident when we were watching the game in the stands and I only learned this on this watch-through which was my first time watching the game in its entirety on TV. What an absolute baller of a move.
All in all, this was the game that set the standard for my Cal fandom. I’ve seen it, experienced it, witnessed it. That’s why I expect more from this program and this fan base. That we were there and we showed up. No reason that it can’t be reciprocated. That’s probably why this game ranks so high on the list for me in terms of favorite Cal games. The freshman dorm memories, the excitement of going to Memorial Stadium for the first time along with the buzz around Berkeley. It can come back, and I hope it does, and it could be this year. Go Bears.