In a Class of Their Own 

On the football field, Cal has shown it has few equals. But in class, student athletes are separate and unequal.

In the years before Coach Jeff Tedford took over Cal football, UC Berkeley students became known for bum-rushing the field and rioting after the Big Game. Having lost to Stanford seven times in a row, the logic was simple: If we aren't going to beat you, at least we'll kick your ass.

But these days, Cal students have a rather different outlook. Now that the Bears are ranked number four nationally, it's hard to ignore the cult that's arisen around them. Billboards, buses, and BART trains are wallpapered with pictures of the handsome, ethnically diverse team standing in full gear and gazing out into a boundless azure sky. New marketing credos aren't the only signs, either. With the A's, Raiders, and Warriors all losing this year, Cal's weekly press conferences have been packed with sportswriters and broadcasters. Vendors in Sproul Plaza hawk jerseys of star players like tailback J.J. Arrington, and Coach Tedford has become a local folk hero: as the Big Game approached, the perennial "Fuck Stanfurd" T-shirt was eclipsed by "Impeach Bush: Tedford for President."

The great rivalry between Cal's Bears and Stanford's Tree stands in for the cultural divide between an ethnically diverse public university and a privileged and elite private one. Traditionally, the annual Big Game has been the theater in which these differences are played out. The schools' competing outlooks are evident from the very moment their respective bands first take the field.

At this year's game, each section of the notoriously clever Stanford Band selected its own nerdy costume. The yell leaders wore togas; the trombones were dressed as Ghostbusters; the altos were Transformers; the mellophones were dressed as Waldo from Where's Waldo?; the drummers wore twisty-ties and duct tape; and the alto saxes were riot police with shields and batons. It was all very eggheaded and, uh, a bit white. The pregame show was organized around a post-election "Escape to Canada" theme, as the announcer, evidently Dudley Do-Right, shouted mock instructions for blue-state expatriates, such as Wear a Mountie hat and Learn how to fake a Canadian accent. "We don't take football as seriously as Cal," observed Chris Holt, who plays trumpet and also helms media relations for the band. "We like to infuse a certain mirth and humor into the whole rivalry thing." Cal fans booed obstreperously throughout the whole skit, undercutting Stanford's pageantry with a routine in which audience members pretended to chop down Stanford's beloved tree.

Once the Stanford nerdfest ended, the considerably less intellectual Cal band rushed onto the field playing Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love," followed by Outkast's infectious "Hey Ya." Wearing black, military-style uniforms with gold placards draped over their jackets, the horn players shook their booties and gyrated their hips while the baritones and tubas laid down a seriously funky bass line. Cal's peppy, miniskirted cheerleaders rushed onto the field and boogied down with the horns, and the crowd went wild as three groups of dancers stole the show by grinding their pelvises and shaking their pompoms in front of the band.

The two football teams were just as mismatched. It wasn't just a case of the land-grant university squeaking by the private school thanks to a funky final play involving bandmembers. This year, the Bears humiliated Stanford 41 to 6. Arrington picked up 169 yards for his tenth hundred-yard game of the season, and along the way set Cal's new single-season rushing record. With three and a half minutes left in the third quarter, Cal's freshman running back Marshawn Lynch made a 55-yard dash into Stanford's end zone, which broke open a 13-3 game and turned it into a blowout. After Lynch contributed another touchdown by passing the ball twenty yards to wide receiver Burl Toler III, a reporter in the press box scoffed, "Now I think Cal's just showboating." But someone else countered: "Cal is showing the national press that it's Rose Bowl material."

Cal fans even abdicated the role of sore losers. Right about the time Lynch blew the game open, Stanford incurred a series of questionable penalties. First, Stanford's #29 Leigh Torrence tackled Cal punt receiver Tim Mixon before he even had a chance to catch the ball. Then, during a crucial fourth-quarter play at his own five-yard line, Stanford defensive end Will Svitek ran out and pushed Cal's offensive lineman, Jonathan Murphy, before play had even begun. A guy in the press box muttered: "God, I hope they don't run out into the middle of the field after the game. These guys are gonna kill each other."

Fearing just that, dozens of real riot police ran onto the field to stand guard as the game ended. But triumphant Cal fans were so happy to have kicked Stanford's ass that they didn't crave more bloodshed. Instead, hundreds of fans in blue and yellow jerseys rushed onto the field and scooped the players onto their shoulders, waving flags and dancing to triumphant music.

In short, Cal outclassed Stanford on the football field.

Too bad that Stanford outclasses Cal in the classroom.


Don't hate the player; hate the game

"A few years ago, a TV broadcaster interviewed a Cal player and a Stanford player back-to-back after the Big Game," recalls Adrian Bankhead, who helped start the African-American Theme Co-Op during his junior year at UC Berkeley in 1997. "The Stanford player was, like, the next W.E.B. Dubois -- this talented tenth-ass individual who saw all the game's plays as part of this whole global, metaphysical philosophy. The Cal player was, like, grabbing his nuts and stuff."

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