Continuing on from the depressing Bottom-10 worst games, I give you the Top-10 favorite games. Let’s be clear about what this list is. It’s MY favorite games. It’s not the best games the Bears played. It’s not the most important victories. It’s the games that I carry close to my heart and was very thankful to be a part of (similar to how the Bottom-10 are the ones that pain me the most, which were not necessarily the games that were the worst for the program).
You’ll notice that all of the games were games I was in attendance for. That’s because no game, no matter how special, can rank well against the emotions that go along with being there in person. Luckily I’ve been in attendance for just about every meaningful game during the Tedford era (the 2003 USC game and the 2003 Insight Bowl being the most notable exceptions, both missed because of a recently born son). So without much further adieu, here’s the list:
#10 – 2008 ASU game
Something about ASU always gets under my skin. Maybe it was their constant over ranking in the last decade. Maybe it was the personalities of their key players and coaches. Even still, the 2008 edition particularly got under my skin, what with their undeserved 2007 esteem (that was one of the most schedule aided over-ranked teams in history), Carpenter’s whiny yet cocky attitude and Erickson’s smugness. Add in their completely undeserved victory over the Bears in 2007 and I couldn’t have disliked them more. So, despite them being 2-2 when they headed to Berkeley in the fall of 2008, I was more than ready to watch ASU take a soul-crushing loss at the hands of the Bears. And boy did the Bears deliver. Of course Follett’s sack of Carpenter was a high point, but the Bears gave me a warm feeling inside all afternoon with their dominating play.
#9 – 2006 UW game
The 2006 Washington game is a cautionary tale to anyone who is considering missing an “unimportant” game. The Bears were supposed to cruise to victory that day. Instead the crowd in Strawberry Canyon were treated to an epic thriller. The Bears trailed for most of the day but Marshawn was unwilling to let the Bears lose. Between his halfback pass play that was busted up and turned into a cross field romp down to the 1 yard line and the final drive of regulation that put the Bears in front, he was unstoppable. The 2-point conversion to make that touchdown a 7 point lead and the ensuing Hail Mary that tied the game turned what was already an exciting game into an overtime thriller. Toss in Bishop’s interception that ended the game in overtime (after another Marshawn TD) where he was unsatisfied with taking a knee and tried to run it back the length of the field for a touchdown, followed by Marshawn jumping in the equipment cart to go pick up Bishop who ran out of gas before he got to the endzone and you’ve got one of the most enjoyable and memorable games in Berkeley.
#8 – 2005 Las Vegas Bowl
After such a disappointing 2nd half of the season in 2005, it was so nice to see the Bears finish of the season on a high note. The Big Game of course got it started in the final game of the season, but had the Bears lost to BYU in LV, I suspect the 2005 Big Game would have an emotional asterisks attached to it. Add in that it was the first bowl game I attended in person, and it’ll always hold a special place in my memory. That I had a great vacation on the back end of the game visit my Uncle’s desert ranch in Arizona after the game only makes the game that much more memorable. Not to overlook the game, Marshawn was in as fine form as he was in the UW game the following year and DeSean had his coming out party gaining him plenty of national attention that he took with him into his banner year in 2006. What a great game!
#7 – 2006 Oregon game
This day could properly be titled “The Day Memorial Came To Life”. Up until then, Memorial was a enjoyable place to watch a game, but it wasn’t feared by most opponents. Tedford had once or twice admitted he was a bit jealous of the home field advantage teams like Oregon (his old stomping grounds) and USC had, so he challenged us fans to bring the vocal heat that Saturday evening. Boy did we and boy did Oregon find themselves surprised by it. Ever since then, Memorial has been a place that opponents had to prepare for. Again, not to overlook the game itself, the interception on the first play of the game, the resulting TD on a classic Tedford TE slide out, the DeSean punt return for a touchdown, the hard hits on Dixon… another game with more great memories on the field. But really what sticks out in this one was it was the day us Bear fans realized there could be a 12th man in Berkeley. I remember thinking to myself, “This can’t be good for my young children’s eardrums and I’m loving every moment of it.”
#6 – 2006 Holiday Bowl
Obviously this is Cal’s biggest achievement as far as bowl games go and it was a great game. While TV viewers likely remember the end of game mutiny by Levy, for those there that was a non-incident. What was clear was watching a Cal team that hit harder, ran faster and made quick work of Texas A&M’s 300 lbs. running back who was supposed to be something special. All I saw was how hard 300 lbs. can fall. Also interesting is that despite going to only one of the three bowl games in San Diego, I picked the one the Bears actually won. Minus that aside, it was really the pinnacle of the Bears success. Everything since has been a bit more humble.
#5 – 2009 Big Game
The best games are the games that you REALLY want the Bears to win but fear the Bears won’t have what it takes. The top-5 with the exception of the 2002 Big Game fit that criteria. I was among the more optimistic about the Bears chances in Palo Alto last fall but I was enough of a realist to know that predicting a win was trouble. Then to watch the Bears quickly go down 0-14, all of our worst fears had come true. But how the rest of the 50 minutes of that game played out, oh what a sweet comeback. Add to it the end of game interception that sent me into a level of cheering that I doubt has ever been matched in my lifetime of Cal fandom. I think it was the first moment my kids realized that their father was just a little bit crazy.
#4 – 2000 UCLA game
While I have been a Bear fan my whole life, raised the son of an alum in Oakland, I didn’t go to my first game until I was out of college and got season tickets for myself. That was 1999. It was the depth of the Holmoe era. A new non-donor season ticket holder got tickets in section E, albeit in row 60. The bleachers were not packed and one could spread out a bit. The first two games I attended in 1999 were actually wins (one thing Holmoe did that kept him around longer than he otherwise would have been was he won a fair number of games at home to keep the home crowd happy), but by the time mid-2000 and UCLA came to town, any delusions of grandeur I had as a season ticket holder were long since erased. The Bears were 1-4 when UCLA came to town with a 4-1 record. We were going to get crushed and everyone knew it. But the Bears put up what was perhaps their best performance of the Holmoe era. While the details of the game escape me what I remember most was overtime. Overtime rules were relatively new to college football so there was a novelty there, but in addition the half full stadium created an environment that likely will never be seen again. As overtime started the ENTIRE fanbase slid out of their seats and down into the end of the stadium where the first overtime was held. All of us were on one end of the stadium. For the second overtime everyone slid down to the other end and then they came back again for the third overtime to the other side. In addition to getting in some extra walking in, it also was a special environment. We as fans were in this together. Seat assignments meant nothing. And we were rewarded for being a part of it with a thrilling triple overtime victory.
#3 – 2007 Tennessee game
There’s been no game in the last 10 years that had the magical and unique environment that existed on September 1st, 2007. It was opening day of what looked to be a promising season, the treesitters were in full force in the grove, the Cal game was nationally televised and we were playing the most prominent non-conference opponent of the Tedford era. The game could have crushed our souls, but instead we were treated to a wonderful performance by our Bears. Who can forget the Follett forced fumble on UT’s first drive and the ensuing scoop and run for a TD by Williams? Who can forget that punt return by DeSean, what was unquestionably his best punt return of his career? Remember Jahvid running stride for stride with him into the endzone? The Bears played a great one that day and it will not be forgotten.
#2 – 2002 Big Game
This is the only game in the top-5 that the Bears were “expected” to win. But nothing about the Big Game, particularly in those days, that could be called “expected”. The Bears had been favored other times in the 7 year losing streak. It was far too close to games like the 1990 game from the Bottom-10 to be anything but nervous. For those of you who are relatively new to the Cal Bear football scene, the games of the last decade have been some of the most predictable Big Games in the history of the series. 2007 to 2009 are more close to how things have gone over the history. ’75, ’82, ’86, ’90, ’91, that’s the norm. Add in the reality that for all the years from when Snyder left until Tedford arrived, the only way Bear fans could hope for success was to pray for a Big Game win. God knew that there was no hope of winning seasons or much less bowl games, the Big Game was all we had to rest our hopes on. So despite the rebound during the rest of the season, nothing about what happened in 2002 would be complete until the losing streak to Stanford had been ended. All of that is a long way of saying there’s only one word to describe the resulting beat down: cathartic. It to this day marks the only time I’ve run onto the field after a game and I intend to save my next time for a similarly momentous occasion.
#1 – 2007 Oregon game
I hemmed and hawed over whether this belonged above or below the 2002 Big Game. But in the end it has three qualities that make it unique and thus put it over the top: It was a road game, I was working it as a reporter, and the teams were very highly ranked. For those who don’t know/remember, I ended up working this game as a mere coincidence. After working the 2006 season I had been relegated to analysis articles in 2007. Rivals wasn’t sending reporters to away games at that point. But I had an opportunity to go to the game with my brother and his friend Angel but I needed to get a ticket. Since I could do it on the cheap I called AW and asked him if he’d like me to work it for free, thus getting me into the game, and that’s how I ended up at the biggest road win of the Tedford era. The Bears were in top form that day and it was REALLY hard to keep my emotions in check in the pressbox where anything more than a tortured smile was not allowed. But what a game it was and I looked like an epileptic trying to keep my reflexive desires to jump up and down in check. Of course the highlight of this game was the Oregon fumble at the goal line and the ensuing long review, but there was so much more. It was DeSean’s best day of his career with a number of key grabs and one juke and run that left Oregon’s corner searching for his shoes while DeSean celebrated in the endzone. Longshore was at his best and Forsett gave a strong effort as well. It was something very special to be a part of, so special that it was the motivation for my proposals to BearTerritory.net to work road games for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. More than anything this game defined my path as a sports reporter and for that I’m truly grateful for how the Bears played that day. But even ignoring that, it was something special to be a part of and I’m thankful that I was there to witness it. The day ended with trying to interview Tedford and the team on the field while the small but loud Cal contingent partied in the stands. I knew the audio was going to suck and I probably wasn’t going to get many good quotes from being unable to transcribe the tape, but I didn’t care, let them cheer. It was probably the greatest moment of their Cal fandom for most of them too.
(Honorable mentions: 2008 Emerald Bowl: Would have made the cut if I didn’t have the flu, might have even still made the cut if I wasn’t working the game with the flu. 2005 Big Game: Great highs, Steve Levy at his peak, last Big Game with my brother at Stanford stadium, but a little too much like shooting fish in a barrel in retrospect, 2005 WSU game: A nail biter the Bears really needed to win on cold October night and I never felt more like a family with my fellow fans as that night, but in the end it was more relief that euphoria, keeping it off the list. 2008 Oregon game: Probably the closest of the honorable mentions to making the cut, I never had so much fun in the rain as the “standing water bowl”, but somehow 2008 ASU ranks a little higher. 2009 ASU game: Has the virtue of being the only game I was on the field for the game winning play and a great trip overall, but doesn’t cut it in the end for similar reasons to the 2005 WSU game.)