The Agony and the Ecstasy

Jimmy "The Emu" Clausen

"Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that." —Bill Shankly 

College football season starts next Saturday. This is a huge time of year for Scott & I, and our love of college football was something that initially bound us together, and grows to this day. We went to rival schools: I went to Cal (Go Bears), and he went to USC. The year we fell in love, Cal beat USC in triple overtime and Scott was at the game and I wasn't and this was a huge deal ... but we weren't there together, as we weren't together, and oh my, what a day that was. Cal had sucked for the last eternity, you see, and USC was a good team. Also? I love gloating.

By 2004, Scott & I were together, and by coincidence, it was the year that both of our teams were really, really good. I look back on it now as a magical time, because Cal has steadily slid back into mediocrity ever since, and that's sad. But 2004 was almost perfect. Almost.

Everything came to a head at the Cal-USC game late that fall. Scott & I got tickets to the game and went down to Los Angeles to attend. I had no idea at the time, but we attended one of the most incredible games of the last couple of decades (at least). 

Cal played almost, almost the perfect game, against the #1 team in the country in their own house. Aaron Rodgers tied the NCAA record for pass completions in a row. It came down to 4th & 9 with 1.5 minutes left, nearly in the end zone that Scott & I were sitting very close behind. It was Cal's to lose. 

And we lost it. 

It wasn't so awful that we lost this game, really, in and of itself. It was a great game, a battle of two great teams, with a lot of competition. But the bigger picture was devastating: we had a chance to go to our first Rose Bowl since the 1950s, and that day, we lost it. There was some other garbage with the coach of the University of Texas campaigning other coaches to vote his team into the Rose Bowl and not ours in the AP poll, which worked (and caused a moderate scandal, thank goodness...), but if we had won against USC that day, the Rose Bowl would have been ours.

Scott always told me at the time not to worry, that we'd get there soon, but I knew he was wrong. 8 years later? He finally agreed with me. I can't express how much I wish I'd lost this particular bet, but oh well ... one thing that my journey as a Cal fan has taught me is that it's only football. As much as I'd like to treat it like the entire universe, it's just a game, and life goes on for everybody. At least that's what I tell myself during my positive moments; during my cynical ones, I often say "Cal has made me dead inside." In a way, its true: I don't cry while watching football games anymore (and I used to have epic meltdowns). But anyway, I kind of got off topic. Back to last night...

Lately I've been watching games on the Pac-12 Network's "Classic Games" series. They don't just play the game back; they also do interviews with pertinent participants, which they then insert at the proper moments.  Last night they happened to broadcast the 2004 Cal-USC game while I was editing photos on the couch. I'd not ever seen the broadcast (since I was at the game), so this was fascinating, and to hear the emotional words of the players, the coaches, the journalists ... it was very eye-opening.

And very emotional. Did I mention that? 

It was actually a lot harder to watch this game than I thought it would be (8 years later). Mostly, this had to do with the interviews, especially the ones talking about how absolutely incredible Aaron Rodgers was, about how great our team was, about how we had almost done it and this was our only chance. It was really just the way things go, that we lost the game: we had two critical injuries on offense, and Rodgers really didn't have anyone to throw to. On top of that, USC had one of those "magic moments." It happens. But man, it still hurts. Even to Aaron Rodgers, it still hurts. He says at the end of his interview that all he wanted to do at Cal was take his team and his fans back to the Rose Bowl ... and that even today, a Super Bowl champion and everything, he's still not over it. Wow.

I had always wondered if Rodgers was really passionate about playing football at Cal, and in one sentence, he proved that he cared more in one year than anyone has since. I love my team no matter how badly they play, no matter how embarrassing we are to the rest of the conference, no matter how many times we get blown out in all of our away games. But I will never forget that magical, almost famous 2004 season, and the feeling of complete elation that comes with (even momentarily) believing that anything, and everything, is possible.

There are several differences between a football game and a revolution. For one thing, a football game usually lasts longer and the participants wear uniforms.  Also, there are usually more casualties in a football game (270/366)
a photo I took at a Cal-UCLA game, probably 2007
"There are several differences between a football game and a revolution. For one thing, a football game usually lasts longer and the participants wear uniforms.  Also, there are usually more casualties in a football game." —Alfred Hitchcock


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