In January, the Pac-12 sent an idiot wind chilling back to the Bay Area, reverberating as it struck down history and tradition. The Play, the axe, card stunts and, yes, the bonfire — they are all part of Big Game lore. And the scheduling decision to pit Cal’s and Stanford’s football teams on Oct. 20, instead of their traditional matchup in late November or early December, is unbefitting of one of college sports’ greatest rivalries.
Seemingly a fluke in scheduling, the Big Game will likely be back to its regular time of the year in 2013 and beyond. But now that the UC Rally Committee has officially cancelled the pregame bonfire due to the Greek Theatre’s unavailability, Cal students, faculty and fans see the tangible detriments of the Pac-12’s scheduling decision.
Cal versus Stanford is the 10th-longest running rivalry in college football, with 120 years of history. And the bonfire, the largest west of the Mississippi, has been a fixture of Big Game festivities for many of those years. But because the Big Game was strangely and surprisingly scheduled in October, the Greek Theatre had already been booked.
We don’t blame Cal Performances and Another Planet Entertainment for scheduling a Bob Dylan concert on Oct. 19. The fault lies in the 10 Pac-12 athletic directors who approved a schedule that keeps their rivalry games at the end of the season but kicks the league’s most storied one to the middle of the season.
There should be a way to accommodate all the teams. Even the artificially manufactured Colorado-Utah “rivalry” game is on Nov. 23, the final game of their regular seasons. Despite records and rankings, the Big Game is called that for a reason: It’s the biggest game on either team’s schedule. It’s especially upsetting that this schedule snafu will occur during Cal’s first season back at a renovated Memorial Stadium.
The Big Game is not just about football. It transcends sports. It’s about college, it’s about the Bay Area, it’s about being part of a community. It’s about having spirit and faith and pride. And with the nerves and costs and gulps that come with a football game itself, the Bonfire Rally is perhaps the purest manifestation of the Cal-Stanford rivalry.
Rally Comm will still be holding a rally before the Big Game, but it will be in Edwards Stadium without the bonfire. And while we are confident the committee will do its best to replicate previous rallies, it just won’t be the same without the bonfire. The fire is what makes the stories and songs so special. Those could be performed and told any time. But in a theater at dusk, surrounded by your peers, senses stripped watching the blaze of the flames and the glow of the embers — it’s more than just a bonfire. It’s being a Golden Bear.
But when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. Rally Comm is trying to raise $15,000 to put on a bonfire rally before the Oregon game in early November. Yet the bonfire is synonymous with the Big Game and the Cal-Stanford rivalry — just because Oregon is a top-ranked team does not mean a bonfire is warranted.
Instead of putting time and effort into that venture, we hope they do something extra for the Big Game to make up for the bonfire. It’s a grand opportunity to make a new tradition. It can be just as big and great and beautiful as the bonfire. We’re ready to go anywhere.