A weekend to remember for Cal alums in the NFL

From right to left: Tony Gonzalez (Wikimedia Commons/Courtesy); Aaron Rodgers (Elvis Kennedy/Creative Commons/Courtesy); Shane Vareen (Evan Walbridge/File) .
From right to left: Tony Gonzalez (Wikimedia Commons/Courtesy); Aaron Rodgers (Elvis Kennedy/Creative Commons/Courtesy); Shane Vareen (Evan Walbridge/File) .

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On Saturday and Sunday, Cal fans got themselves a real nice discount double-check from the NFL playoff action. In one of the most exciting playoff weekends in recent memory, eleven former Golden Bears from five different teams suited up for action.

The Cal alums were involved in many important highlights of the weekend, for good and bad. They made the NFL rain with bombshell throws, bumbling fumbles and manly tears. Here’s the weekend’s recap from Cal’s best XI:

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
Cal alums: QB Aaron Rodgers, PR Jeremy Ross, LB Desmond Bishop (All GB)

Every Cal fan knows the fall and rise of Aaron Rodgers —  his childhood club 49ers drafted Alex Smith over Rodgers as the first pick of the 2005 NFL draft, and he spiraled down to the 24th pick to Green Bay, only to became the best quarterback in the NFL years later. We basically have that tale etched in our head.

Saturday night at Candlestick Park made a nice narrative as Rodgers’ supposed final and complete act of revenge. But apparently everybody who stirred up the story forgot football is a team game, and a quarterback alone can’t always win the game.

Rodgers played well in the 45-31 loss, throwing 26-for-39 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. While the quarterback played at a MVP level, the majority of the Packers played more at a N.S.F.W. (Not Safe For Wisconsin) level.

The defense had more holes than swiss cheese, being torn apart by Niners quarterback and Nevada alum Colin Kaepernick. (A Cal quarterback outperformed by a speedy Nevada quarterback… Haven’t we heard that story before?) Kaepernick had a breakout day with four touchdowns, two with his arm and two with his feet.

But the award for Saturday’s biggest screwup went to Jeremy Ross for his punt return fumble in the second quarter at his own nine-yard line. It led to a San Francisco touchdown, and Ross was benched for the rest of the game.

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons
Cal alums: RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Cameron Morrah, DT Brandon Mebane, K Ryan Longwell (SEA) TE Tony Gonzalez, S Thomas DeCoud (ATL)

It’s hard to believe that Ryan Longwell and Tony Gonzalez were teammates in Berkeley back in 1996. Longwell and Gonzalez probably couldn’t believe they squared off against one another in 2013.

In a rollercoaster of a game that ended in a 30-28 victory to Atlanta, Cal fans saw five players start. While Lynch, Mebane, Gonzalez and DeCoud solidified themselves as long-term starters for their respective teams, Longwell signed with Seattle last Wednesday after the starting kicker was injured.

The biggest contributors to the game were Lynch and Gonzalez. Lynch was not Beast Mode on Sunday though, only rushing for 46 yards. But he did have a touchdown that stirred some talk, as Lynch fumbled the ball at the goal-line that fell into the hands of his offensive lineman.

Gonzalez caught six passes for 51 yards and a tip-toe touchdown in the first quarter. He also caught the last pass of the game which set up the game-winning field goal. After the win, Gonzalez couldn’t hold back his tears while celebrating his first postseason win in his illustrious 16-year career.

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots
Cal alums: RB Justin Forsett (HOU) RB Shane Vereen (NE)

When Shane Vereen exploded onto the scene with three touchdowns on Sunday that left many wondering “who is this guy?”, Cal fans showed little surprise. For three years at Cal, Vereen was the reliable cog of the offense run by former coach Jeff Tedford.

His reliability and consistency made him a prototypical running back under Bill Belichick’s system. In a Tom Brady-centric offense, Vereen showed he can not only run but catch and block.

The highlight for Vereen was the 33-yard reception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Lined up as a receiver, he demonstrated his versatility with a spectacular catch.

 

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