I don’t really do football.
My only prior knowledge of the sport comes from high school, where all the action was at the snack stand, not on the field. My first college football game last fall was marred by this inexperience. In an innocent yet fatal moment, I decided to take a seat in the student section.
I wanted to blend in at the game — an obvious freshman, but desperately hoping to seem older. I put on my carefully selected Cal outfit, stuck a bear paw tattoo on my cheek and anxiously walked to the student section for kickoff.
My friends and I were a tight pack in a crowded student section. We attempted to decode what “roll on you bears” meant as we shouted it and fumbled through the California spell out — which I apparently should have paid attention to at CalSO. As the second half neared, our voices were tired, and our legs were, too. So, naturally, I sat down to rest.
Immediately a booming voice shouted, “It’s the first freshman of the year everybody! One … Two … Three …”
My head swiveled around looking for the poor freshman this mystery voice was referring to. The crowd turned their backs to the game and bowed their heads as I looked up, meeting the eyes of my accusers perched above me.
Then it came, blaring loudly and only growing: “Freshman stand up, freshman stand up …”
Their demands were clear: I was supposed to stand up. Instead, I froze. Sweat was pooling on my glowing red face. The chanting didn’t stop until my friends, who looked as horrified as I felt, yanked me up onto my feet.
I was again staring at the back of heads and listening to cheers that, thankfully, weren’t directed at me. The crowd had moved on to its next victim. But the high school prima donna that lingered in my new college self couldn’t get over the embarrassment. Luckily, half time was near. I escaped from Memorial Stadium.
In the weeks after, I tried to process my game day humiliation. The peer pressure to remain standing in the student section was ridiculous, uncalled for, stupid, dumb and lame, I told friends. They, too, needed to know about the senseless demands of the student section.
Each week, I spent less and less time at the games. I quickly learned that when older students lauded the glory of game day, they weren’t necessarily referring to the football game itself. Soon, my game days began hours before the first whistle, with 10 a.m. mimosas and deafening music. By game time, with a post-tailgate sway in my step, the thought of standing for hours in the hot sun sounded near impossible. Eventually, I stopped caring about the money I lost on a season pass. I didn’t attend the games at all.
More than a year later, as Cal took on UCLA last week, I finally broke out of my game day trend. I begrudgingly entered the stadium with a group of friends who faithfully stand for every minute of every play. Equipped with my newfound sophomore maturity, I wanted to put an earnest effort into enjoying the game with them. I cheered loudly and unabashedly. Two quarters in, I realized that my feet and legs didn’t hurt.
Without my freshman self-consciousness, I was no longer prohibited from screaming at the loudest capacity my 5-foot-5 frame can handle. Surely, if I can run into fraternities and dance on tables to Pitbull in the name of the Golden Bears, I can stand and cheer in the stadium to the sounds of the Cal Band.
In fact, the overwhelming spirit and packed stands of standing students is really more of a national college football trend and not just a Cal practice. Upholding this tradition of fan support has less to do with the effect it has on our football team and more to do with the message it sends. Standing throughout the highs and lows of a particular game shows the love we students have for our university. Standing through never-ending lows of a season like last year shows our unwavering commitment and resilience — two traits driven into our core as public university students. To those who have a hard time breaking away from Piedmont Avenue: I understand.
Every weekend, I promise myself that when “Timber” ends, I’ll leave. But then a “Sweet Caroline” sing-along breaks out, and the cycle of “just five more minutes” continues. Admittedly, I only avoided fraternities last weekend so that I could spend my night in Moffitt headache free. I’m lucky this forced me to give the game a second chance.
To permanently break the “five more minute” cycle, I’m approaching the next game day with a set of commitments and compromises. After one hour my iPhone alarm will ring, and no matter what song is playing, I’ll make my way toward the stadium. I will proudly claim my spot in the student section and stand tall.
I won’t repeat my freshman mistake and sit down — at least, not in the student section. I’ll cheer for as long and as hard as I can before receding a few rows back for a rest.
Update 10/24/14: This personal essay had been updated to include four paragraphs of the story that were previously omitted.