The beauty of sports lies not in them games themselves, but in the ability to bring thousands of people, regardless of race, creed or color, together, if for but a few mere hours in the grand scheme of this thing we call life. Sports allows its audience to escape a reality which has normalized the horrific, the grotesque, the terrifying, and enter a new one, one which solely revolves around two clans of warriors fighting for victory.
On Friday night, Cal football was tasked with providing that escape.
Heading into the Friday night rendition of “Pac-12 After Dark,” Cal was the overwhelming underdog against eighth-ranked Washington State. As a group which had been beaten, battered and bloodied to the tune of three straight losses to conference opponents by an average margin of 20, even the most die-hard of Bear believers had middling to low expectations.
But for the Cal community, the question of whether its team would win or lose came second to the fact that, after a week which had featured so much devastation, so much heartbreak, so much mind-numbing pain, Memorial Stadium was there to provide a home.
Students, players, coaches and faculty alike awoke on Monday morning to the news that fires had engulfed and consumed the North Bay. Homes and businesses were destroyed. Family and friends were killed. Entire neighborhoods were gone as if they were never there. Former residents had returned with the hope of finding some remnants of their past lives, but for many, there was simply nothing left.
The fires ravaged the area with such an intensity that even at the UC Berkeley campus, some 50 miles south, the smoke was present. In the ensuing days, student worries extended beyond academics. For some, it was a question of whether the community they left in pursuit of a college education was still intact or destroyed — more often than not, students were confronted with the latter.
So when Friday night rolled around, thousands of members of the Cal community were handed an escape from the cold-hard prospects of reality, to relax, take a step back and enjoy a game of football under the Friday night lights.
Sure, the overwhelming majority of media outlets — The Daily Californian included — believed the Cougars would roll through the Bears. Some even doubted if it was the right decision to play the game. But football was to be played regardless and would provide both solace and a familial atmosphere which few spaces can provide.
It’s almost impossible to describe the amount of pure joy sports can bring to people in the wake of tragedy. When surrounded by hundreds of thousands of complete strangers, there’s the unmistakable aura that we’re all in this thing together. That at the end of the day, somehow, someway, we’ll keep moving forward and everything will be alright.
When the game’s last second officially ticked down, Memorial Stadium became the site of jubilation as fans stormed the field in celebration of the upset. This silly little game, one which revolves around the brutality of the human body, was now the medium to which fans could heal.
As Cal fans exited the confines of Memorial Stadium and the comforts which the sporting world had provided, they re-entered reality the same way they left it. The power of football didn’t engineer a way to reverse the effects of the tragedy, to make all the bad disappear.
But that’s never been the role of sports and it never will be. What sports has become, then, is a reminder. A reminder that the good times still can exist. A reminder that we still know how to smile, to laugh, to rejoice. If for but a couple hours, the world didn’t seem like such a dark place.