Why going to the homecoming game will be worth it

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Ethan Epstein/File

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Allow me to paint you a picture. It’s a chilly October night, the year is 2017, and a noticeable layer of smoke has settled over Berkeley — a symptom of wildfires ravaging Northern California. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, however, fans are still arriving at California Memorial Stadium to watch Cal football, which had just suffered two embarrassing road losses, take on then-No. 8 Washington State in what many assumed would be another shameful defeat.

Flash forward to the fourth quarter, and somehow, the Bears are up 20-3. An energized crowd cheers and hollers as Ross Bowers performs a flip that would later go viral to score a touchdown and cement the Bears’ upset over the ranked team.

Flash ever further forward to the end of the game. Exuberant fans, electrified by the shocking victory, storm the field. Students and alumni, friends and family, strangers who had never met before exchange celebratory hugs and high-fives.

For that one night, we could forget that Cal was only 1-3 in conference play. For that one night, we were given something else to think about besides the world literally burning around us. For that one night, the loyalty of Cal fans was rewarded with a win.

My aim in sharing this story is to highlight why we students should show up to the game. In the past few years, attendance at Cal football games has reached a record low. As a result, revenue has dropped, and athletic programs are trapped in debt. A lack of an energized home crowd has been shown to have significant effect on team performance. Thus, we’ve entered a pernicious cycle: “Well, our team sucks, so I won’t go to the game,” when poor attendance could actually account for Cal’s less-than-superior performance.

The problem isn’t a shortage of spirit — on the contrary, some truly dedicated students wake up at 6 a.m. on game day to partake in certain celebratory festivities honoring Cal. Students get decked out in Cal gear and gather with friends to drink and party in the name of game day. The issue is harnessing this spirit and directing it toward supporting the team. The issue is getting students to rally from their “daygers” and actually show up at the game.

For this homecoming game, fellow students, I implore you all to show up. Pregame to your heart’s desire, dance your worries away at as many fraternities as you want, but when 4 p.m. rolls around, just go to the game. Even if it’s the first and last time you ever make your way to Memorial Stadium on game day, I implore you to be the fan that could make a difference for a team on the cusp of greatness. Join generations of Californians returning to Berkeley who haven’t stopped believing that no matter how many losses the Bears endure, a win is never impossible.

Sure, Cal has handed us some disappointments lately. Sure, there are a million other things we could be doing. Sure, there might be a really exciting party happening a block away. Sure, we might lose. But we might win. As Cal showed on that October night, even the wins that seem distant aren’t out of reach. We might redeem last year’s loss to UCLA, we might come out victorious for all the family and alumni who returned for homecoming, and we might show UCLA who the No. 1 public university really is, and you don’t want to miss your chance to be there when we do.

I’ll be the first to admit that it often feels like Cal football delivers more disappointments than successes. I know how hard it is to be a loyal fan when it seems like no matter how hard you cheer, it doesn’t make a difference. But it’s moments like the upset against a No. 8 team under Friday night lights that let you forget about the losses. It’s listening to Joe Starkey’s calls on “The Play,” watching Ross Bowers flip into the end zone and storming the field with your fellow Cal fans that make it all worth it.

Contact Hannah Nguyen at [email protected].