Even backstage at the Greek Theatre, the heat from the Bonfire cracks toward you like a whip and makes your eyes water. Even in the midst of a torrential downpour — as has been the case for the past two years, at least — the dying embers can still steam dry your clothes if you stand close enough in the pit.
Freshman year, however, I didn’t notice such visceral details. I was delirious with fatigue and on the verge of tears by the close of the 113th Big Game Bonfire. I hadn’t slept properly in my dorm all week, I couldn’t feel my freezing-cold toes and my jacket was so soaked through that I eventually abandoned it in the stands. It was a hand-me-down from my younger sister, anyway.
This was the price I paid for being a member of the UC Rally Committee, and all I had to show for it was a sheet of paper that proved the completion of certain “Big Game Week Requirements.” Selling my future first-born or giving up Gordo’s burritos for the rest of eternity wouldn’t have been half so agonizing.
At my first Bonfire I never experienced that “moment” all the older members of the Committee rhapsodized about during Welcome Week. You know, the type of moment where suddenly you look wildly about yourself and realize that — holy shit — you go to Cal and you’re witnessing something unforgettable. The type of moment where the Spirit of California becomes a palpable energy, a call to arms. All that came the following year when I went behind the scenes and escorted guest speakers on and off the stage.
It also helped that I bought my own student ticket and thus didn’t need to go another 12 rounds with the fearsome Big Game Requirements.
But what started as rumbles among Rally Comm’s executive committee has recently been confirmed by its newest chair (and, incidentally, my former roommate): Bonfire as we know it won’t happen this year.
I came to Cal for a number of reasons (“The Graduate” was filmed there; the academics were unparalleled; the school colors were classy), but one of the motivating factors was that the Bears were Pac-12 competitors. Add on the country’s most storied college rivalry with those ‘Furdies, and I was instantly enamored. There is only one university that can lay claim to something as enduring as The Play or as outlandish as the mad dash through San Francisco over a century ago to protect a stolen axe. And every day I wake up in Berkeley I’m thankful beyond words that I’m here.
Nearly every sports team on campus has by turns impressed or disillusioned me throughout the past two years. These days I tend to look upon any Cal sporting event with the critical eye of a dogged journalist rather than that of a passionate fan.
But the rivalry with Stanford – and all the tradition that comes with it – is still something that grounds me as another student in the stands. I relish in retelling the saga of the Treaty of Castle Lanes, and whenever I hear the scratchy audio playback of Joe Starkey’s infamous 1982 commentary my heart fist pumps smugly. While my relationship with Big Game Week is a continual love-hate pull, I still feel a tinge of pride whenever I brag that I’ve been backstage for the largest bonfire west of the Mississippi.
In a way it’s a tragedy to watch a tradition vanish without the merest possibility of resurrection. In another, it’s an irresistible challenge, a chance to create another chink in this history’s armor. That one time the Bonfire was cancelled? That has the potential to become another infamous fable that we pass down. It’s an opportunity to cement our legacy, to blaze a new trail — pun absolutely intended.