The Lombardo Trophy: Cal, the baby bear

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Zach Maynard can’t throw. Jeff Tedford can’t coach. Such is the general consensus in the persistently morose Cal football community.

But I’m here to tell you: Really, everything is just fine.

Sure, Maynard may have succeeded Tebow as Turf’s favorite quarterback, and Tedford may rival Solyndra as the state’s worst investment. But even for a fan base that hasn’t been truly happy since the 1937 Rose Bowl win, we have to admit that we’ve got it pretty good right now — especially compared to what other universities have endured over the past year.

Across the country, college football experienced its most tumultuous offseason of all time. Conference realignment and money grabs vied with academic scandals and sordid personal affairs for ESPN’s top billing, and Cal managed to avoid all of them. Here’s a glance at what we dodged:

  1. Our coach crashing both his motorcycle and his mistress, a la Bobby Petrino.
  1. An academic scandal that implicated our top players, like the University of North Carolina or Harvard. (Although, our academic scores are pathetically low compared to our Pac-12 peers. And you thought Maynard’s missed tutoring session was an anomaly, rather than indicative of a wider trend?)
  1. Our administration pimping us from conference to conference in search of a bigger payday, like the officials at West Virginia or Texas Christian University.

This is why I love Cal football.

Since I arrived in Berkeley in ’09, Cal has embodied the middle route: Its record is a near-perfectly-average 20 wins and 18 losses. It’s as if Memorial Stadium can breed both erratic play and consistent results, an ironic but logical consequence of the team’s on-field performance.

Maybe we don’t win all the time, but we don’t always lose, either. We send a few players to the NFL every other year, and occasionally our punter may be the best player on the team, but who cares? Cal is the Baby Bear of college football: not too good, not too bad, but juuuust right.

So as the Golden Bears travel to Ohio State’s Horseshoe this weekend, where Braxton Miller’s athleticism and Urban Meyer’s brain will likely obliterate our porous defense, remember: At least our boys got their tattoos legitimately.

If I had attended in the days of Pappy Waldorf, perhaps I would feel differently. But when conditioned for mediocrity, it is impossible to expect more. And nor should I — it is unfair to hold the present to the standard of the past.

Such nostalgia always leads to sadness, as Owen Wilson learned in Midnight in Paris when Marion Cotillard disappeared into the 19th century with Gauguin and Degas. So please, let’s not be those people who live in eras of bygone glory, and instead embrace this team in its current iteration, flaws and all.

We can enjoy the Keenan Allens while lamenting every pass out of his reach, marvel at the packed student section while noting the empty seats across the gridiron. Gloom is not mutually exclusive from fun, but in excessive quantities always leads to doom.

Of course, this short essay will soon be derided as the blathering of a faux-Bear. A former colleague  — who I fancy knows more about Cal sports than than the entire class of 2013 — presented a much more nuanced argument toward a point similar to mine, yet still received a pummeling from those devoted fans who faithfully police the Daily Cal comment section.

So to head off at least the bluntest of those criticisms: I want to assure you all that, like the folks who run Golden Blogs, I risk life and death while watching the football team. It’s just that instead of my fate hinging on the result, it rests more on the firmness of my grip as I chase after that forty skittering away down Tightwad Hill.

Contact Jordan Bach-Lombardo at [email protected]