Reality check — a reminder of just how difficult winning can be

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Greetings, friends! Let’s take a trip down memory lane … to two and a half weeks ago.

Entering a primetime, #Pac12AfterDark matchup with a ranked Oregon squad, Cal football was ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll, eclipsing the top 25 for the first time in nearly three seasons.

Oh what a difference a few games can make.

It’s easy to point fingers at what went wrong for the Bears, whether it’s the fact that Brandon McIlwain has inexplicably dropped back to pass at least 40 times in each of the past two games, or that when he completes a pass, it’s rarely for more than 10 yards down the field.

It’s easy for fans to call out Cal’s defense for surrendering three rushing touchdowns to a transfer tailback, who only had one on the season heading into Saturday’s blowout loss in front of a homecoming crowd, who, as linebacker Evan Weaver put it, deserved much better.

My biggest takeaway, though, is that the past three weeks have been a reality check for not just players, but for fans too. The anger and frustration is evident in the reactions — whether it’s a #WeWantBowers thread or premature calls for Beau Baldwin and Justin Wilcox to lose their jobs on the spot. Additionally, these fans were the same ones who were calling Wilcox the leading candidate for Pac-12 Coach of the Year just two weeks ago.

For the record, there’s no formal proof released by the program, but it’s evident that Bowers’ services are not available at this point.

That said, I understand all of the frustration. The last time Cal competed in the Rose Bowl Game? 1959. The last time the Bears won “The Granddaddy of Them All”? New Year’s Day, 1938, when FDR himself roamed the west wing of the White House.

And after earning a second straight 3-0 start followed by back-to-back-to-back losses against conference foes derailed Cal’s dreams of competing at the top of the Pac-12 North, everyone has come back down to Earth.

Throughout Saturday’s struggle against the previously winless Bruins, the finger-pointing began, and fans seized the opportunity to roast all three facets of Cal’s team — an all-too-familiar sight for the past 60 years.

Does this mean they’ve given up hope? Not necessarily, but for all the talk of “we aren’t satisfied with just going to a bowl game” dialogue that players expressed throughout fall camp and into the first portion of the season, everyone is rightfully disappointed at what’s transpired over the past couple of weeks.

If anything, it’s a reminder of just how difficult winning has been for this program.

I’ll end on a bit of a personal and more optimistic note, as I tend to do with my columns: I grew up in the heart of Palo Alto surrounded by Stanford alumni and Cardinal fans of all ages. Every other year, it seemed like the children in my neighborhood received Rose Bowl tickets in their Christmas stockings to go watch their team compete against a Big 10 school, displaying visible disappointment if all they got one year was a Sun Bowl or Alamo Bowl appearance from the cardinal and white.

On the flip side of the rivalry, I know diehard Cal fans — including my dad and some of his closest friends — who have waited year after year after year to see the Bears in Pasadena for the famous parade, primetime Holiday matchup — everything. These days, sneaking into any postseason bowl game is tough, as it will be for this year’s Cal squad.

When the day comes — if it comes — for Cal to take the place of Oregon, USC, Stanford and those who have been at the top seemingly every year smiling with a rose in their mouth, it will be one hell of a sight for arguably the most patient fan base in the history of college football.

As a 20-year-old, I can’t understand the true patience that older, wiser fans have exhibited for all these decades. But I’ll be the first one jumping at the chance to place my dad’s well-deserved Rose Bowl ticket in his Christmas stocking the day it all changes, and maybe, for just one year, the finger-pointing will come to a halt.

Whether you support Cal or Stanford, wins are never a given — it doesn’t matter if it’s a top-10 team or a program still searching for its first win. Shoutout to UCLA this weekend. Cal fans and student-athletes alike were served a slice of humble pie on Saturday evening, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. Every win is hard-fought, well-earned and not taken for granted — and that’s what makes each one even more special for those who support the blue and gold.

Perhaps this is the reality check that the team needs to deliver for its fans.

Josh Yuen is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020.