The last time the Bears beat the Trojans, I was six years old. A bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kindergartener in Chicago, I had no concept of who the California Golden Bears even were. But, what I did have a concept of? Losing streaks.
When I was six years old, the Cubs hadn’t won a World Series in 95 years — one of the longest streaks in professional sports. Even at that age, I understood the agony associated with a drought of that magnitude.
And nearly a decade and a half later, I also understood the ecstasy that comes when one of them is snapped.
Though it may sound oxymoronic, losing streaks are cultivated over time. In a strange way, the longer they last, the more valuable they are when broken. They become a testament to years and years of mediocrity and when broken, emblematize the beginning of a new era.
Yes, they are painful. But, there’s also nothing more satisfying than breaking one.
This past weekend, Cal snapped a 14-year losing streak to USC. Most students at Cal probably have no memory of that last victory back in September 2003, but what has permeated throughout the years for all Cal fans was that feeling of mediocrity. For 14 years, no matter how good a Bears’ squad was, their Southern California foes were better. And that’s a feeling that remains embedded in a collective psyche.
It was certainly embedded in Cal’s. Until now.
And while most of the coaching staff seemed to brush off the magnitude and significance of the streak, at least when it came to the media, it was nonetheless present in the mindset of many observers.
“The streak and all that, we didn’t even talk about it,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox. “You know, we’re not playing against a streak — we’re not playing against the past. We’re playing against the guys in the other uniforms.”
But whether or not it was consciously on the minds of the participants, players nonetheless carried the weight of those 14 years on their shoulders. And despite that burden, felt or not, they were able to break it. It’s something that won’t easily be forgotten.
“Yeah, in all honesty, last night we talked as a team,” said senior linebacker Alex Funches. “Moe Ways, a transfer from Michigan, talked about the losing streak that we’ve had … and he was saying, ‘In 20-plus years, you’re going to look at yourself, and yeah we made it to a bowl game, but Cal teams have not beat USC in 13 years and we were the team to do that,’ and he was saying that that’s going to be a lifetime memory.”
Funches put it better than I ever could have — breaking that streak is arguably more important than earning a bowl berth, and it’s the strongest message that this year’s team has sent about its potential and capability. Cal teams have participated in bowl games over the past 14 years, but what none of them have been able to do is defeat USC. That fact alone makes this one different, and in part, it’s a testament to the mentality that has been imbued in this team by the coaching staff.
This wasn’t just a win — it was also a win that came after Cal faced a 14-point halftime deficit, following arguably one of the Bears’ worst halves of football this year. It’s proof of the grit that resides within this Cal team, and it shows what has been at the heart of every single one of their wins — a will to do whatever it takes. And that’s the attitude it takes to cultivate a winning program.
In the end, streaks are meant to be broken. And if this year’s Cal team will fall in amongst the many others that have tallied winning seasons, what it will have to its name is an oh-so-coveted win against USC. In the words of Funches, that’s going to be more memorable than any bowl game.