A senior’s ode to the Big Game

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You know it’s that time of year again when you see the blue and yellow lights wrapped around Sather Gate and the striped rugby shirts hounding passers-by on Sproul Plaza to go to a night rally. It’s Big Game week. And as a spirited senior at Cal, this has always been a particularly important part of my college experience. Aside from the antics of the week, the Big Game has always been a marker of the passage of a year, and a time to reflect on why I love Cal and came here in the first place.

Being from Chicago, I came to Berkeley knowing just one other person but excited that I had found a school that fit with my criteria: challenging academics, Division I athletics, location near an urban environment and the opportunity to learn from a diverse student body. When I got to campus, I immediately joined the sports section of The Daily Californian, where I experienced a steep learning curve with all of the school’s traditions, including the Big Game.

I have distinct memories from each of my three Big Games. Twice, I made the trek to the South Bay, whether by charter or party bus. And twice, I was thrown off by both the calm and expanse that is the Stanford campus.

It would not be inaccurate to say that my high school always had the most deflated pep rallies in all of Illinois (except that year our Latin Team won state), so my first Big Game was an unfamiliar experience. I had just joined my sorority and used the Big Game as a way to bond with the friends whom I would grow closer to throughout college. I remember finally feeling the spirit of a Division I rivalry as all the Cal kids unloaded from their buses and flooded Palo Alto.

Sophomore year, the memory that sticks out in my mind is the rain. So much rain that I wore a Cal rain poncho, and didn’t care that I was shivering the entire day.

Last year, I spent the afternoon on the field outside of Stanford Stadium, wearing a Cal bucket hat and talking primarily with people I hadn’t met before.

A constant throughout all three years has been the Ink Bowl — a flag football game that the Daily Cal plays against the Stanford Daily each year on the day of the Big Game. As our team practices for a couple of months to prepare for this matchup, there are always high stakes, and in some sense, it become even more personal than the larger football game at hand.

Despite the weather and any other extenuating circumstances, the Big Game always represented Cal pride and friendship, whether I was with some of my best friends at school or meeting new faces, bonding over mutual blue and gold spirit.

The last time that Cal won the Big Game was in 2009, yet every year, there is a renewed hope that the Bears will defeat the Trees in the last minute. This year, Cal and Stanford are both 6-4, and with the Bears coming off their first win in 15 years over USC, there is a particular hype in the air.

While the rivalry endures year-round, the Big Game provokes a certain tribalism between Cal and Stanford students — behavior that stems from a strong loyalty to one’s group. While I will undoubtedly scorn any Cal student that dares to wear even a red accessory, on my fourth and final Big Game, I am also going to take the chance to reflect on my time in Berkeley and what I have learned out of the last few months of the college experience.

Lucy Schaefer writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @lucyjschaefer.