I’ll never forget Nov. 23, 2019.
That was the day Cal quarterback Chase Garbers weaved his way through Stanford defenders and into the history books, giving the Bears their first Big Game win since 2009. As I rushed the Stanford Stadium field and took my place among the sea of blue and gold that had washed over the Farm, I couldn’t help but cherish the moment.
It was like a scene out of a movie, the storybook ending to a picture-perfect game. As the Cal team celebrated with the Axe reclaimed by its narrow victory, strangers embraced and exchanged “Go Bears!” Except, the strangers didn’t feel like strangers, they felt like family. Whether my fellow Bears were the same age as me or decades older, we were all brought together by a common thing: our undying love for Cal.
Perhaps I remember that day so fondly because I know how rare it was. Cal fans have long become accustomed to losing. If the Bears lose, it’s just another Saturday. But if they win, that Saturday has the potential to be one that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
This potential is what keeps us Cal fans going. Unlike rivals Stanford, UCLA and USC, UC Berkeley has never been a big sports school — we simply do not hold the athletic clout or legacy that these schools possess. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it just means that we’re still working our way up. And we’ll get there one day.
That’s what being a Cal fan means. It’s that blind optimism at the start of each fall that this is the year Cal football will reach its first Rose Bowl since 1958. It’s that silent hope that creeps down Piedmont Avenue and into the Memorial Stadium stands on game days. It’s also being beaten into submission by the end of the season, looking for where it all went wrong and harboring thoughts of “maybe next year.”
For every 2019 Big Game, there is a 2020 Big Game.
It’s hard to describe the heartbreak felt following Stanford’s one-point escape from an empty Memorial Stadium. Just when things felt as if they were turning around, our Axe was once again snatched from our grasp. But that’s the sacrifice we make when we decide to back the blue and gold. That’s part of the deal.
Being a Cal fan is not for the faint of heart — wins come few and far between but that’s what makes them so much sweeter. It’s a slow grind, and along the way you’ll learn a few things — as a UC Berkeley student does. You’ll learn to tout legendary Cal alumni such as Aaron Rodgers and Jason Kidd whenever contemporary debates arise. You’ll learn to never wear red on game days. Perhaps on a more serious note, you’ll discover the extent of your loyalty.
If you’re like me, you’ll also begin to appreciate your fellow Bears more. This semester, as the sports editor during an unprecedented pandemic, I had the opportunity to attend games that weren’t open to the general student body. Being able to sit in those familiar stadium seats was a great luxury, but it underscored what I already knew: the fans make up the experience.
There’s nothing quite like being in the hallowed golden bleachers of the student section. As chants of “Go Bears!” roar from one side of the stadium to the other, we strike fear into our opponents’ hearts. Even if our teams cannot change the game’s outcome, it truly feels as if we can. And if Cal is even remotely competitive, forget about it.
That California spirit never goes away — and neither do we. As the COVID-19 pandemic (hopefully) wraps up, that blue and gold wave will ride its way into Berkeley once again, ready to embrace the unexpected wins and inevitable losses. So, to all of the newest Bears, welcome to the family, and Go Bears!
Kabir Rao is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].