One for the ages

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The Axe is back.

On Saturday afternoon, Cal football looked every bit the team that fans have been praying for since the arrival of head coach Justin Wilcox in 2017. The Bears rolled into Stanford Stadium and flat-out dominated the Cardinal in every phase of the game en route to a 41-11 victory over their archrivals.

It was a Big Game for the ages and it had it all: the longest passing play in the 124-year-old rivalry game’s history, fourth-down goal-line stands and obviously, the rushing of the field once the victory was secured. This one was something straight out of a Hollywood screenwriter’s drafts.

But most inspiring was how the Bears got the job done.

Unlike recent victories over Stanford, Cal did not need to rely on late-game heroics or the opposition making ill-advised decisions. The blue and gold earned every second of this win. Where Bears fans may have been nervous in the past about their team’s tendency to fumble away leads, they could not have been more confident Saturday. Chants too devastating to repeat here erupted from Cal’s student section as the Stanford faithful fled the crime scene early into the second half. Even the Bears’ offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave appeared to want to suck the soul out of his opponents. He implemented trick plays throughout the contest and kept his foot firmly planted on the gas, as Cal’s starters ran up the scoreboard late into the fourth quarter.

And the blue and gold had reason to rub it in, as the Bears beat the Cardinal at their own game.

Under head coach David Shaw, Stanford has been revered for its strong running game and depth of tight end talent. So it would logically follow that the Cardinal should continue the trend against a program that had missed its previous game due to a COVID-19 breakout, right? Wrong. Cal outgained Stanford 352-43 on the ground and posted 636 total yards of offense, the highest tally ever recorded by either side in Big Game history.

Beyond the X’s and O’s, however, this victory was arguably the most important one of Wilcox’s tenure so far. It is hard to put into words how much this win means emotionally for so many groups. But whether it was your first time watching the Big Game or your 50th, you could simply feel the magnitude of what was happening around you.

A student body that was forced to watch from behind television screens last season as a missed extra point sent the Axe back to Palo Alto likely felt redeemed. An alumni base that has spent the last decade seeing its team whooped by double digits more often than they weren’t probably felt vindicated. A football team that believed it had been robbed of a chance to compete last weekend amid COVID-19 struggles no doubt felt rejuvenated. And a coach that has likely heard rumors swirling about his job security probably felt hopeful.

It felt like nature was healing when a wave of blue and gold once again washed over Stanford Stadium on Saturday night. After all, any season in which Cal beats Stanford cannot be considered a lost one. Don’t get me wrong — there’s still a lot of football left to be played. But whether or not the Bears go on to win out against UCLA and USC to secure bowl eligibility, their performance against the Cardinal proved that this team is not dead yet.

Kabir Rao covers football. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @kabirr26.