Summer seemed to take a page from August’s book and slipped away into a moment in time.
The onset of September has ushered in long weeks and tedious obligations. Exotic travel destinations dilute of relaxed travelers, students return to their dreadful academic stressors and gloomy clouds roll and overcast the formerly-blue skies. The change of seasons brings the return of reality — the humbling responsibilities of mundanity.
But life need not be so potently negative. Change and adaptations are good, too. New things can spark excitement, too. And so, Americans celebrate.
Come September, five drawn-out workdays give way to a national holiday each Saturday. Combatting the seasonal blues, enter: college football gameday.
A token of cultural richness, if you will, a collegiate football matchup has far surpassed the framework of an amateur game — it serves as a festive escape from reality. In minuscule college towns, to notoriously rowdy university parking lots, the energy is a tangible force. This very force manifests itself in many forms: A sea of faces sloppily varnished in university colors, an array of garments depicting a mascot doused in tradition, middle-aged alumni wrangling hyper, sensory-overloaded children while flipping hot dogs on a portable grill, mouths open wide and in constant motion, transcending a slew of complaints and cries of joy.
With the power to evoke overwhelming jubilation — or discouraging frustration — a college football game is a hiatus from everyday existence for fans. But, for the athletes on the gridiron, the game is a microcosm of real life.
Sure, good old Memorial Stadium may not adhere to my spirited description on any given gameday. But the boundaries of the Strawberry Canyon facility are, nonetheless, encircled with an emulation of life. For the young, developing men on the Cal football roster, everyday is a lesson worth reflecting upon.
Recall three weeks ago: When all that is doubtful and questioning plagued the anxious arrival of the 2022 season. Facing the monstrous loss of core players and veteran leaders to professional aspirations and the transfer portal, the blue and gold took the field sporting new faces. Necessary roster revisions were intimidating. Could leaders step up? Could offensive chemistry form? Could defensive cohesion be maintained? And, in the first five or so minutes of action, the answer was no, no and no, respectively.
A battle to shift towards momentum and confidence, the Bears soon after found their stride. Transfer quarterback Jack Plummer connected his first few completions as a Bear and highly ranked freshman running back Jaydn Ott ran to the races downfield for over 100 yards in his collegiate debut. And, despite the faltering beginning, Cal never looked back, securing a 34-13 victory over the Aggies.
In the locker room, these young men could reflect on how optimism and persevering drive led them to a successful outcome, a lesson applicable anywhere. And, continuing into week two, Cal pushed forward the energy in the opening half against its second FBS opponent, UNLV. As the plot line went, a spectacular display of poise and blatant domination gave way to a scare of a second half. The Rebels pounced relentlessly out of the intermission, forcing the Bears into a closer brawl than expected. With an eventual 20-14 conclusion after a contrasting tale of two halves, the Bears emulated the grit and diligence of survival. Things don’t always unfold in an optimal manner. And that is okay. Just keep going and get the job done.
South Bend, Indiana saw the betting odds stacked against Justin Wilcox’s visiting program, yet the blue and gold displayed an exhibition of surprises within the sea of green. Although imperfect and sluggish at times, Plummer and company recreated tenacious opportunities on offense. With questionable officiations — with a literal phantom offsides call being the one in question — the awakening of Notre Dame’s flustering defensive corps and a final Hail Mary heave that couldn’t be secured, the Bears faced their fair share of adversity in the matchup. Although it is always frustrating to lose, Cal showcased a performance worthy of respect and was not discouraged by the uphill battle.
Now, the imposing talents of Pac-12 rosters loom ahead. As Cal looks to find success in its new embarkment, it must adapt and proceed in the face of failure, and search for the sense of consistency it has so long been missing.