Hoopla surrounding the Big Game builds as game approaches
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Although it lacks the notoriety of rivalries such as Michigan-Ohio State or USC-UCLA, the annual game matching Stanford and California has special significance this year.
It’s the 100th ``Big Game,″ and the hoopla surrounding Saturday’s sold-out event swung into high gear this week with rallies, bonfires, a memorabilia auction and even a golf tournament.
``At first, when I was just a player with the 49ers and was new to the area, I thought, `Well that’s kind of arrogant, to call it the Big Game.′ Now I realize why they call it the Big Game,″ said Tom Holmoe, California’s first-year coach.
Despite this year’s centennial celebration and the annual fervor it elicits from students and alumni, the Big Game is hardly big this season. Stanford is 4-6 overall and 2-5 in the Pac-10 Conference, while California is 3-7 and 1-6.
As a result, the game will be played mainly for pride.
``Going into this game, it doesn’t matter if there’s a bowl on the line, or rings or watches or whatever it might be,″ Holmoe said. ``There’s going to be two teams out there fighting for their teams, their schools, for each other, for what they wanted to accomplish during the season and maybe didn’t get a chance to.
``I expect it to be everything that it was built up to be.″
Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham said part of his job this week will be educating his younger players about the Big Game, which usually doesn’t grab national attention.
``For us at Stanford, there are so many young men, because we draw our players from all around the country, who don’t really have a true awareness of the rivalry,″ Willingham said. ``But after they’ve been through one _ and they’ll have the opportunity to go through a very special one this week _ it really focuses them and allows them to understand how important this ball game will be.″
The rivalry between the two teams started on March 10, 1892 in San Francisco, before a crowd of 20,000. The Cardinal leads the series, 49-39-11, but 46 of those games have been decided by a touchdown, or less and 24 have been decided by a field goal or less.
Probably the most famous Big Game was in 1982. Stanford took a 20-19 lead on a Mark Harmon field goal with just four seconds left. On the ensuing kickoff, Cal scored on a dramatic five-lateral, 57-yard return that ended with Kevin Moen weaving through the entire Stanford band and plowing over a trombone player to make his way into the end zone.
What makes the rivalry different, according to those involved, is the way the two academically acclaimed schools play such an integral part in the history and makeup of the San Francisco Bay area.
``When you have two schools that are located just a short distance away, then you have tremendous interaction between not only the faculties, but the alumni of those two institutions,″ Willingham said. ``You even have cases where you have split families, where the husband was at Stanford and the wife may be from Cal, or visa versa. That makes for a very unique situation, and a lot of rivalries you don’t see that quite as much.″
That gives the winner of the 100th Big Game some serious bragging rights, said Cal senior linebacker Andre Rhodes.
``It’s a respect thing,″ he said.