Thursday, November 17, 2011
Big Game means plenty to Cal
By Ted Miller
California's Sean Cattouse is a good safety. A sure tackler. An NFL prospect. And you already know where this is going, right?
Cattouse was cast as the part of roadkill for one of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck's most replayed highlights -- his 58-yard scramble in last year's Big Game blowout of the Bears. "Roadkill" is not a role any football player wants.
"A lot of jokes. It's all fun and games," Cattouse said when asked -- again and again -- this week about the play. "I'm just more sickened with myself with how I went about trying to tackle him. It looked like nothing I've done before."
Andrew Luck and the Cardinal won back the Axe after beating Cal 48-14 last season.
How much do you think Cattouse enjoys hearing about that play? How much do you think he wants a rematch with Luck, one on one? And how much do you think all the Cal players enjoy hearing about how super-awesome Luck and the Cardinal are?
The Big Game is always a big game. It's a rivalry game between elite schools that like to tout how they are more elite really than the other.
And it means plenty to Cal.
For one, they'd get the Axe back. While the Bears have split the last four Big Games, they have won seven of nine under coach Jeff Tedford.
Tedford is another issue. While he's been successful against the Bears' biggest rival -- Stanford was riding its longest winning streak in the series with seven consecutive Big Game victories from 1995-2001 when he arrived in Berkeley -- there is considerable fan frustration with his program's inconsistency over the past few years. A win over a highly ranked Stanford team would mute that, at least in the short term.
Further, Cal is playing for its own stakes. If it beats the Cardinal, it improves to 7-4 and moves up in the pecking order with bowl selections.
That said, there are unintended consequences of playing the spoiler. It would cost the Pac-12 about $6 million because Stanford wouldn't be the pick for an at-large BCS bowl berth. And then the Cardinal likely would end up in the Alamo Bowl, which would knock every other bowl-eligible team down a notch.
"It's not about spoiling anything for them," Cal quarterback Zach Maynard said. "It's a huge rivalry game for us."
Cal also has a strong history of upsets in the series, particularly when the Cardinal boasts a celebrated quarterback.
The Bears beat John Elway twice, producing the greatest play in college football history -- "The Play," in fact -- to do so in 1982. They knocked off Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett in 1970. And, of course, they upset Luck in 2009, 34-28, with Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed grabbing an interception in the waning moments with Stanford on the Bears' 3-yard line.
That, in fact, was one of the worst games of Luck's career. He was 10-of-30 for 157 yards with no touchdowns.
Before that game, Tedford repeatedly tweaked his players with how the media and fans believed then-No. 14 Stanford and running back Toby Gerhart were too physical for the Bears. In response, Cal's Shane Vereen rushed for 193 yards on 42 carries with three touchdowns and outplayed Gerhart.
It was a successful motivational angle that Tedford might revisit. Young people often seem to respond well to the underdog, no-respect role.
"Those are always motivational pieces," Tedford said. "We have a great deal of respect for them. Their accolades -- they are worthy of them."
Still, in the end, all rivalry games are like this. There are Cal men and Stanford men. Blues and Cardinal. And when they meet -- their own and the other -- they will remember who won, and when and how it went down.
Said Cattouse, "It's a big game every year. Every year we want to win it."