A tip of the hat to Memorial Stadium, venerable host of the California Golden Bears
Built in 1923 to honor Californians who lost their lives in World War I, Memorial Stadium gained entry on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Two seventh-graders, however, recognized Memorial Stadium's appeal some 50-plus years earlier, when Joe Kapp and Everett Alvarez, friends from Salinas, visited Cal's Berkeley campus with their teacher.
"A young teacher, Pamelina Brunelli, took us up to Berkeley from Salinas -- in those days it was a three-lane road -- and we got to go to the Cal-Missouri game," Kapp said. "Everett and I with Miss Brunelli, we walked up Strawberry Canyon, went by the life science building, went by the Bancroft Library. ...
"So we get past all these beautiful buildings, and Everett says, 'Miss Brunelli, what do we have to do to go to school here?' Then we get to the stadium ... and the best band in the land comes on the field ... and I said, 'Never mind that. Miss Brunelli, what do I gotta do to play football here?'"
It's all gold
For a gallery of images of Cal's Memorial Stadium,
Alvarez ended up going to Santa Clara on an academic scholarship before becoming a U.S. Navy pilot in 1960. His plane was shot down in 1964, and he became the first American POW in Vietnam, enduring more than eight years of captivity and torture. Though Kapp would probably be the first to tell you that his own life story pales in comparison to his war hero friend's, Kapp made good on his California dream, matriculating at UC-Berkeley and quarterbacking the Golden Bears to the 1959 Rose Bowl. Cal hasn't made it back to Pasadena since.
While the football team hasn't always enjoyed a lot of success, Memorial Stadium has endured as one of the most visually stunning settings in college football. Architecture professor John Galen Howard, who designed many of the iconic buildings on the Berkeley campus, patterned Memorial Stadium after Rome's Colosseum, but the beauty lies as much in the surroundings as in the structure itself. Nestled in Strawberry Canyon, Memorial Stadium provides breathtaking views of the Bay Area to the west and the pine-covered Berkeley Hills to the east.
An even better sight for Cal football fans in the '20s was legendary coach Andy Smith's "Wonder Teams," which compiled a 50-game unbeaten streak from 1920 to 1925. Indeed, Memorial Stadium was known as the House that Andy Built because the success of the Wonder Teams was largely credited with galvanizing the fundraising efforts to pay for construction of the new stadium, not to mention inspiring the demand for a facility with 80,000-plus seats (since reduced to about 72,000). Tragically, Smith died of pneumonia at 43 following the 1925 season. His ashes were scattered on the field, and the Andy Smith Bench along the home sideline was dedicated to his memory in 1927.
The 15 memorial stadiums honoring the nation's military veterans have changed over the years. Take a look. Photo gallery.
The team remained fairly successful into the '30s, culminating in Cal's last Rose Bowl win in January 1938 under coach Stub Allison. Pappy Waldorf became coach in 1947, and "Pappy's Boys" won three straight Pacific Coast Conference championships in '48-50, going undefeated in each regular season, only to lose the Rose Bowl all three times.
Golden Bears past and present marvel at Berkeley's game-day atmosphere. Legendary Cal RB and 1975 Heisman runner-up Chuck Muncie recounted his experience leading up to his first home game.
"Wow, here I am on one of the most amazing college campuses in the world," Muncie said. "Playing in Division I at big-time college level, I was excited, like a guy taking the best girl to the prom for the first time ever. It was kind of like that feeling -- the butterflies, the excitement and the pageantry and the band, and the colors. You go out there and everybody had on the Cal colors.
"It's one of those experiences you'll never forget, the first time walking through that tunnel."
For Jahvid Best -- a Heisman hopeful until a concussion suffered Saturday cast doubt on his status for the rest of the season -- the exhilaration begins well before taking the field.
"The 'March To Victory' is probably my favorite thing about it, just to walk into the stadium and see all those fans cheering," Best told ESPN.com in an e-mail, describing the human tunnel of fans the Golden Bears pass through.
"You never witness more school spirit and unity for a greater cause," senior O-lineman Mike Tepper said via e-mail.
Berkeley students certainly take their school spirit seriously. The marching band keeps the student section raucous and rowdy throughout the game. The University of California Rally Committee has been around for more than 100 years and is tasked with preserving campus traditions like the victory cannon, which is fired from Tightwad Hill before every home game, after every Cal score and again at the conclusion of a victory.
The Rally Committee also created the famous card stunts for the 1910 Big Game versus Stanford, unveiling the performance at halftime. In fact, the annual rivalry with Stanford has inspired a Big Game Week full of spirited events: the Cable Car Rally, the Tree Chopping Rally, the Bonfire Rally at the Hearst Greek Theatre.
Muncie knows the intensity surrounding the Big Game better than anyone.
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