Friday, December 29, 2006

Full Circle

A short pass to the right, a nine yard catch and scamper, the ball carrier is brought down as the clock ticks down to zero. Nestled in the San Diego night among the loyal Blue and Gold faithful, a few words immediately came to mind: validation, redemption, respect. Sentiments echoed by Coach Tedford during the Holiday Bowl trophy presentation ceremony when he lauded the efforts of his graduating seniors (the first group of recruits that Tedford personally signed to Cal). For this group of young men, their Cal Football careers came to an end last night much in the same way it began way back in the first game of the 2002 season; a thorough domination of a Big 12 opponent from Texas.

At first glance, a 45-10 win in a bowl game over a nationally ranked Texas A&M team doesn’t seem to have all that much in common with 70-22 drubbing of lowly Baylor. After all, we’re the Sturdy Golden Bears, Pac-10 Co-Champions, and a 10 win team for the second time in 3 years. How easily we all forget the bad times. And God bless Jeff Tedford for making it so easy to forget.

When the Cal Bears kicked off their 2002 season against Baylor, they were coming off an utterly miserable 1 win season, and weren’t exactly huge favorites to do much better any time soon. But all I remember from that sunny Berkeley day was cannon shot after cannon shot, echoing through Strawberry Canyon. Time and again the blasts resounded, loudly proclaiming the dawn of a new era; shaking the Cal Team & Fans from the nightmare of the season before. Instant validation for the new regime, redemption for the downtrodden, respect taken by force.

A college career and a lifetime later, the freshman (most of whom red shirted) from that 2002 team can proudly call themselves the cornerstone of the Cal program. Sadly, many of these players don’t get the name recognition or love they deserve, even from the Cal fans. Ask yourselves; is there a Marshawn Lynch without the frightening road grater that is Erik Robertson? How did Rodgers or Longshore make that beautiful pass without guys like Scott Smith keeping the other teams’ uglies off them? How much did the Cal secondary miss the heady plays of Tim Mixon this year? Where would the program be today without Steve Levy riding from obscurity to the rescue last season? Does Cal get recruits like Lynch or D Jax without the success that these players engendered? Is there even a team at all without guys like Eric Beegun, Randy Bundy, David Gray, and Marcus O’Keith all unselfishly buying into the family atmosphere of Tedford’s program?

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this class is that they took a complete leap of faith when they signed with Cal. The immediate success that Tedford’s teams enjoyed made it much easier to land the big time HS superstars and the talented juco standouts. And this post isn’t about lifting this class above any others, or saying that one player's contributions counted for more. But these young men were the first. They were the trailblazers who helped put Cal football back on the path towards national respectability; to the Roses. Their portion of the road came to an end last night, but they went out the way that they came in. Validation of their faith in Tedford and Cal, Redemption for the shaky end to this season and a past Holiday Bowl failure, Respect well earned. Go Bears, and we wish you guys all the best.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Man, I got a little emotional just reading that post. I don't blame Levy for that last TD. In fact, I think all the players who have worked so hard but haven't seen the spotlight should get a TD on national television. They are the foundation of this program, even though they don't get any recognition. Of course, there's the God Tedford himself, who has contributed so much to the school and generations of fans. We better get that stadium project going. Go Tedford! Go Cal!! Go BEARS!