I was 16 years old, in 1979, when I walked off a part-time job directing parking for people who wanted to go out and kill their own Christmas tree.
I’d been a Golden Bears fan for 11 years by then, and in all that time the team had come up empty. So it was that, in 1979, in the second Garden State Bowl, the Bears were to make their first post season appearance in 20 years.
I wasn’t going to direct parking while the game was actually being televised. Televised! In 1979 that was really something for a middling 6-5 team. Besides–and who knew?–it might be 20 years again before another bowl invitation.
You have to remember that, in 1979, only 15 bowl games were played. Today there are 41. The Garden State Bowl, sadly, does not number among them. There were only four contests in the bowl’s history.
The Bears managed to lose by 11 to Temple. Temple! The loss was not blunted by the fact that, at the time, the Owls were ranked number 20. What mattered, walking home from the Christmas tree farm that December 15, was that the Bears were in a bowl, on television, and playing a ranked team. That was about as good as it could get then.
We’ve been in contention for the Rose Bowl during less than a handful of the 51 seasons I’ve been a fan. Did you catch what I did there? I used “we’ve.” And not because the university is my alma mater. I included myself because college football is such a tribal sport. I was a fan, then a student and fan, then an alum and fan and now, still, a fan. A mostly disappointed fan, yes, one who frankly doubts he’ll ever see the Bears play in Pasadena on New Year’s Day, but, a fan nonetheless.
After having been properly lobotomized by jingly seasonal music, college football is by far the best the Holidays have to offer. Even if your team is not playing; even if, heaven forfend, your team loses.
Here’s my Holiday song for this year:
Or maybe I’ll save the ol’ Oski Yell if we(see?) ever make the Rose Bowl in my lifetime.
Of course, this season, our oldest son’s squad–the Oregon Ducks–will again be playing for the roses. That must make three or four for him this time–that rat.
Last year was something of an off one for the Ducks. But they did play Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl, beating the Spartans by a point, 7-6, in the fourth quarter.
By Bear standards, last year was fantastic–a 7-6 record with victories over Washington and USC and the first bowl game in three years. Did Bear Nation care that it was the Cheez-It Bowl. Assuredly, no.
That bowl was originally played as the Copper Bowl, in Arizona, beginning in 1989. The Bears won the second Copper Bowl over Wyoming, 17-15. I remember watching the game at my parents’ house. And while the Bears played in another second game of a new bowl, this time–at least–that tradition didn’t just perish. After Copper, the bowl went from Insight.com Bowl to Insight Bowl to Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to Cactus Bowl. And now it’s the Cheez-It Bowl.
Which our oldest son found hilarious. Cheesy.
He was briefly living with us then and we watched many games together. That was the fun bit. The less enjoyable part–but still a fun part of college football–was the all-too-easy course he took in thoroughly mocking me.
Days before the game he presented me with a box of Cheez-Its. Almost as a mock trophy.
“But don’t think you guys are going to win,” he said. Grinning–that rat. “You’re going to eat that whole box before the game, and because of that you’re going to lose.”
Knowing myself and the Bears all too well, I agreed. Then promptly forgot.
A few days later I was drinking chardonnay and watching a mystery, totally engrossed in some murder most foul. Got a bit peckish. And remembered I had a snack. Or should I say an entire box of Cheez-Its?
Final Score? Texas Christian University Horned Frogs 10, California Golden Bears 7. In overtime. By a damned field goal.
The game could best be described as a fiasco. Golfdigest.com called it the “best worst bowl game in the very spotty history of bowl games…There were more interceptions in the game (9) than Cal had points… TCU had 28 yards of passing all night, and STILL won the game, which hit the under on its paltry over/under of 38.5 by almost two touchdowns…No, we’re not making this up. We couldn’t if we tried.”
The Cheez we chewed wasn’t choice.
I will say this, though: I still love watching footage of 1982’s The Play, that five-lateral touchdown kick-off return through its marching band after Stanfurd had apparently won the Big Game by scoring a field goal with four seconds left on the clock. I remained as the stands were emptying around me.
OK–it’s not so satisfying as a Rose Bowl appearance, especially as a victory might be–but it is something I actually witnessed, and I did not abandon hope while so many others did. If only I could reconstitute this hope for the roses. Because–and I can attest to this 51 seasons consecutively–there isn’t “always next year.”