I was thrilled to my orange-painted toes to learn my beloved Vawls were playing Cal for their season opener. Since they had come all the way to the west coast (like they were coming just to see me!), I thought the least I could do was make the trip up to Berkeley to meet them.
I drove up in the middle of the night on Friday (miraculously escaping the L.A. Labor Day mass exodus crush), slept about four hours, and woke up to find downtown San Francisco, well, a lot like home:
It wasn’t the sea of orange that blankets Knoxville every Saturday, but everywhere you looked there was someone rocking that eye-popping shade:
Radio estimates numbered the Tennessee faithful making the trip at 10,000. Not that difficult to believe:
After passing a delightful and tipsy afternoon watching Michigan-App. State and Notre Dame-Georgia Tech in an orange-packed sports bar, we made our way up the hill to the stadium.
Which was, quite frankly, a dump. Dear Cal Athletics: You have a really, really, really good football team. Jettison the hippies from the oak trees (that aren’t even indigenous to the area), break ground, and get the Bears some facilities to match already. My high school stadium outstrips this one.
The lovely and talented Coach Trooper Taylor surveys the scene:
And we were off.
It was a heart attack of a game right from the start. Just relentless. Score. Score. Score. Score.
And nothing went the way we thought it would. Every preconception that wasn’t completely turned on its head was exaggerated beyond anyone’s expectations. The maligned O-line (see what I did there?) did a bang-up job (and there?) of keeping most of the pressure off injured QB Erik Ainge, whose broken pinky and Historically Fragile Psyche didn’t seem to hamper him half as much as we feared. The receiving corps acquitted themselves passably (I can’t stop). Most crucially, the specter Tennessee fans know as Bad Erik was nowhere to be seen.
But it wasn’t enough. It’s a strange sensation to fear for the game as our defense takes the field. It’s completely foreign to me to doubt the prowess of a Chavis-crafted unit (much as it’s second nature to dread our special teams, excepting the ones that kick– the two touchdowns that put Cal over the top were direct results of a kick return and a fumble) but they never showed up to play. We knew the defense was suspect going in. We had no inkling they’d be suspect to the tune of forty-fucking-five. It’s been said elsewhere and I’ll repeat it for the cheap seats: At Tennessee? Thirty-one points should be a win.
And here’s what hurt the worst: Not the scoreboard. Not the chants of “PAC-10-FOOT-BALL!!” that followed us out of the stadium, shouted by fans of a team that’s scheduled to play two (2) currently ranked teams the rest of the season. Not the fact that, after the #12 team, beat the #15, they rushed their own field (prompting a hiss from my girlfriend, “Jesus, act like you’ve been somewhere“). It was the attitude. That laid-back, it’s-only-a-game sense that is just heresy to my SEC sensibilities. I was carrying on a cell-phone conversation for much of the third quarter at normal volume with no difficulties whatsoever. UNacceptable.
Hey, Berkeley? The Golden Bears? Are fucking good. Forsett could play most anywhere in the country. Jackson? Will be a goddamn star before too much longer. They deserve your support. Raise your voice, dammit. (And if you’re going to rush the field, don’t do it at a walk.)