Looking Back: An Alumnus Reminisces

Photo: Jon Crawford
Jon Crawford

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As with no other sport, football represented my student life. I started my fall semester with all sorts of optimism towards success in my classes, just like I approach each football season with undeserved optimism. Around Homecoming time, realism would raise its ugly head as my first midterms revealed I was less than average - just like Cal's 2010 football team.

One similarity between 1952-55 and 2010 relates to Coach Tedford. I came to Cal when Coach Pappy Waldorf's career started going downhill - from nine wins in 1952 to three wins in 1955. Until 1955, Coach Pappy never had a losing season, nor lost a Big Game - but that year, we threw oranges at Governor Knight as he accepted the Axe for Stanford. Two more losing seasons and Pappy was replaced by Pete Elliott (who was Cal's last Rose Bowl coach) and Marv Levy (who now holds Cal's worst coaching record).

The biggest change in Homecoming is that during 1952-55, when I was at Cal, our Homecoming game was the Big Game (both when it was a home game and when it was an away game). Even when we played at Stanford, there was a Big Game/Homecoming parade down Shattuck Avenue on Thursday evening and a rally bonfire at the Greek Theatre, as there was for every home game.

When we played UCLA, there was an All-University Week celebration with programs involving the four campuses. The program ended for all students with a football game between Santa Barbara and Davis, followed by the Cal vs. UCLA game. The university president changed sides at the half, marched to the center of the field by UCLA officials and escorted to our side by Cal's officials. In 1955, the university president was a Cal alumnus and his fraternity song was played on the Campanile on the Fridays when he was in town.

Another change occurred within the football program. While I was there, there was a freshman team and a JV team. Thus, football die-hards had at least two games on Saturday and there was no competition from professional football.

Five football traditions from my student days have disappeared into Cal's seasons of apathy.

First, the men's rooting section, filling the stadium between both 40-yard lines, was a special experience, as you can imagine, with over 5,000 testosterone-charged men cheering for Cal. Women sat to the men's left between the 40- and 30-yard lines and couples to the men's right. White shirts, laundered only after a Cal win, and rooter's hats (baseball-type blue and gold hats for everyone except freshmen, who wore beanies) were required. Red shirts and red sweaters trying to walk in front of the men brought out the men's worst. Oranges, sometimes injected with vodka, were common artillery fodder to throw at the opposition.

Also, there were no pom-pom girls, just male cheerleaders, as part of the spectacle - I presume it was too dangerous for pretty girls to be in front of hormonal super-charged men.

Third quarter was a time to sing the Cal Drinking Song, which later was stolen and used as the basis for both the Ohio State and UCSB Drinking Song.

Fourth quarter, winning or losing, was a time to give Coach Pappy a standing cheer of six rahs. This tradition was eliminated and forgotten when his successors did so poorly.

Finally, the band closed the game by playing our alma mater before the student body, not the alumni. One misses the special experience of watching the band exit the north tunnel playing "One More River," with the tubas leaving last.

As I pondered and tried to remember events of over 50 years ago, I was reminded that football is the only sport that reunites a student body with its alumni. When one is in the workplace, few anxiously await Newsweek's rating of their respective schools' programs as they anticipate their football team's weekly ranking instead.

Come to Homecoming and the UCLA game. Enjoy the game, and remember these special moments when you and your fellow students coalesce into one great group of men and women rooting for your team. You and your associates will take many things away from Cal - particularly the episodes of your slightly odd friends and energetic associates. But you will probably most fondly remember those when you and your friends came together for Cal events.


Jon Crawford graduated in 1956 with a B.S. in Petroleum Engineering.

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