The Play Isn’t Enough, Not Any More

Tell Kevin that it’s still The Play at [email protected]

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Whether or not I was in attendance to witness The Play is a matter for high courts to decide. You see, my mom was definitely at the 1982 Big Game. And I definitely was born almost exactly six months later. So, in a sense, I was there.

My life as a Cal fan has thus always been defined as The Play and then everything else. I have probably seen it on television 500 times, and I have probably heard Joe Starkey’s nonsensically brilliant radio call more times than that. I remember the 10th anniversary, and the 20th.

I wear a shirt that diagrams The Play for good luck. When I saw the 15-lateral play in the Division III ______v._____ game this year, I took great offense to it being mentioned in the same breath with The Play. (I dare you to try to fill in those blanks. That play couldn’t last 25 days, let alone 25 years.) On occasion, The Play has even allowed me utter the ridiculous words, “the Bear will not quit, the Bear will not die.”

But enough has been said about The Play over the last 25 years that it is unnecessary to say anything additional about its brilliance.

What they forgot to tell me as I became a lifelong Cal fan was that The Play was just about the only good moment in Cal football history. Even when Cal is good, things quickly turn bad. Even our best season in the last 50 years is mostly remembered because our quarterback died of cancer.

Despite all of that, The Play for decades gave fans some form of joy season after losing season. Until recently, you could simply tack on the words “The Play” to any analysis to bring a smile to the most downtrodden Bears fan.

For example, from 2001…“We haven’t gone to a Rose Bowl in 42 seasons. Stanford has beaten us seven times in a row but remember The Play?”

Or 1999…“Well, John Elway might have won two Super Bowls, but he did cry after The Play.”

It used to work like this. For most of the last 25 years, The Play was enough. It isn’t any more.

“We might have blown a wide variety of leads, and our quarterback, who at one point was supposed to be one of the best in the nation, has 12 fourth-quarter interceptions and one touchdown, but The Play.”

“Our coach, our best coach ever, by far, without question, screw the ancient past, might leave to take more money at a football powerhouse chiefly for the reason that there are, to quote Brent Musberger, ‘Hippies in the trees.’ Just remember though, Tedford didn’t design The Play.”

I bet you aren’t smiling. See, in reality, The Play engrained in Cal fans a mentality that only perpetuated losing—if you have zero expectations about the upcoming play, or game, or season, then once a generation you might wind up euphoric. At one time, I had this mindset. How could anyone who saw The Play not accept revel in the glory of Cal football—despite how devoid of glory it had always actually been?

Jeff Tedford, of course, has changed all that. Expectation crept in, and we actually started to enjoy winning. In year one, we hoped to win a single game. But then suddenly, we expected bowl games and Rose Bowls and Heisman Trophies. We forgot about Stanford, our new rival was USC. Memorial Stadium was sold out and we roared when LSU lost in the sixth week of the season.

Finally, we were going to be No. 1. We were going to play in the National Championship Game. And we were going to win.

And then we weren’t. And we aren’t. And we will never know if we actually were ever good at all. It turns out that real glory—the type of championships —is pretty tough to come by.

But The Play.

After 25 years, I think finally, that just isn’t enough to make a Cal fan feel better. After 25 years we have thankfully unlearned its lesson.


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