Cup Challenge

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In the early 1930s, the World Newspaper in British Columbia purchased a cup to be awarded to the winner of the game between the University of British Columbia - the best Canadian rugby team at that time - and the best team in the state of California.

Over the past 20 years, Cal has become synonomous with the latter distinction, and the "World Cup" has evolved into the centerpiece of the rivalry between Cal and UBC.

Today, the cup is on display at the British Columbia Hall of Fame. Although the winning team does not actually get to possess the cup, the symbol is still alive and well in the eyes of both squads.

"There are two big (series) that the University of British Columbia plays each year," says UBC coach Spencer McTavish, who played for the Thunderbirds from 1967-73. "We play for the Boot against the University of Victoria and we play for the World Cup against Cal."

To earn possession of the cup, a team must win both games of the series. If there is a split, the team with the larger margin of victory gets the trophy.

Right now it's halftime, and Cal (9-2) is down 17 to the Thunderbirds. The intermission has lasted almost six weeks and the second half of play is about to begin.

With its 46-29 loss to the Thunderbirds Feb. 12, the Bears need to win next Wednesday's contest by at least 18 points.

Although that is not the mindset that Cal coach Jack Clark would like the Bears to have next week when they travel north to take on UBC, it is undoubtedly the situation many of the alumni - and many of the players - find themselves in.

"It'll be in the back of our minds, but we've got to go in knowing that we've improved," says Andy Tamayo, who has yet to lose the cup in three years on the Cal varsity team. "If we win the cup, great. But our first goal is winning the game."

According to McTavish and Clark, the first four decades of the cup's existence were evenly played between Cal and UBC. In the early 1970s, UCLA burst onto the scene and took the Bears' spot in the World Cup game for a couple of years.

But from the mid-70s through the '80s, when the cup began to symbolize solely the game between Cal and UBC, the Canadian team held a firm grip on the cup. The last decade has been a different story - over the last four years, the Bears have been in control.

"During the last couple of years, Cal has had the upper hand," McTavish says. "They've been close games, very entertaining, but Cal has seemed to come out on top."

With their earlier loss in Berkeley, the Bears find themselves in quite a hole heading into next week's game.

"I'm going to coach for the win," says Clark, who played for the cup in the 70s. "Since we've already lost the game, we go for the win. If the win seems possible, that's the only point we would even think about the cup. It's important to the alumni and to the players, but I want them to think about doing things for victory."

The Thunderbirds, on the other hand, are in the driver's seat. But they do not plan to play conservatively simply to take back the cup.

"Every time that we play Cal, we want to win," McTavish says. "I don't care if we win by 10 points, one point, a half of a point, or a tenth of a point. (The cup) means a lot to our players and to our alumni."

For the veteran players, the competition for the cup is nothing new. By now, many of them know their opponents by name and often hang out with them after competition. In fact, when UBC comes to Berkeley, the Cal players host the Thunderbirds in their apartments.

These relationships start during collegiate competition, and many of them continue down the road. Cal alumni make up a large percentage of the US National Team from year to year, and many players on the Canadian National Team are graduated UBC players.

"I can remember while playing at Cal that there were players from UBC that ended up playing against us in international competition," says Rick Baily, who played for the Bears from 1975-77 and was an assistant coach for Cal from '91-92. "It may be a bit of a stretch to say, but when Cal does well against UBC, the national team does well against the Canadian team."

Despite Cal's dominance of the US collegiate scene, there are those in the program, as well as those who once were in the program, that see winning the cup as being more worthwhile than winning a national title.

"The UBC fixture was definitely the single most important because of the high level of competition and because of the international aspect," says Don James, who played on the varsity team at Cal from 1981-85, winning three cups and losing two. "You definitely would like to win the national championship, but you always want to win the cup."

"When you look back 10 years from now, you'll say, 'Yeah, the national championship was good,'" adds Baily. "But the second question you always ask is, 'How did you do against the Canadian teams?'"

One might wonder if there is any room for a rivalry with Stanford, considering the strong tradition between the Bears and the Thunderbirds. But Cal players haven't forgotten about their cross-Bay rivals.

"You have to go as far as saying that you hate Stanford when you play for Cal," Tamayo said. "But there is a different element with UBC than with Stanford. They're the best of the best up there and we like to pride ourselves on being the best-of-the-best down here. Man, it's huge."


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