Editor’s note: On November 18, 2017, Stanford takes on Cal in the 120th Big Game. Below is a collection of stories— on everything from card stunts to coaching innovations —that looks back at the rivalry on the occasion of the 100th match-up, in 1997.
The History of Big Game
The rivalry has been fierce — and unpredictable — from the beginning.
Big Game history is peppered with bizarre endings, but its beginnings were equally unlikely. It was 1891, and Stanford’s first students had just arrived. Only one of the 559 had ever played football — John Whittemore, a senior from Washington University. His fellow students quickly drafted him to captain a team that had no coach, no playing field, not even a football.
When the 10-year-old Berkeley team got wind of Stanford’s efforts, its manager proposed a Thanksgiving match. Whittemore put them off until spring. By the time the teams met on March 19, 1892, the Stanford players had mastered an array of tactics, notably a deceptive double-pass. Their astounding 14–10 win was a triumph of brains over brawn.
By the 1920s, the rivalry was legendary. Big Game had survived a nine-year detour into rugby and a three-year cold war between the two schools over a rules dispute. It also sparked friendly hostilities in other areas, serious and silly. Who could build a stadium fastest? Stanford, in five months. Whose alum would convince the California legislature to put his school’s colors on the state flag? Not ours.
Along with the rivalry came the rituals and symbols of autumn. The bonfire, once sacrosanct, inspired one freshman class to spend a month hauling wood — and then to do it all over again when the huge pile ignited prematurely. And, of course, there’s the Axe, the trophy of Big Game, which has been stolen so many times that it now sits in a burglar-proof case on the campus of the winning team.
This month marks the 100th Big Game — one each November, except for two in 1892 and a hiatus during World Wars I and II. Much has changed since that first year, but the hallmarks of the contest were there from the start: grit, ingenuity, fervor. And always unpredictability. The first contest began 1 hour and 11 minutes late because no one had brought a ball.
— Ginny McCormick
Feeling Fall Fever
From the Axe Yell to Gaieties, Big Game traditions endure.
The ritual blaze kindled Big Game spirit and helped indoctrinate freshmen.
Once the centerpiece of Big Game Week, the bonfire has burned out for good. Earlier this fall, the University bowed to the heated concerns of environmental and safety advocates and announced that the on-again, off-again spectacle can never flame again.
The tradition started in 1898, when students dragged wood into the dry bed of Lake Lagunita, creating a symbolic funeral pyre for the Golden Bear. Over the years, the lighting of the bonfire drew thousands of students and fans the night before Big Game. Circling around the flames, they’d do the Axe yell and cheer for the players and coaches.
The ritual also served a second purpose: to provide a tedious task — scrounging, hauling, piling and then guarding a mountain of wood, sometimes 100 feet high — as a sort of freshman initiation. In a normal year, the chore took weeks. But in 1925 and again in 1928, the woodpile accidentally ignited early and burned to the ground. Students from all classes joined in round-the-clock rescue operations, scavenging old railroad ties and anything else that would burn. Merchants from Palo Alto lent their trucks, and the telephone company sent men and equipment to dig new post-holes for the woodpile’s support frame.
But damages caused by the 11th-hour effort, including $400 for “wrongfully appropriated property,” raised the question in 1928: Should the bonfire be abolished? It wasn’t, but the subject came up again in 1976 over concerns about airborne cinders. A 10-year hiatus followed. In 1989, the fire was doused for lack of student funds. And since 1992, it has been banned to protect the California tiger salamander, a rare amphibian that lives in Lake Lag. Now there’s talk about replacing the blaze with a fireworks display. Whatever happens, the memory of the bonfire will always burn bright.
An antic group ambles to its own drummer.
Irreverent. Wacky. Out of control. That would not describe the first Stanford Band, formed in 1891. In those days — and for another 71 years — the Band played restrained arrangements of classics and marched in crisp uniforms with military precision.
A flicker of the Band’s rebellious streak flared in 1938, when the student musicians called a strike to protest the banning of their majorette, Maxine Turner, who was still in high school. Turner was reinstated in time for that year’s Big Game.
It was another strike — this one in 1963 to protest the firing of beloved director Julius Shuchat — that led to the birth of today’s ribald anti-Band. Fueled by new director Arthur P. Barnes’s rock ’n’ roll arrangements and reconstituted as a student-run organization, the Band has been gleefully incorrigible ever since. Whether the drum major is costumed as Fidel Castro or the trumpet section rides unicycles, the Band truly is incomparable.
With elaborate precision, the fans became part of the entertainment.
Some of Stanford’s greatest football innovations happened in the stands. In 1904, a graduate student, Thomas Jewell, came up with the idea of spelling out a Block S in the stadium bleachers.
At that year’s game against Cal, strategically located spectators in the student section were given pieces of white muslin. When the yell leader gave the word, the students threw the cloth over their hats and shoulders to form a huge S.
The display stunned the spectators at Cal’s new football stadium and sparked a mania for bleacher stunts that swept the nation. Over the years, the creation of card formations became an increasingly exact science, as much a part of Big Game Week as the bonfire and Gaieties, the annual musical revue.
At the 1925 Big Game, 1,800 Stanford rooters created a locomotive with puffs of smoke billowing from its stack. In 1928, the Stanford section spelled out HOOVER, complete with a depiction of the White House in honor of the newly elected alum.
Card stunts required discipline and a certain respect for central authority. No surprise, then, that they fell out of fashion by the early 1970s. Says Jon Erickson, ’65, adviser to today’s Axe Committee: “It was a different era.”
Stanford and Berkeley compete fiercely — and cooperate frequently.
Big Game isn’t the whole story. Off the field, Stanford and Cal compete to outdo each other in ways absurd and sublime.
In the mine-is-bigger-than-yours category, Stanford built its 60,000-seat stadium first in 1921, but Cal came in two years later with a 73,000-seater (Stanford would add 25,000 seats by 1927). Cal has more than twice as many students, but Stanford has six times the acreage. Berkeley claims Campanile Tower and Timothy Leary; Stanford, Hoover Tower and Ken Kesey. Stanford students like to wear “Weenie” buttons saying, “We Got In,” while their Cal counterparts dismiss the country-club atmosphere of “the Farm.”
Stanford boasts 14 living Nobel laureates to Cal’s 8, but they have about equal numbers of members in the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers at Stanford discovered quarks, while Cal scientists detected the wrinkles in the fabric of space that validated the Big Bang theory.
Sure, each has stolen the Axe from the other. But what about the gifts exchanged? Berkeley once released mice, dyed blue and gold, in a Stanford library. Stanford reciprocated with red and white ones. Then Cal put crickets in the Stanford stacks. Both sides favor paint: Cal undergrads colored Stanford chapel bells in the mid-1960s; Stanford turned Cal’s hillside C red a decade later. In 1989, 10 Berkeleyans were nabbed trying to alter the hue of Hoover Tower.
The line between high-spirited fun and reckless endangerment has been crossed more than once, but never so shockingly as in 1964. Stanford took Cal’s 600-pound cannon and Cal filched Stanford’s bleacher-stunt cards. After student leaders negotiated an exchange, Stanford freshmen intercepted the Cal truck — whose driver pulled out a loaded gun. Police intervened, and no one was hurt.
The rivals frequently cooperate. Years ago, the two faculties held joint meetings to create a sense of community. In a 1959 gentlemen’s agreement, Cal agreed not to compete with Stanford fund-raising efforts, and Stanford vowed to support UC budget requests in Sacramento. More recently, academic partnerships have yielded breakthroughs in physics and biotechnology. As UC President David Gardner said a decade ago, “Neither Stanford nor the University of California would be what each is today were it not for the other.”
The winner gets the trophy, but safeguarding it is a pain in the neck, the neck . . .
The story of the Axe seems simple enough. In 1899, Stanford yell leader Billy Erb purchased the 15-inch blade to dramatize the Axe Yell at a pivotal baseball game against Cal.
Or did he? In 1930, one E.F. Weisshaar told the Palo Alto Times that he was the one who bought the Axe in 1899, for $3.50, from a store in San Francisco.
That claim sparked a swift retort from Julius Peterson, foreman of the Stanford forge at the time of the University’s construction. Peterson swore that the Axe had been found in the late 1880s by workmen digging a trench between the Inner Quad and Roble Hall. He kept it in his shop until it disappeared one night, not to be seen again until the first Axe rally on April 14, 1899.
Whatever its origins — and most historians believe the Erb version — it’s no surprise that this simple lumberman’s broadax would inspire tall tales. From its earliest days, the Axe has symbolized the athletic rivalry between Stanford and Berkeley, an object to be prized, protected and, whenever possible, stolen.
The antics began with that first baseball outing, held in San Francisco. To rally the crowd, Erb used the Axe to decapitate a stuffed bear outfitted in blue and gold. Stanford lost the game — and the Axe, when a mob of Bear fans wrested it away and passed it hand-to-hand until a Cal man dashed into a butcher shop to cut off the long handle. That made it easy for him to elude police by slipping the blade under his overcoat.
Cal kept the Axe in a bank vault for the next 31 years, taking it out just twice annually for baseball and football rallies. In 1930, after years of plotting and three foiled attempts, Stanford’s “Immortal 21” took back the Axe by posing as Cal students on a photo shoot. They used a fake camera — and tear gas.
In 1933, the two schools agreed to make the Axe the trophy of Big Game. The pact declared that any further pranks involving the Axe would result in expulsion for the perpetrators and also in the cancellation of Big Game and all other athletic competition between the two schools.
Still, there have been five heists since then — two by Cal and three by Stanford (giving Stanford the edge in thievery, 4–3). In 1946, Cal students pinched the blade and then, afraid of disciplinary action back on campus, left it in the back seat of a parked Palo Alto police squad car. In 1953, the Axe disappeared from its display case at Cal, though well-mannered Stanford bandits left a $5 bill to cover the broken glass. In 1967, the blade was filched from the Stanford case with no visible signs of entry; it was subsequently photographed atop the Tribune Building in Oakland. And in 1973, the last time the Axe was stolen, Stanford students turned back to the ruse that had worked so well in 1930: “We want to take a picture.”
Thanks to bullet-proof glass and strong-armed students, there have been no thefts for 24 years. As the San Francisco Chronicle put it in 1989: “Stealing the Axe nowadays would probably require disposal of human bodies, and neither school wants that responsibility, so lesser pranks suffice.”
The rally cry was, well, stolen.
Students Will Irwin and Chris Bradley wrote the Axe Yell in 1896, three years before there was an Axe to go with it. In 1930, Irwin admitted that the words, like the Axe earlier that year, had been pilfered. He and Bradley took the idea from some fans in the Midwest, whose yell in turn seemed to have been borrowed from Yale’s “Brek-aco-ex-co-ex.” But, as Irwin wrote, even Yale “lifted that from Aristophanes, and Aristophanes probably stole it from some barbarous Parthian who got it originally from the frogs.”
GIVE ’em the axe, the axe, the axe,
GIVE ’em the axe, the axe, the axe,
GIVE ’em the axe, GIVE ’em the axe,
GIVE ’em the axe. WHERE?
RIGHT in the neck, the neck, the neck,
RIGHT in the neck, the neck, the neck,
RIGHT in the neck, RIGHT in the neck,
RIGHT in the neck. THERE!
From Red Square to outer space, far-flung fans unfurl banners in the most unlikely places.
Ten Gridiron Greats
Some of the game’s best players have worn cardinal.
ERNIE NEVERS, ’26
Widely considered the best college football player ever, Nevers led the team to a 22–5–1 record in 1923–25. His number (1) was the first to be retired at Stanford. In the 1925 Big Game, Stanford’s first win over Cal in 11 years, the multi-talented fullback scored two touchdowns, ran for 117 yards and punted eight times for a 42-yard average.
After Stanford: Played for Duluth Eskimos and Chicago Cardinals; pitched baseball for St. Louis Browns; coached at Stanford, Iowa, Lafayette, Chicago Cardinals; World War II Marine Corps captain; died in 1976.
BOBBY GRAYSON, ’36
Grayson was one of the Vow Boys, a team that racked up a three-year record of 25–4–2 and played in three Rose Bowls. Ernie Nevers said Grayson was the best fullback he’d ever seen; the USC coach called him “a big, fast back who can run an end, hit a line, kick, pass, block and handle any assignment.”
After Stanford: Completed two years’ study at Stanford Law School; World War II minesweeper captain in the Pacific; college football radio commentator; vice president of Shell Oil; died in 1980.
BILL CORBUS, ’33
Dubbed “Babyface Assassin” for his youthful good looks and terrorizing defensive skills, Corbus, a guard and occasional placekicker, made his way into Stanford history by booting two field goals that ended USC’s 27-game winning streak in 1933. That victory, and two more in 1934 and 1935, fulfilled the Vow Boys’ promise never to be defeated by USC.
After Stanford: Went from assistant buyer to vice-chairman of A & P grocery chain; retired in 1977; lives in Atherton.
FRANK ALBERT, ’42
Coach Clark Shaughnessy called quarterback Albert “a magician with the ball, and a gifted field general.” He was the key to Shaughnessy’s revolutionary T-formation.
After Stanford: San Francisco 49ers’ first quarterback (1946–1950), then its coach; starred in a 1942 feature film, The Spirit of Stanford; automobile salesman and realtor; lives in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
BILL McCOLL, ’52
McColl was instrumental in Stanford’s pioneering development of the passing attack: “When we came up with . . . a big, tall end who could catch like Bill McColl, it was natural to throw,” said Coach Chuck Taylor. In 1951, McColl caught 42 passes, including seven for touchdowns, giving Stanford nine straight victories.
After Stanford: M.D., U. of Chicago; played five years with Chicago Bears; medical missionary in Korea; orthopedic surgeon in La Jolla, Calif., where he is a director of American Leprosy Missions.
PAUL WIGGIN, ’56, MA ’59
In a brilliant 1955 season, Wiggin, the team’s co-captain, led Stanford to a Big Game victory that tied up the series (24–24–10) after a nine-year drought. Known as a crushing blocker, he was a consensus choice for All-American.
After Stanford: Played defensive end with Cleveland Browns for 12 years; 1966 Browns’ Player of the Year; 1967 Cleveland Pro Athlete of the Year; taught high school and college courses off-season; coached San Francisco 49ers (three division titles, 1970–72), Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Stanford (1980–83); now assistant general manager of the Minnesota Vikings.
JEFF SIEMON, ’72
Siemon captained two successive Rose Bowl championship teams and served as co-captain on the College All-Star team. He was named the country’s top college linebacker in 1971.
After Stanford: Eleven years with Minnesota Vikings, playing in three Super Bowls and four Pro Bowls; Vikings’ 1978 MVP; area director of Search Ministries, a national nondenominational lay organization; lives in Edina, Minn.
JIM PLUNKETT, ’70
Stanford’s only Heisman Trophy winner and the second player — after Nevers — to have his number retired, Plunkett chalked up all-time NCAA records in passing yardage and total offense. At Stanford, he holds records for most touchdown pass yardage in a Big Game (229 yards in 5 passes) and longest touchdown pass (96 yards).
After Stanford: First draft choice, New England Patriots; later played with San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, retiring in 1983; Super Bowl MVP, 1980, 1983; active in charitable groups and Stanford athletics fundraising; lives in Atherton.
DARRIN NELSON, ’82
The first college football player to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 50 passes in the same season, Nelson was called “the most productive offensive player ever to wear a Stanford uniform” by former sports information director Gary Cavalli, ’71. The halfback holds Stanford records in touchdowns (40), all-purpose running yardage (6,885), receptions (214) and rushing yardage (4,033).
After Stanford: Ten years with Minnesota Vikings; five at a brokerage firm; now at Stanford as assistant athletic director.
JOHN ELWAY, ’83
The №1 high school quarterback in the country played baseball as well as football at Stanford. No quarterback ever threw more Big Game touchdown passes than Elway (6). In his last Big Game, he threw for a stunning 330 yards, but was robbed of victory by The Play.
After Stanford: Chose football with the Denver Broncos over baseball with the New York Yankees; NFL career recordholder for most wins as a starting quarterback; veteran of three Super Bowls and four Pro Bowls; now in his 15th season in Denver.
How Stanford Coaching Changed the Game
After the first Big Game, the search was on for a professional Stanford coach. Team captain John Whittemore wrote to Yale’s WALTER CAMP for suggestions, never dreaming the Father of Football would volunteer himself. Camp, the architect of the quarterback position, the 11-man team and other basics of the game, arrived in 1892, the first of Stanford’s history-making coaches.
GLENN SCOBEY “POP” WARNER introduced speed and complexity to football. The “Warner System” amounted to a total reinvention of the game, from the reverse play to the huddle. It was difficult to learn, but the Stanford team — starring Ernie Nevers — had been coached for two years by Pop’s deputies before he arrived in 1924. Two years later, Stanford was named the best team in the country.
Warner left in 1932 and the Vow Boys were gone by 1936. The team lost eight of nine games in 1939. The next year, CLARK SHAUGHNESSY came from the University of Chicago with some groundbreaking ideas. In those days, the quarterback lined up several yards behind the center and received a long snap, much like today’s “shotgun.” Shaughnessy positioned the quarterback right behind the center so he could receive a direct snap, spin around and, with his back to the line of scrimmage, exe- cute a handoff — or a fake — to one of the backs lined up in a “T” behind him. Defenses were confounded by his T-formation. The effect was impressive: 10 consecutive wins for the 1940 Wow Boys, including the Rose Bowl. In 1986, Smithsonian magazine revealed that Shaughnessy had based his revolutionary strategies on a Nazi general’s field maneuvers.
Former Wow Boy and rookie coach CHUCK TAYLOR used a passing offense to propel Stanford to the 1952 Rose Bowl. Taylor succeeded by introducing a sophisticated gameplan that required players to diagnose the defense and alter their plans while the play was in progress. He was way ahead of his time. Nearly two decades later, Stanford would again adopt Taylor’s passing game as its linchpin, leading to Rose Bowl upsets in 1971 and ‘72.
A few years later, BILL WALSH made his mark, refining the passing attack and applying complex pro strategies to the college game. “We won’t hesitate to use plays that were successful in the 1940s, and we won’t hesitate to innovate,” he said. In two years on the Farm, Walsh’s quarterbacks led the country in passing, and he had two Big Game victories and two postseason Bowl wins. He returned to lead the Cardinal to 10 wins in 1992 and stayed until 1994.
Newsweek called Walsh “the thinking man’s coach.” The same can be said of his pathbreaking Stanford predecessors.
Decades of Drama
It all started in 1892, when two teams met for a friendly contest on neutral ground.
Both teams have reveled in glory days and suffered through lackluster years.
It wasn’t always known as Big Game, but from the beginning the Cal-Stanford football rivalry was a Big Deal. The second match, in December 1892, drew 20,000 fans to the Haight Street grounds in San Francisco and was labeled The Great Football Game by the Oakland Tribune. In the early 1900s, the phrase Big Game began showing up in the histories — a conscious echo, perhaps, of the Harvard-Yale rivalry haughtily dubbed The Game.
By then, football was under fire. After 71 high school and college players died from on-field injuries between 1900 and 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt demanded radical revisions to the rules. Stanford and Cal replaced football with rugby, which became the sport of choice for the 1906–1914 Big Games.
Athletic relations between Cal and Stanford hit a rough patch in 1915. Cal insisted on making freshmen ineligible for varsity play, while Stanford felt its admission prerequisite of 15 college-level units served the same purpose. The impasse led to the cancellation of four Big Games. The rivalry resumed in 1919, but was interrupted again during World War II.
Over the years, both sides have enjoyed glory days and endured dry seasons. Cal’s Wonder Teams of the 1920s gave way to Stanford’s Vow and Wow Boys. Berkeley had a Thunder Team, Stanford its Thunder Chickens. Through it all, Big Game has been known for high drama. Four matches were decided on the final play of the game.
Three of those four are among the most exciting Big Games ever. In 1974, Stanford snatched victory in a last-minute drive that culminated in a 50-yard field goal. In 1982, Cal won on what was probably the most bizarre play in football history. And in 1990, the lead changed hands six times before Stanford kicked the winning field goal with five seconds remaining.
With such a storied past, the next 100 years look all right now.
“Eleven men meet eleven men on an acre of grass on a farm in Santa Clara County; 75,000 people move the earth to see them meet; a momentous question is settled for one more year; a million dollars changes hands; a great time is had by all, and that’s a Big Game.”
— Barbara Dewlaney in the Stanford Illustrated Review, November 1926
“I once saw a young man seize a doughnut-shaped wooden seat and drape it around the neck of a Cal rooter in the lobby of a famous Nob Hill hotel. Now he’s a responsible banker with three children and an ulcer to support.”
— Don Endsley in the Stanford Review, December 1960
“If you can responsibly say that you would have stayed off the field if you had a trombone in your hand and thought the game was over, then you need to have your pulse checked.”
— Stanford Daily editorial, November 22, 1982
Prices ran high in the early years.
The price of a Big Game ticket has doubled since 1991, jumping from $25 to $50. Still, the most expensive years, adjusted for inflation, date back to the Depression.
In 1932, tickets ran $5.50 — which comes to $63.72 today. Despite the cost, the game didn’t deliver much action. Several players on both teams were hospitalized with the flu, and the teams played to a 0–0 tie.
For critical games, black- market prices can skyrocket. At the 1924 contest, which determined who would go to the Rose Bowl, scalpers made as much as $100 per ticket. That’s $895 today.
A Day in the Life
When Notre Dame came to town, we sent a team of reporters and photographers to cover the people behind Cardinal football.
The day began at 4 a.m., when trucks started watering the dirt parking lots to keep the dust from flying. It ended some 22 hours later, when the tap ran dry at the Sigma Chi victory party.
October 4, 1997, was in many ways a typical Saturday at Stanford Stadium. The day’s rhythms were familiar: the tailgating, the traffic, the Band, the game itself, more Band, more traffic, more tailgating. But nothing is normal when your opponents are the Fighting Irish, a legendary football powerhouse. On this Saturday, thanks to a great running game and stellar second-half defense, the Cardinal chalked up a convincing 33–15 win, increasing its chances for postseason Bowl play.
But the score doesn’t tell the whole story. To really understand the richness of Game Day, you have to stop by the tailgaters, follow the Band, sit in the press box, walk with the vendors and celebrate with the winning team in the locker room. We did just that.
Kailee Wong sees himself sacking the quarterback — and making the pros.
It’s four hours until kickoff, and Kailee Wong is wolfing down his traditional pregame breakfast: two chicken breasts, potatoes smothered in maple syrup, two bananas, apple juice and water. “As I eat,” he says, “I visualize how I’m going to defend their plays, and I see myself making big plays.”
Wong, a senior defensive end and the Cardinal’s best prospect for the pros, clearly has impressive and prophetic visualization powers. By the end of the day, he’s proved himself the game’s dominant defensive player, sacking Notre Dame’s quarterback, forcing a fumble and deflecting a second-half field goal attempt with his left pinkie, which gets fractured in the process.
After the game, Stanford Coach Tyrone Willingham praises the performance of the defense in the second half: “We call that Kailee Wong time.”
Wong’s day begins with a rigid adherence to pregame rituals. He wakes at 7:30 at the Palo Alto Hyatt Regency, where the teams stays before home games in order to reduce distractions. He skims the Notre Dame scouting report and joins teammates in prayer. After breakfast — the same feast every Saturday, and he always sits by himself — Wong retreats to his room to watch ESPN’s College Game Day. He cringes when he sees himself interviewed: “I look like an idiot.” Then he puts on his game-day outfit — a blue suit, a white shirt and blue tie with a flower pattern — and joins the team for the short bus ride to the Stadium. Still keeping to himself, he listens on his Walkman to a special game-day tape featuring Ice Cube, Westside Connection and other artists who get him in the mood to do what he does best: pummel quarterbacks, running backs and offensive linemen. “Music to pump me up,” he explains.
Wong learned mental preparation exercises from his parents as a high schooler in Eugene, Ore. His father is a native Hawaiian, his mother German-Scottish. Their son is a 6-foot-3-inch, 268-pound economics major who is as polite and poised as Cary Grant off the field and as ferocious as a pit bull on it. A First-Team All-Pac-10 selection last season, Wong is vying to become the first Stanford defensive lineman to earn All-America honors since Duncan McColl in 1976. Scouts figure he’ll be a first- or second-round draft pick to the National Football League. His backup plan is to work as a Silicon Valley venture capitalist.
“Like most of my teammates, I chose Stanford because it excels in both sports and academics,” says Wong. “I remember last season the team was debating the economic ramifications of Proposition 187 in the locker room. I guess that was unusual.”
There’s no debating how Wong feels about today’s victory. As he jogs off the field, he makes a detour to the student section. Towering above the members of the Band jamming in their postgame show, Wong takes off his helmet and pumps it rhythmically over his head. The fans cheer wildly. This, too, is Kailee Wong time.
— Jackie Krentzman
Forget chemistry. Claire Bacher has joined the Band.
It’s 7:30 a.m., and breakfast — the traditional beer and doughnuts — is already laid out on a table in the Band Shak’s cavernous rehearsal room. But as the Stanford Marching Band’s assistant manager, Claire Bacher needs to stay alert today. So while the first arrivals to the Shak grab a pastry and a Weinhard’s Ale, Bacher chugs a glass of orange juice and heads off to the Dollies’ dressing room to check in on the Band’s five dancers. Because she watches out for them on game day, the Dollies refer to Bacher as “Mom.” Or, says Dollie Emily Roley, putting an arm around Bacher’s shoulders, “Sometimes we call her the Dollie Mama.”
An hour later, the 180 members of “the world’s largest rock ’n’ roll band” are well into their field rehearsal when one of Bacher’s fellow trombonists arrives in the Stadium. “Excuse me,” she says. “I have to go chase someone.” And she takes off running, barefooted, with a half-dozen other horn players. They tackle the latecomer at the 40-yard line and pile on top of her. Three more stragglers get “piled” before the rehearsal ends. Even in the country’s most unconventional marching band, there’s a penalty for showing up late.
A fifth-year music and chemistry double major, Bacher joined the Band as a sophomore just for the fun of it. She learned to play the trombone, soaked up the Band’s ethos of whimsical nonconformity and rose to become one of its leaders. The experience has changed her ideas about the future. “I don’t think I’m going to become a chemist after all — much to my father’s disappointment,” says the soft-spoken 22-year-old from Bloomington, Ind. “Life is too short not to have fun.”
Bacher’s moment in the sun comes during “The Walk,” a traditional serenade of the players as they head from the locker room to the Stadium. Bacher is assistant manager — “Ass Man” as the holder of the post is always known — and so she gets the honor of filling in at the baton for the drum major.
Once the game gets going, Bacher can relax as Band members settle into their role as a soundtrack to the action. Whenever there’s a successful play, they stand and blast a song snippet. Bacher leans back, blowing the trombone and waggling the slide left and right, up and down, in sync with her Bandmates. For touchdowns — and there are four this afternoon — they break into “All Right Now,” the team’s unofficial fight song.
Today’s halftime show — a typically tasteless 7-minute 30-second riff on the Fighting Irish that includes the Band spelling out the word “POTATO” — goes smoothly and gets its share of laughs in the student section. But, true to form, the routine offends many of the Notre Dame fans with its cracks about Catholicism and jibes at the “sparse cultural heritage” of the Irish. The next day, a group of Catholic school administrators will denounce the performance as “bigoted” and demand an apology. The Band will issue a lukewarm mea culpa for the anti-Irish insults, but that won’t be enough for Athletic Director Ted Leland, who will decide to banish the Band from Notre Dame games until 2001.
Back in the stands for the second half, Band members strip off their red coats and start inventing cheers. With the home team on defense, they chant, “Blood, blood, blood makes the grass grow!” When the clock runs out, Bacher cheers the team’s victory. But after playing at almost 30 games, she confesses that she still isn’t that interested in the action on the field: “I think I’d like football more if I understood it better.” One thing she does understand is the Band. And she loves it.
120 doughnuts served at the Band breakfast
5 songs played by the Band at halftime
— Mark Robinson
For Dick Madigan, the pregame party is at least half the fun.
Dick Madigan has been tailgating in the same place near Stanford Stadium for 20 years. But this morning he discovers a boisterous bunch of newcomers in his spot. “I wasn’t very happy about it,” he says a few minutes later. “But now I’ve moved into Chuck Taylor Grove where I’ve always wanted to be anyway.” He adds puckishly: “This is going to be much better.”
Cars are forbidden in the grove, and that leaves plenty of room for table after table of food and drink set up under multicolored canopies. The scene gives the beguiling impression of a medieval jousting field surrounded by tented pavilions. Madigan and his wife, Jean, both class of ’46, have driven down the road from Woodside to host some 20 or 30 friends and family.
The Madigan table overflows with guacamole, plates of pâté, fresh-cut vegetables, crackers, nachos and chips. Bottles of Cutty Sark, Tanqueray, Bacardi and Jack Daniels vie for space with Snapples, orange juice, Cokes and Calistogas.
Everybody in the grove has a different style. At one end, about 100 thirty-somethings mill around a table set with crystal and china, chardonnay and brie. Nearby, a spread of fruit salads and pita bread spills out on a table next to gas burners warming tri-tips, chicken and ribs. Madigan sniffs the pungent barbecue sauce. “I don’t like anything messy,” he says firmly. “I like to use my binoculars. I want to concentrate on the game.”
Madigan has been concentrating on the game for 50 years now. A guard on the 1942 football squad, he joined the Marines and was shipped off for training to faraway Berkeley, where he played for Cal and earned a Big C. When he returned from the South Pacific to play for Stanford again in 1946, he played in the Big Game against many of his former teammates. Then he graduated to a job in real estate investing — and to the status of a Stanford fan.
His daughter Nancy recalls tailgating here when she was eight years old. “It was 1959, and I think we had a station wagon, a woody. It was something I grew up with; it was always something we did.”
Twenty minutes before kickoff, Madigan starts toward the Stadium. He enjoys playing host, but he’s undeniably here for the game.
Some four hours later, Madigan charges back through the grove like a man 40 years his junior. He yanks bottles and cans from boxes under the table and quickly pours drinks for his friends who are abuzz with game analysis.
By late afternoon, with the smell of barbecue and victory fading into the dusty air, Madigan begins cleaning up. For him, it’s been a great day. “There’s the camaraderie of the people that you know,” he says as he sips his soda water and flashes an infectious smile. “But the excitement of the game is number one.”
On this hot fall afternoon in the eucalyptus grove, Madigan feels he’s got them both.
spectators in the student section
dollars asked for a scalped ticket
— Raymond Hardie
For 33 years, Bob Murphy’s been talking a good game.
“Let’s take the stairs,” says Bob Murphy, motioning to a doorway on the third floor of the press box. “It’s faster.” With 90 minutes until kickoff, Murphy wants to take a little time to “survey the provinces,” he says with a laugh.
He stops by the ABC trailer in the parking lot to welcome an old friend who’s producing today’s nationally televised game. Slipping into a side door of the ticket office, he gets an estimate on the size of the crowd. Then he works his way through the tailgaters, always ready with barbs and banter. “Hey Howard, looking good,” he calls out. “Hey Thalboy, nice outfit,” he shouts to a former baseball teammate wearing red shorts. At one point, Murphy stops to chat with Esther and Phil Duffy, ’36, who are watching the pregame commotion from the shade of an oak tree. Esther points at Murphy and says, “Your voice is so mellow and sexy.”
Ah, the voice. At the Stadium, everyone seems to know Murphy, ’53. But thousands more recognize his voice. For 33 years, he’s been reporting Stanford football — and, more recently, basketball — on the radio. His first gig, in fact, was a Stanford loss to Notre Dame in 1964.
Even before his on-air duties began, Murphy had strong ties to Stanford. In 1947, at 16, he worked as a ticket-taker at the 50th Big Game. As a student, he was a star pitcher and was named most valuable player of the 1953 baseball team, the first Stanford squad to compete in the College World Series. He served a decade in sports marketing and information at Stanford before leaving to direct pro golf tournaments. These days, at age 66, he’s in demand as a quick-with-the-quip master of ceremonies for Stanford athletics functions.
Back in the press box, Murphy settles into the KSFO booth to prepare for the 30-minute pregame show. On the air, he and partner Ted Robinson stand and chat amiably — just two guys wearing headsets having a casual conversation about college football. After kickoff, Robinson handles the play-by-play, leaving Murphy free to offer insights into the subtleties of the game. Peering at the field through binoculars and sipping a Diet Pepsi, he gives credit to the unsung lineman who threw a key block and describes changes made in the Stanford defense from one play to the next. Explains Murphy: “I try to give an insider’s perspective.”
He also aims to entertain. “This isn’t 60 Minutes, and I’m not Mike Wallace,” Murphy says. After Stanford fullback Jon Ritchie plunges up the middle for a gain in the third quarter, Murphy declares, “Ritchie’s just a load. He kind of resembles a very large bowling ball.” When tennis great John McEnroe drops by the booth during the second quarter, Murphy suggests, on the air, that tennis is a “sissy game.” McEnroe shoots back: “Yeah, it doesn’t hurt as much as football — and it pays better.”
Near the end of the fourth quarter, with Stanford winning 31–15, it should be time to relax. That’s when the Murph shoves a headset and microphone into a canvas bag, bolts out of the press box and half-trots to the Cardinal locker room. A minute later, he does a live postgame interview with Coach Tyrone Willingham. In the background, jubilant Stanford players burst through the door. “C-House, C-House,” they chant, for “Cardinal.” Murph asks the coach about the defense. “C-House, C-House.” He asks about future games. “C-House. C-House.” The noise is distracting, but Murphy is unflappable.
A few minutes later, the adrenaline rush over, Murphy walks across the now-empty field back to the press box. He dismisses the suggestion that his job is surprisingly hard work. “Game day is like a day off,” he says. “It’s what I look forward to all week.”
185 credentialed journalists covering the game
34 Stanford first downs
2 Cardinal running backs who gained more than 100 yards
2,250 feet of athletic tape used on Stanford players
— Bob Cohn
Want a Big Kahuna bar? John Arnolfo is out there selling.
John Arnolfo rarely misses a Cardinal home football game. But as a stadium vendor since 1971, he never gets to catch more than a glimpse of the field.
Arnolfo doesn’t mind having his back to the action. In fact, he once took a six-year break from vending and found going to games as a mere spectator made him edgy. “There’s a psychological dependence on selling,” he says.
Today, Arnolfo and a partner will sell cold drinks and ice cream, taking turns in the stands and at their base near a Stadium entrance. Arnolfo arrives at 8:30 to set up the ice-cream coolers and three huge tubs for bottles and ice.
Waiting for supplies to arrive, there’s time for shop talk and gossip. Bill, a 30-year veteran, wanders by, and the discussion turns to the Dream Team. Not Jordan, Pippen and Johnson, but the legendary vending trio who ran a hectic World Series stand so efficiently that nobody ever had to wait in line. Bill also praises Arnolfo and his partner. “Stick around and watch these guys,” Bill says. “They’re the best. They’re fast.”
The Pepsi and ice trucks arrive. It’s only 9:15, but there’s a rush to get bottles into tubs because the drinks won’t be perfectly chilled until the ice melts. “When people are paying two-fifty a drink, it’s got to be cold,” Arnolfo says.
Piles of bills and rolls of quarters arrive, and Arnolfo arranges the paper like a deck of cards: one side, dollar bills; the other, larger denominations. When he makes change, he doles out ones, then flips the stack for instant fives and tens. Without a cash register, the vendors do the math in their heads and have every move down to a science. Arnolfo wears an old-fashioned metal changeholder strapped around his waist. Instead of fumbling in his apron, he flicks out the exact number of coins needed.
At 11, customers start buying on the way to their seats. Once the game starts, Arnolfo goes up into the stands with Häagen-Dazs and Big Kahuna bars. He likes carrying just a few items: “The rule of thumb is, give ’em no choice.” He points to a buddy hawking frozen lemonade and says, with envy, that’s the most lucrative gig of all.
Things get hectic in the stands toward the end of the second quarter, and Arnolfo steals a quick peek at the scoreboard so he can update his partner when they team up for the halftime crush. Back at the base, the line builds. Arnolfo is nonstop motion and patter. “One Pepsi, one Diet Pepsi, one water. That’s seven dollars. Out of twenty. There’s ten, fifteen and twenty. Thank you. Who’s next?”
Business slows down in the fourth quarter, but Arnolfo is pleased with the day’s take: $3,100, of which he and his partner each keep 10 percent, after sales tax.
By the end of the day, Arnolfo, 47, has probably done as much crouching, passing and receiving as some of the players on the field. “You hit a rhythm,” he says. “It’s athletic.” With the Stadium empty and the tailgaters thinning out, he treks to his car in a distant parking lot. There are three more home games this year, and he’ll be there for each of them. But like everyone else — if for a different reason — he looks forward most to Big Game.
24,000 pounds of ice delivered to the Stadium
420 barrels of trash filled
31 items turned in to lost and found
4 planes pulling advertising banners
6,700 hot dogs sold by Stadium vendors
— Ginny McCormick
The Year of Losing Gallantly
In 1947, a luckless team wrote the book on spirit.
By Rice Odell
Seldom has losing seemed such a triumph as it did for Stanford in the fall of 1947. It all began the previous spring, with football coach Marchmont “Marchie” Schwartz happily contemplating a roster of talented players as he planned his second postwar season. In 1946, the Stanford team had a 6–3–1 record, including a heady 25–6 demolition of archrival Cal. The outlook for 1947 was auspicious.
Even before the first sign of autumn, however, tragedy struck when two first-stringers died in accidents over the summer. Then two other players signed pro contracts, while two who were eligible to stay on for an extra year decided to graduate.
Instead of dwelling on the team’s ill fortune, the 38-year-old Schwartz told an alumni rally, “I think we can win with the boys we have.” He knew what it meant to give the game his best shot: Twice named All American at Notre Dame and a collegiate Hall of Famer, Schwartz was one of the greatest running backs in football history.
But as if the loss of his players weren’t enough, a series of injuries plagued the team from the opening of practice through the first few games. Three first-stringers suffered broken bones. Half a dozen other players were seriously hurt; they were lost for the season or never reached peak form. When the game against hated California arrived, Stanford was 0–8. The Bears were in contention for the Rose Bowl.
Stanford students built their traditional Big Game bonfire higher than usual that year. A California Bear was burned in effigy, fireworks were set off and the songs and yells reflected genuine enthusiasm for what seemed a hopeless cause.
The pregame rally was “so different from what you’d expect,” an alumnus reminisced with me years later, “what with all those depressing losses. But everyone seemed to sense how good it must be making the coach and the players feel.”
During the rally, Schwartz predicted that Stanford would win that 50th Big Game. Everyone regarded it as obligatory bravado, but the coach later told me that he’d really believed it. For one thing, Coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf was new at Cal, and Schwartz didn’t think he appreciated the weightiness of the Big Game or how teams rose to the occasion.
Moreover, Schwartz had a secret. A friend had told him about a football scout, Frank Pierson, who had moved to California and still scouted as a hobby. Schwartz arranged for Pierson to see nearly all the California games. “It looked like it was the only way the season could be salvaged,” Schwartz said.
Before the Big Game, Pierson had two sessions with the Stanford squad, explaining every California strategy. “Never in my life have I received a report so thorough and complete,” Schwartz said. “He gave the team a tremendous amount of confidence.”
Armed with this knowledge and fired up by the hoopla, the defiant Stanford 11 lined up before 85,000 spectators at Berkeley. They fell quickly behind, but held Cal to a 14–6 lead at halftime — and then stormed back to dominate play. Two electrifying advances gave Stanford an 18–14 lead with little more than three minutes to go and the desperate Bears back on their own 20-yard line. Shaken Cal fans faced the prospect of an unbelievable upset.
But then Berkeley’s superstar halfback and captain, Jackie Jensen, took a lateral pass from his quarterback, ran to his right, and uncorked a long, diagonal pass across the field to his left. Halfback Paul Keckley, in the clear, ran to catch it, then turned around and sped 80 yards for a touchdown, making the final score 21–18 in favor of Cal.
The Bears had been outplayed by Stanford for 53 of the game’s 60 minutes. Coach Waldorf admitted after the game, “The Stanford team deserved victory without a doubt.” He told Schwartz, “Your team had the finest spirit I ever saw anywhere.”
For Schwartz, there was the bittersweet reward of losing gallantly. But he didn’t expect to be treated like a hero. When he finally emerged from the team dressing room, a host of fans drowned him in appreciative cheers and boosted him onto their shoulders in front of the stands. Said a Daily editorial in an understatement: “It’s not so dark in the cellar.”
At the regular football writers’ luncheon in San Francisco two days later, Schwartz received a standing ovation from fellow coaches and the sportswriters. When he rose to speak, his voice broke and he couldn’t get beyond “Thank you.” Later in the meeting, he revealed the secret of his special scout and gave Pierson much credit for the near upset.
A stream of congratulatory telegrams and letters proclaimed the star-crossed team one of the greatest in Stanford history. Marchie Schwartz had fashioned a winless season into a memorable triumph.
The following Tuesday, students converged for a postseason rally. As reported in the Daily, student president Tom Martzloff presented the team with a plaque inscribed: Nine times defeated, they never lost the will to win. And the crowd began the chant that lasted long into the night, “We want Marchie, we want Marchie . . .”
—Rice Odell, ’50, an author and journalist in Washington, D.C., worked for the Washington Daily News and the Conservation Foundation.
A Bear on the Farm
Can a true-blue Berkeley fan find happiness in Cardinal territory?
By Leslie Gordon
Being a Cal fan is serious business in my family. As a member of the class of 1990, I was the 15th to don the blue and gold. My license plate reads GO BRS. One cousin flies up from L.A. to attend Cal football home games. Three generations of my family know all the words to “Hail to California” and the Cal drinking song.
Of course, being a Cal fan means hating Stanford. Cal students collectively chant “Take off that red shirt!” to anyone wearing cardinal in Memorial Stadium. My father refuses to buy a red car because — insert sneer — “that’s Stanford’s color.”
My one cousin (by marriage, I should add) who did go to Stanford invariably slinks out of Thanksgiving dinner early to avoid being eaten for dessert by family members hot with post-Big Game fever. Without fail, someone kills the classical music playing softly in the dining room and pops in a tape of The Play — calling up images of lateral passes and a downed trombone player — with commentator Joe Starkey incredulously screaming, “The Band is on the field!” until he’s hoarse.
So when I decided to pursue a master’s degree at Stanford this fall — which just happens to be the season of the 100th Big Game — I risked committing the eighth deadly sin. My new health care coverage would be Cardinal Care. Ouch.
Soon after receiving my acceptance letter from Stanford, I got up the nerve to head across the Bay to enemy territory and check out the program with still-skeptical eyes. At the edge of campus, a billboard loomed above me, shouting “Support Stanford Athletics — Call 1–800-BEAT-CAL.” What self-respecting person would call that number? I wondered. It took all the strength I had not to whip the car around, dart over to the East Bay and hand deliver a hefty contribution to the alumni office.
But during my first couple of days as a — gulp — Stanford student, a grudging respect for my new school seeped slowly through my inbred loyalties. Here, faculty and staff helped me navigate every administrative issue — unlike Cal, which is overwhelmed by 50,000 students and completely reliant on computers. With the sun warming my neck and bicyclists cruising gently by, walking to class through the mission-style campus was utterly soothing.
Sipping coffee by the Oval from an oversized Stanford mug, I watched volleyball and Frisbee games and felt like I was at camp. (This is a major reason Cal fans hate Stanford.) I’m thinking of taking horseback riding next quarter.
I can’t help liking my new digs. I just can’t. While Cal is like family, Stanford is like that new friend you suddenly can’t imagine not having in your life.
Don’t get me wrong. No four years could be as exceptional as those I spent at Berkeley. Only 30 miles from my parents’ house, Cal was light-years from my sheltered, suburban upbringing. I learned to fend for myself, to find a niche among thousands of diverse and fiercely intelligent colleagues. Cal is not for the faint of heart. But I’ve never met anyone who said “I went to Cal” without affection.
So, like my father, I won’t be caught driving a red car. And my Cal mug, filled with blue and gold flowers, has pride of place on my desk. It reads, “Once a bear, always a bear.” There’ll be no slinking away from Thanksgiving dinner for me.
—Leslie A. Gordon, an attorney and freelance writer, is a graduate student in communication.