The ‘Big Game’ in College Football

‘The Big Game’ refers to the annual football game (American football/Rugby) between Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley (known simply as ‘Cal’). The historic rivalry is more than a hundred years old! The first game was played in 1892 in San Francisco, which Stanford won. This year, the Big Game was on 22 November 2008 at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Cal mascot is a Bear and Cal colors are Blue and Yellow. The Stanford mascot is a Cardinal Tree and their color is Red. So the big game is a clash of the ‘Bears’ and the ‘Cardinals’!

In the week before the game, both universities begin their festivities with rallies and other ‘rival bashing’ events. Cal students hold a traditional pep rally and bonfire at the Greek Theatre on the eve of the game. We attended the Cal Bonfire Rally this time. Tickets to this event were free, but were given out on a first-come-first-serve basis. There was an impressive bonfire in the center of the Greek Theatre. It was definitely ‘spreading the warmth’ on that November night! We stayed for a while and watched performances by the Cal cheerleaders and the Cal band and listened to a lot of enthusiastic Stanford bashing!

The next day, dressed in Blue and Yellow, we reached the campus early, munching on brunch. The campus shuttle spared us the steep walk up the hill, to the stadium. The festive atmosphere outside the stadium was unmistakable! There stalls all around and a steady stream of fans filled the stadium. The tickets have seat numbers and we found our rows easily enough. California Memorial Stadium is huge and impressive. But it is built right over the Hayward fault line which runs almost exactly through the center of the stadium from goalpost to goalpost! Overlooking the stadium is ‘Tightwad Hill’ which got its name as people gathered there to watch a free game from outside the stadium.

The trophy called ‘The Axe’, consists of an axe-head mounted on a plaque along with scores of past Big Games. The axe was originally a standard 15-inch lumberman’s axe which was used by the Stanford cheering squad in the 1899 Big Game at san Francisco, to decapitate a straw man dressed in Blue and Yellow colors. But Stanford lost the game and a group of Cal students grabbed the axe. A chase through the streets of San Francisco followed as the axe changed hands from one Cal student to another. During the chase, the handle of the axe broke off. At the SF ferry building, the police was searching every male boarding the ferry to Berkeley (the bridges didn’t exist in those days). One of the Cal students managed to get the axe to Berkeley with the help of a former girlfriend who hid the axe between her clothes.

The axe remained in Cal’s custody for the next 31 years. Every year, it would be paraded in an ‘Axe Rally’ before the Big Game. Despite the high security given to the axe (it was stored in a vault), 21 Stanford students plotted to get the axe back. Stanford stole the axe and through carefully planned chaos, managed to get it back to Stanford. In 1933, both sides agreed to designate the Axe as the annual trophy to be awarded to the Big Game’s winner. In spite of the, Cal students have stolen the axe 3 times and Stanford students have stolen it 4 times, since 1933.

This year, Cal won ‘The Axe’ with a 37-16 victory and we were lucky enough to get to see this victory on home turf or ‘Bear Territory’ – Our very first Big Game Live!

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