Growing up in San Francisco, you don’t get to see the seasons change. California, for better or for worse, doesn’t get the color changes in the leaves or the mounds of snow lining the streets throughout the fall or even the smell that comes with winter coming. In the Bay Area, we get the random Indian Summer in October, the Pumpkin Festival down in Half Moon Bay and the sight of pigskin flying around the overcast skies.
For me, fall Saturdays were spent flipping around the television to catch whichever Pac-12 (Pac-10 back then) game was on. My father, sitting to my right, my mom next to him and for a while my brother next to him before he went off to UCLA for college. Often, we would watch three games – two were Pac-12 games and one was either the Notre Dame game on NBC or the ABC game of the night. I can’t remember seeing too many games there weren’t related to the Pac-12, the exceptions being the 2006 Orange Bowl game and a Texas/Oklahoma game where this happened. After that, most of my football memories growing up include either a Pac-12 team or the 49ers.
The reason I bring this up today, on the Tuesday before the Pac-12 season officially opens for our beloved Cal Golden Bears, is that this Saturday for me will officially mark the beginning of autumn for me. Say what you will about my opinions, my thoughts on all things football, or even my stance on things related to Cal athletics, but one thing no one will be able to argue is my love for college sports. For me, college football always has this power to bring forth this melancholic nostalgia for those old days… when I would watch football with my dad.
I would go through the tedious week in school, and usually it’d be a bad week in which I’d have to deal with classmates who I couldn’t stand and teachers who didn’t like me much, and the one thing I looked forward to at the base of the weekly mountain I’d have to climb was the peak on Saturday. Me, my dad, some hors d’oeuvres (usually small sandwiches and oven-baked taquitos), and football.
The peak would become that much sweeter once the cupcake schedule would be done and it was down to conference play. Sure, the occasional non-conference game would come up towards the end of the season (the late season Notre Dame/USC clashes come to mind), but it was the opening kick-off of the first conference game that told me that it was autumn.
Now, I’m older, the daunting week has gone from being about algebra and crappy teachers to marketing and crappy co-workers. My dad, now at the age where he has to sleep on Saturday afternoons to get over the migraines he gets from his rough workweek, doesn’t get to catch as many games with me as either of us wish. Part of it is my fault… I almost always end up watching more than a few football games at a bar in the City, more than a few shots of Fernet-Branca in front of me.
Nevertheless, when that kick-off comes on Saturday, right before the storm of touchdowns Oregon is likely to rain down on the depleted Cal defense, I’ll be thinking of autumn, my childhood and my father. I don’t need a cup of Pumpkin Spice Latte to tell me what time it is.
The other thing that the beginning of the conference slate brings forth the bright future.
In the past, there have been plenty of teams that have looked horrible during the non-conference part of the season, only to bounce back and have a great Pac-12 season. The 2008 Oregon State Beavers are probably the best example I can remember, but I have no doubt that there are more examples going back. The point is: the possibilities are endless.
In reference to Cal this season, I don’t think they’re going to run the table and with the Pac-12 North Division title. But they’ve already taken on two talented Big Ten squads this season (and made a run against both), so I have some hope that Cal can steal a few games this season. I doubt this team becomes bowl eligible, simply based on how talented this conference is, but I have hope. And that’s what makes this so great, there is hope.
Cal could surprise me. Lord knows I’ve been surprised with the way certain teams finished the season before. But the idea that I could be surprised is great. It’s like that moment before summer comes and you have all this potential. I doubt that this
summer season will end the way we’d like it to end for Cal with a bowl game, but the possibilities are endless.
This week, the best team in college football will host Cal. I am excited to see Jared Goff, who is one of the three best freshman quarterbacks out this season and could be the best quarterback in the nation very soon, take on a defense that allows just nine points per game. YES! YOU READ THAT RIGHT! OREGON ONLY ALLOWS ITS OPPONENTS TO SCORE NINE POINTS PER GAME! I want to see if Goff can do something to screw with that.
We may not have snow, brown leaves, or pumpkin patches. But for me, that first Saturday of real Pac-12 football, of traditional rivals at one of the twelve iconic stadiums in the conference is enough for me. And while this year could be a rough one for Cal, I am still excited for this to start on Saturday and I am excited for the endless possibilities this season could bring.