Yesterday, while I was flipping channels on my television, I happened to come across the Pac-12 Network. It was the middle of the day, so they were showing a classic game (as the Pac-12 Network often does in the middle of a random weekday). I made myself a sandwich, checked up on my dog and then sat down before the game (which at this point hadn’t actually come on the screen) came back from commercial. When it came back, it was the 1991 game between then third ranked Washington and seventh ranked Cal.
Yes! Seventh ranked Cal. And, what was crazy was that the sold out Memorial Stadium was rocking with every pass and every play. A sea of blue and gold watching with greater craze after each play. The play that was the craziest was this Mike Pawlawski deep pass to Sean Dawkins that put Cal up in the contest. I watched, envious of the Cal team that I watched play. They would end up losing later on 24-17, to Washington (who ended that season 12-0 and ranked second in the nation), but Cal would end the season ranked eighth.
Later on, as I was channel surfing during the commercial break of the Rachel Maddow Show, and I came across another old game they were showing on the Pac-12 Network. This time, the 15th ranked Oregon Ducks hosted the 23rd ranked Cal Golden Bears. It was tied late in the fourth at 20, when Brandon Hampton picked off Dennis Dixon. The Ducks would win 27-20 on a Brady Leaf 4-yard touchdown pass to James Finley with no time left to play. Cal would end that season ranked 25th in the nation.
Why am I bringing this up?
Because, watching these old games made me think two things: 1) Why does the Pac-12 prefer to show old games over non-revenue sport games? and 2) Will Cal football ever be this good again?
I know, that’s a bit morbid. But, when you’re watching something like a seventh ranked Cal team with a sold out Memorial Stadium (and not sold out by fans of the other team) or even a team that is able to compete with national powers like Oregon is something that is hard to fathom, let alone remember. As someone who wants so desperately to see Cal football succeed, I find myself wondering if the Golden Bears can ever get back to the top of the mountain.
Cal football has always been able to produce solid talents. However, can they produce a solid team? Can they build the kind of team that has the depth, intelligence and talent to partake in a Pac-12 championship race, let alone a National Championship hunt? I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility. The thing that makes it so difficult to think about, is because we are so used to Jeff Tedford and his antics that we have yet to really get a grasp on Sonny Dykes, his staff or what Cal can have going forward. I don’t doubt that he can bring Cal football back to relevance, but I don’t know that he can either.
I come to wonder, will Cal football produce a team that ever has a chance at the 4-team playoff tournament (or the inevitable 8 or 16-team versions to come over the next decade or so)? Can they sneak into a Rose Bowl?
I obviously have no answer, and really don’t have any hint as to which way the future would go.
What I do think is that Cal has been, and can be again, a destination school where top notch athletes can go. If a university like Stanford can build up a top-five team, especially when considering their extreme entrance criteria, I don’t see why a place like Cal can’t. Maybe it starts with the fan base, maybe it starts with the way the athletic department is structured, maybe it’s just a good recruiting coach, or maybe it’s just cyclical and Cal is on an upward bounce.
All I know is, eating my Turkey and Provolone on 7-grain with chips, I found myself daydreaming about a better Cal football team, and about a better sandwich the next time.