Just a short flight away from Oakland lies a completely different world: Las Vegas. The city’s infamous Strip is a free-for-all where alcohol, grown men in costumes and nauseating urban planning meet to create something new and wildly different from Berkeley.
It was in this strange land both near and very far away from the Cal campus that three former Cal football players participated in the 2022 NFL Pro Bowl at Allegiant Stadium: defensive end Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints, punter Bryan Anger of the Dallas Cowboys and center Alex Mack of the San Francisco 49ers.
Two more former Bears were selected to the Pro Bowl but did not play, namely Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen.
Cal’s four 2022 Pro Bowlers at the time the initial roster was announced (Mack’s replacement of Philadelphia Eagles’ center Jason Kelce, who opted out, made it five) was tied with Florida State (4) for the third most among all college football teams, behind Ohio State (6) and Oklahoma (5).
Rodgers, who earned his 10th Pro Bowl selection, declined the invitation due to an apparent injury. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins took his place and proceeded to throw an interception and give up a fumble for an AFC score in the first half.
Allen, Cal’s all-time receptions leader (205), who has now made five consecutive Pro Bowl rosters, also opted out due to injury. Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow replaced him in the AFC roster.
While Anger opted to come to Sin City as the NFC’s only punter, he only saw the field as a placeholder on PAT attempts. Perhaps it was for the best for the first time Pro Bowler in light of the infamous hit Sean Taylor laid on punter Brian Moorman in 2007.
At Saturday’s NFC practice, Anger, who remains the highest selection in the NFL Draft for a punter since 1995, reflected on one of his best moments as a Bear.
“At a Stanford game we had a 76 and a 75 (yard punt) back to back,” said Anger with a smile. “That 76-yarder was probably my longest punt in my college career.”
Jordan, the most decorated former Bear in Vegas this weekend, earned a fumble recovery after a wild play, in which the NFC’s J.T. Gray fumbled a lateral from Trevon Diggs, who had intercepted a pass from quarterback Mac Jones. Jordan popped up and shoveled the ball to Diggs, who earned another 3 yards before being pushed out of bounds.
“I had a couple of messages with fans that have remembered back when I was rocking the number 97 back at Cal. I appreciate all the fans up here, whether they be my UCB folks or Who Dat nation,” said Jordan. “And also, go Bears!”
Perhaps the most joyous player on the field Sunday afternoon, Mack, replaced the Philadelphia Eagles’ center Jason Kelce. The seven-time Pro Bowler was as overjoyed as a kid in the crowd during the T-shirt toss when his name was called before the game.
He snapped the ball marvelously to Kyler Murray and Cousins under zero pressure. He also had no false start penalties against him, one fewer than his counterpart on the AFC, second-string center Ryan Kelly.
Nothing can prepare someone for Las Vegas; living in Berkeley certainly won’t. That said, Cal football programs of the 2000s and early 2010s prepared this unusually large cohort of Cal alumni exceptionally well for the NFL.