The almost thunderous cracking cries of celebration after a winning game are unlike any other. After several hours of a sporting event and countless and momentous minutes of “will they, won’t they,” the final buzzer, beep, ringing bell or sounding blow celebrating a team’s victory creates a sense of bliss that is irreplaceable.
Existing in a world where sports is a culture, team fan bases are communities and the team identity aficionados hold is akin to family, victories (and losses) are personal.
However, while victories feel electric in the best way, losses sting. They burn — bad.
It is a moment of pummeled pride, facing the entire opposing squadron you just lost against as you file out of the stadium, field or court with your shoulders dropped and head drooping. Not only is it embarrassing, but it’s devastating. The shadows of chants that follow the victors as they march out might even be worse than nails on a chalkboard.
This feeling, the sinking one, that fans face after their favorite team has lost is one that a Cal football fan knows all too well. Now, it is almost expected. Score predictions and bets are made more safely, hopes are held closer to one’s chest, expectations are lowered. It is difficult to rally for a win when they have been few and far between.
While it is true that many of the losses have wins sprinkled between them, when the former is sometimes so close and so devastating, finding the latter can be close to finding needles in a haystack.
That is not to say the wins haven’t been momentarily rewarding: Last year’s Big Game win against the Farm proved that sometimes a moon decides to turn blue — just to remind you that it can.
Once in a blue and gold moon, Cal wins — and I mean truly wins. Not by a little, but by a lot. And I don’t mean by kicking a team that’s already down which was exhibited by the Bears’ 26-3 win against the Buffs — I mean, big wins.
The 39-25 victory against Oregon State, the 41-11 blowout against Stanford.
I want that. And more than twice in an entire season.
But just when things start looking up: point differentials increase, winning margins expand, cheers get louder and fans get more fanatic — Cal loses 3-10 to a team on a 20-game losing streak. A team that was, at that point, 0-5 in conference play and 0-8 overall.
Nov. 6, 2021, Cal lost to a team that hadn’t won a game since Oct. 5, 2019.
With absolutely nothing wild about how the Arizona Wildcats played football, after losing 0-34 to Colorado earlier in the 2021 season (which Cal held to a mere 3 points), Arizona beat Cal. In the middle of a COVID crisis and, frankly, an everything crisis — from failing rapid and PCR tests and failing on the field — calling Cal football a mess was an understatement.
All this to say, Cal was on a roll up till that point. Okay maybe not a roll, but a slight twirl? Regardless, when fans said “it could be worse,” they didn’t know much worse “worse” could get.
What’s the saying? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
However, at this point, Cal has an entirely fresh slate. New slate, new recruits.
It seems as though Cal has possibly upwards of six quarterbacks to choose from. Maybe starting the season off with an emphasis on quantity over quality might not be the best way to go? Regardless, this season, Cal has something to prove. With USC and UCLA deciding to move out of the Pac-12 in a few years’ time, Cal needs to demonstrate that it can not only survive, but thrive, without the two SoCal giants.
While much of what the blue and gold has shown in the past is cause for concern, there have been a few bright spots among the sea of loss that give me (what may be) false, unwarranted or unreasonable hope.
But hope nonetheless.
Near the beginning of the 2021 season, Cal head football coach Justin Wilcox stated that Cal was “a few plays away from playing pretty good football.”
While “pretty good” should be the starting point for a Division I football team, and “great” should want to be achieved, I’ll keep my semantics to myself as the season begins.
But, I will match that — my hopes for Cal won’t be great, they’ll just be “pretty good.”
But here’s hoping I can call them great sometime this season.