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Axe to grind — and defend: Cal faces Stanford in 125th anniversary of Big Game

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LISI LUDWIG | SENIOR STAFF

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Deputy Sports Editor

NOVEMBER 18, 2022

On the eve of Dec. 28, 1975, the Dallas Cowboys found themselves down by four to the Minnesota Vikings, with mere seconds to go in the NFC divisional championships. As a buzzing Metropolitan Stadium awaited his every move, Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach did something quite spur-of-the-moment.

Battled and beleaguered, Staubach understood that the ever-ticking clock had turned an enemy in addition to his purple and gold adversaries on the field. This daunting realization, coupled with the exhilarating adrenaline on a playoff gridiron was perhaps the catalyst for what came next.

With a 50-yard pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson, Staubach earned not only a touchdown and a victory for his team, but also a place in the history books — solidifying the term “Hail Mary” in the football vernacular.

In many ways, the upcoming Big Game is a Hail Mary for the blue and gold. A last-minute attempt to salvage the season and gain any semblance of redemption, the matchup against Stanford may hold an even greater significance than usual. Returning to California Memorial Stadium with six straight losses following a somewhat promising start to the season, Cal football now prepares for its arguably most anticipated game.

Despite the metaphorical resemblance, Hail Marys don’t usually have a 63.7% chance of success — a rather generous estimate of Cal’s chances of defeating its Bay Area rival, courtesy of ESPN.

Regardless of the number-crunching analysts, whether Cal will be able to defend the Axe on its home court will solely depend on Jack Plummer and Co., the former of whom has yet to participate in this time-honored matchup.

“I haven’t experienced this rivalry yet, but I’m excited to play in it,” Plummer said. “I’ve heard nothing but great things so hopefully it’ll be a good day for the Golden Bears.

Several things will have to happen in order for the Saturday sun to set on a triumphant Strawberry Canyon — and it starts with Cal’s offense. The lackluster offensive performance against Oregon State (which ultimately stripped the program of Bowl eligibility) seemed to be the last straw for the program, as head coach Justin Wilcox announced the departure of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and offensive line coach Angus McClure on Nov. 13.

The Big Game hardly seems like the most fitting time to try new things, but considering the events of late, Cal football would indeed be venturing along the lines of insanity if it expects differing ends without changing the means. The implications of this decision will rear its head come Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

The 125th anniversary of the Big Game will be a showdown of middling mediocrity. Sharing a 3-7 overall record, the Bears and the Cardinal are in the same boat — a rapidly sinking one. Both teams are wearily riding losing streaks in seasons that can be described as nothing more than perfect graveyards of buried hopes. Nevertheless, the blue and gold hold home court advantage this year and in a matchup like this one, that might mean everything.

Regardless of the disappointments on the football field thus far, the Big Game remains, well, big. As fans fill the stands of California Memorial Stadium, Saturday afternoon will be the annual reminder of the beauty of the game. The second those cleats step onto the gridiron, the rest of the world fades away: Every moment is a drama of comedies and tragedies, and one play is all it’ll take to make a hero.

Cornerback Jeremiah Earby acknowledges the gravity of the Cardinal showdown.

“I’m a local. I’ve been to a couple (Big Games) and it’s always a great game,” Earby said. “I’m really looking forward to it and being able to play in it — it’s a blessing.”

A blessing indeed, because at the end of the day, the Big Game is more than just football — it’s tradition.

Contact Tina Xue at 

LAST UPDATED

NOVEMBER 18, 2022