150th Anniversary Issue

From the outside, looking in: A Cal athletics love story

As a caveat, I’m a little new to the game here, no pun intended. This is my second semester at The Daily Californian and my second semester at UC Berkeley after I enrolled as a transfer student in August 2020. (This has been a really great year to be a transfer, in case you were curious.) While I’m a fairly new writer here, I’ve been a fan from just down the road my entire life, and there is nothing new about Cal athletics to me.

Cal athletics have always been in a strange limbo. UC Berkeley is a Division I school, a part of the “Conference of Champions” known as the Pac-12. Memorial Stadium has seen more than its fair share of wins and loses: Cal football sits at an all-time record of 678-546-51 (.552) — not exactly eye-popping. Cal baseball sits at a similar clip, with an all-time record of 2,637-1,986-15 (.570); basketball sits at 1,579-1,208 (.567).

None of these totals are anything to scoff at — being over .500 after a century of athletics is incredible. But for all of the Bears’ pedigree and reputation, long-term success in major athletic events eludes the school. Cal is not an athletic powerhouse, or at least it seems that way on the surface. All the sports that national media don’t typically cover — swimming, water polo, rugby, etc. — are what Cal dominates. I’m talking championships out the wazoo (not Wazzu). Not to mention that the Bears have 159 total Olympic medals, and 91 of them are golds.

I guess that fits in with Berkeley as a whole though, doesn’t it? Berkeley (affectionately known as “Berserkeley” to those in the area) is a little strange from the outside looking in, and maybe even stranger when you’re in the midst of it. Similarly, the athletics here might seem a little lackluster and a fun fringe candidate whenever football happens to be successful. But once you’re in it, it’s a whole different world.

I have managed to be in it through my reporting with the Daily Cal. The stories that have come out of the sports department here are amazing, even in a year marred by limited access to the athletes and programs that sustain the department. Just being able to sit in the same (Zoom) room as some of the most talented writers I’ve met is amazing.

Covering sports is so much more than writing wins and losses. The wins are amazing, no doubt about it. But to me — and I’ll venture to speak for the department as a whole — sports are romantic, especially at Cal. The wins stay with you forever, and they are never taken for granted.

Take the Bears winning the 122nd Big Game last year. For the first time in a decade, Cal beat Stanford. Even for someone who was, at that point, an “outsider” (though still a loyal fan), it felt like the best day ever. Watching the Bears beat the Longhorns two years in a row is a memory that I know I, and so many Cal fans, treasure. These are the moments we all hold dear.

I have a bit of a love affair with the Bears. As with all things, there are ups and there are downs. The highs are high and the lows are lower. But you tell me that you don’t get chills watching “The Play” before Big Game week. Go sit in Memorial Stadium (or Tightwad Hill, if that’s more your style) on a cool fall night and tell me that you don’t feel the romance of it all.

To say the future is uncertain is more than cliche at this point, but whatever else the future may hold, I hope it includes the full return of sports. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, but I think we’re all fond enough already. I’ll see you there, in Memorial Stadium, Haas Pavilion, Evans Diamond and everywhere else. It’s a great day to be a Golden Bear — but then again, it always is.