Another old post, that I wrote in September.
It is one of my greatest regrets that I never marched in the University of California Marching Band. So much so that I'm incredibly tempted to do a one-year master's or something (LLM, perhaps?) at Cal just so I could have a chance to make up for lost time... (You think I'm kidding?) Anyway, I have a lot of friends who did march in the band, so I routinely now crash their party on alumni band day, the football game where they all get together and march again. Which this year was yesterday.
Yesterday was also the second home game of the season. It's a good season so far, as Cal is doing well, as expected. I like when Cal does well. Winning is generally more fun than losing. But winning isn't everything, as the powers-that-be are amply demonstrating.
It's a minor complaint itself, but I fear representative of a larger defect, that the stadium now blasts generic anthemic rock songs over the loudspeaker I suppose in the attempt to rouse the crowd. This is unnecessary and unwelcome. After all, we already have an amazing band to play all the music necessary to rouse the crowd. As they've been doing successfully for, oh, a century or so. (Did you know Earl Warren played clarinet in the Cal band?) A canned stadium soundtrack, the kind you find in any stadium in the US, is not going to add anything, and instead takes away from the experience by cheapening it. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the game has historically been unique to our school; since when do we want Cal to be so banal?
The answer, I fear, is since Cal started playing well and the powers-that-be discovered that there was money in that. Enough money that maybe we could finally get a new stadium.
I've been clear in my support for a new (well, renovated) stadium. This one is seismically precarious and obviously needs fixing. I do not see, however, why that renovation requires a new training facility right outside, in place of a lovely grove of trees, and itself mere meters from a major fault line. Even if there were no trees, it seems patently unwise to put any structure there. There already are too many buildings built up near the fault, but at least one could say they were built before anyone knew any better. The same could not be said now.
And then there are the trees. I like the trees. I used to live up in that neighborhood, and I used to pass by them. But I think what I really like right now is that we have people in the trees, that Berkeley is the kind of place where people would do that.
The university is not so pleased. In fact, it's livid. It's sought injunctions to remove them, it's tried to fence them off... It even sends out mailings telling us that the entrance gates near them will be closed off for fans "safety."
What the university fails to understand is that people like me go to the games because there are people in trees. Not these trees or these people specifically, but because this is the kind of place where people do actively stand up for things they feel are important. This spirit is what lured me to Berkeley in the first place. And it's what keeps me coming back.
The powers-that-be, so blinded by their dollar signs, forget that Cal football is not about a sport; it's about a school. A community. Something bigger than the entire NCAA combined.
This is what keeps me coming back not just the years when we beat Tennessee, but every year, even the long, dark ones when we don't beat anyone.
Epilogue: I wrote this in September, and given how Cal's season unfolded it seems as apt as ever. Despite lofty expectations and a great deal of potential to be a major NCAA football powerhouse, Cal suffered a series of late season and humiliating collapses. It somehow managed to limp into a bowl game, but it hardly deserved such an honor given how poorly it played.
Actually, maybe it wasn't so bad. Any other year it would probably be considered a success. But because more was expected, it's a failure. And that's a shame. Not that Cal lost, but that its losing was so bitter. I don't mean to advocate a culture of losing, that so inured would people be to it that another loss would hardly be a blip on the emotional radar. I just mean that when winning becomes so incredibly important it becomes too important. It matters too much, so much that a loss becomes completely untenable.
The one upside to this season, a big one in my opinion, is that Cal's performance shook clean the bandwagon of fairweather fans who only wanted to be part of the team's supporters when they were a contender. Crowds of people who made it impossible for longer-term fans of the school to be able to enjoy in its team's success.
I hope then that the school takes this year to heart. Expanding the number of people who can enjoy Cal's successes is a good thing, but it never should come at the expense of those who already do.