Game faces on, they fidgeted under a hot sun an hour before kickoff, perspiring in their uniforms, thinking about their assignments. At the stroke of 2:30 last Saturday, Zach Morrison took charge. The 5'6", 165-pound fourth-year drum major for the Cal marching band shouted, " California band, a 10-HUT!" and the parade began. � On home football Saturdays in Berkeley, the Cal band leads a gathering of fans the half-mile or so from Sproul Plaza to Memorial Stadium. While there was no bandwagon per se last Saturday, the number of fans tagging along appeared much larger than for previous home openers. Between insulting Stanford and chanting, "Go Bears!" the band geeks belted out thesong Titanic, which Cal undergrads long ago equipped with the nontraditional ending:
And the moral of the song,
Is to BRING YOUR BEER ALONG!
It was sad when the great ship went down.
They had gathered to celebrate the salvaging of a wreck. In 2001 the worst Cal football team in 104 years lost 10 of its 11 games. One head coach and three seasons later, the Bears faithful dare discuss the possibility of their team's first Rose Bowl trip since 1959. To attain that goal, Cal must beat the teams it's supposed to beat--it did on Saturday, mauling New Mexico State 41-14--and most likely pull off at least one serious upset. Top-ranked Southern Cal awaits the Bears in Los Angeles on Oct. 9.
The visitors will walk through the Coliseum tunnel that day with much respect but no fear. Cal, after all, handed the Trojans their only defeat last season. That 34--31 triple-overtime loss cost USC its shot at an undisputed national championship and validated what Bears coach Jeff Tedford had spent the week drumming into his players. "He kept telling us, 'We're prepared, we've put in the work, we can beat these guys,'" recalls quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
They believe Tedford, as do Cal fans, many of whom can be seen around Berkeley in tie-dyed TEDHEAD T-shirts. In his first head coaching job, the 42-year-old Tedford has exceeded expectations, leading the Bears to seasons of 7--5 and 8--6 and a No. 10 ranking this week. In so doing he has raised the Titanic, so to speak, resurrecting a program that had slid in the previous decade from proud to mediocre to godawful. "You didn't want to go to class," says senior wide receiver Geoff McArthur of that 1--10 season. "You definitely didn't want to wear your Cal football shirt. You felt like you'd let your school down."
Job One for Tedford, whom Cal hired away from Oregon, was to restore the players' self-esteem. "Their confidence was shattered," says Tedford, who sought to provide a positive environment. There were team "unity meetings," in which players "talked about their own feelings." Additionally, Tedford sat down with each player. Among the things he asked them was to identify four team leaders. Many couldn't name any.
They started with the small things. They established goals. "It wasn't, We're gonna win all our games," says McArthur. "It was, Let's improve our practice habits." He remembers being called out by Tedford during a spring film session. "Somebody broke a big run, and I wasn't hustling down the field," McArthur says. Tedford couldn't take his thumb off the rewind button, replaying the receiver's sin over and over, saying, "Guys, this isn't going to get it [done]."
While the players bought into his system, not all outsiders were sold. Yes, Tedford had been a hot offensive coordinator for the Ducks and had proved himself, during a decade as an assistant at Fresno State and Oregon, to be the nation's finest quarterbacks coach. But this was still his first top gig. The Tedford Era at Cal began with a 70-22 demolition of Baylor on Aug. 31, 2002. The bandwagon has been taking on passengers ever since.
Even by the pyrotechnical standards of the Pac-10, Tedford's teams have lit it up. In the past two seasons the Bears amassed 884 points, more than the previous four Cal squads combined. In their first two games this season the Bears have averaged 592 yards of total offense. Senior tailback J.J. Arrington, who's rushed for 358 yards and six TDs, may not even be the most talented back on the team; some say it's electrifying true freshman Marshawn Lynch. McArthur, prone to injuries and to dropped balls before Tedford and his staff straightened him out, has blossomed into the second-leading receiver in Cal history.
There are, in short, more weapons on this offense than defenses can account for. The most dangerous is Rodgers, the 6'2", 210-pound junior, who wouldn't be at Cal if Tedford hadn't been looking for a tight end two years ago. In fall 2002 Tedford was studying video of Garrett Cross, a talented if twiggy juco tight end at Butte College in Oroville, Calif. While he liked Cross, he couldn't take his eyes off the kid throwing the ball. "I was thinking, This guy is athletic, scrambling, strong-armed, accurate; he has nice poise."