Evolution is in the air in Berkeley, where there hasn?t been so much excitement about football since Cal?s Kevin Moen mowed down Stanford trombonist Gary Tyrell in the end zone to win the Big Game 22 years ago. Season-ticket sales are expected to reach 32,000, the most in school history, and ESPN will televise two of the Golden Bears? first three games. There?s even buzz on campus about the possibility of a Rose Bowl appearance, Cal?s first since the 1958 season.
Much of the optimism is centered around junior quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the latest in a line of crack passers developed over the last decade by Jeff Tedford, first as the QBs? coach at Fresno State, then as offensive coordinator at Oregon and now as coach of the Bears. Seven of his prot�g�s--including Joey Harrington, David Carr and Kyle Boller--reached the NFL, and Rodgers, who transferred from Butte Junior College after the 2002 season, will likely be the eighth. Last year he threw for 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns, and this season his receiving unit, already boasting Geoff McArthur (85 receptions) and Burl Toler (48), will be strengthened by the return of Jonathan Makonnen, who missed last year with a fractured foot but led the Bears with 54 receptions in ?02.
The highlight of Cal?s season was a triple overtime win against USC--the only loss suffered by the Trojans and the Bears? first defeat of a team ranked in the top three in 52 years. ?People see USC won a split national championship and wonder, Who did they lose to?? says Rodgers, who guided Cal to five wins in its last six games. ?I think teams will realize last season wasn?t a fluke.? The Bears? defense will have a lot to say about that. Eight starters are back, most notably All? Pac-10 strong safety Donnie McCleskey, who had 102 tackles and 51?2 sacks.
Football may never surpass activism as the favorite pastime in Berkeley, but it?s clear that, as Stephen Stills once sang, There?s something happenin? here. ?The Cal fans are kind of coming out of the woodwork,? Rodgers says. ?I think they realize they better jump on the bandwagon now, because it?s going to be an exciting ride.?
-- Richard Deitsch