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Berkeleyan

Letter to the editor

20 November 2003

 



The Debreu-Arrow award goes to the winning team in the annual football matchup between the economics departments at Cal and Stanford.
Noah Berger photo

Dear Editor:

The Berkeleyan story that described the traditional touch-football game between the Cal and Stanford economics departments (Nov. 13) piqued my curiosity because it reported that no one now at either school seems to remember who won the first such game, thought to have been held in 1983.

I embarked on a little bit of historical research, aided by Berkeleyan staff. Among other findings, we determined that the first Cal/Stanford Economics Big Game most likely took place in the fall of 1979, coached by Nobelist Kenneth Arrow of Stanford and future Nobelist Gerard Debreu of Berkeley.

The first inquiry was made of Shane Green-stein, who holds economics degrees from both Cal (undergraduate) and Stanford (master’s and Ph.D.). Now a professor in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwest-ern University, in the fall of 1983 he was making the academic and cultural transition between Berkeley and Palo Alto. Shane admitted he didn’t attend the 1983 Econ game because he was too busy with his first year of graduate school. However, he provided the next crucial link in the chain, pointing us to Michael Knetter, who quarterbacked the Stanford Econ team during part of the 1980s (and now holds down a more sedentary role as dean of the business school at the Univer-sity of Wisconsin at Madison).

Dean Knetter said he wasn’t sure about when the first game was played, though he believes it was earlier than 1983. He also supplied a likely score for the 1983 tilt: 14-7 in favor of Stanford. And, crucially, he identified our next source, Spencer Krane, a Berkeley alumnus who today is a vice president with the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago. Krane rolled back the horizon for the first game to at least 1979. Berkeley won that tussle 6-4, recalled Krane, “one touchdown vs. two safeties. It was a fine, cold, rainy day. We played 11-on-11 flag football, and in that weather, it turned pretty ugly.”

Krane’s recollections were confirmed by Barry Ickes, another Berkeley alum, now a professor of economics at Penn State. “The next year [1980] the game was at Cal, and it ended in a bizarre tie (18-18, I think), when Cal snapped the ball out of the end zone on the last play of the game,” Ickes wrote. “Since it was a tie, the trophy remained in Berkeley. But here is the important point for the history of the game: Stanford stole the trophy at the postgame party. It was not found till the week before the next year’s game.” Clearly in a reflective mood, he added, “I guess any good tradition needs a stolen trophy.”

There’s a trophy-related postscript to the story, having to do with the origins of the “apple core” trophy that now migrates between the two campuses. Details were supplied by Robert Powell, now a political science professor at Berkeley.

“I helped make the trophy,” testified Powell, “the name of which is based on a bad pun. There is something called the core of an economy that is related to work that both Arrow and Debreu did. So it seemed natural enough that the trophy should illustrate the ‘core.’ The fine arts group here at Berkeley was kind enough to help Barry and me cast an apple core (in exchange for a couple of six-packs for their weekly happy hour), which we used as the central part of the trophy.”

So there we have it. Cal originates a tradition, creatively produces a trophy, wins the first edition of a now-classic contest (which will be 25 years old in fall 2004) … and the truculent Stanfordites, as is their wont, promptly misbehave. What better pre-Big Game story could there be?

— Steven Finacom