Traditions of the Big Game

Nov. 22 marks the 100th Big Game between Cal and Stanford, this year played at Stanford Stadium. As the tailgate parties, luncheons and the contest itself take place, fans will relive tall tales long associated with the rivalry. "The Play" of 1982, legendary '40s coach "Pappy" Waldorf, and a 1973 caper at Ming's Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto where the axe was stolen away may be history, but they are remembered as clearly today as they were when they took place decades ago.

The True Tale of the Axe

The revered axe first appeared at a Cal-Stanford baseball game in San Francisco in 1899. Stanford fans used it to chop up blue and gold ribbons they brought along to taunt Berkeley fans. Cal won, but the Stanford axe so angered Cal fans they decided to take it.

A series of skirmishes ensued during a day-long chase through the streets of San Francisco. At the request of Stanford officials, police searched ferries for the axe. A Cal student evaded the dragnet when he hid the axe in his pants and escaped on an Oakland-bound ferry.

It took 31 years for Stanford to recover the axe.

In 1930, following a Big Game rally, Axe Custodian Norman Horner was victimized by 21 tear gas-wielding Stanford men posing as news reporters who stole the axe away from Berkeley. The perpetrators, known at Stanford as "The Immortal 21," attended the rally and afterward tailed Horner to the Berkeley bank vault where the axe was kept, seizing it as Horner left an armored car.

A short time later, following tense negotiations, Stanford and Cal alumni decided to award the axe as a trophy to the annual winner of the Big Game.

Since then, the axe has been stolen twice from Stanford and three times from Berkeley. After each incident, it was returned to officials in time to be awarded to the Big Game victor.

Stanford built a new home for the axe three years ago, encasing it in a metal structure anchored into a building. When the axe is in residence at Berkeley, it is kept in a sturdy display case at the King Student Center.

In 1979, the axe was refurbished and the original forging mark discovered, proving that, despite all the thefts, the axe is still the 1899 original.

adapted from "Big Game Memories," by Brian Caulfield, fall 1997 Berkeley Magazine.

The Sunday Evening Post-Big Game Armchair Traveller

After Saturday's contest, tune in Sunday, Nov. 23, at 6 p.m. for KRON TV Channel 4's "Bay Area Backroads" program, which will broadcast a segment on the Berkeley and Stanford campuses.

The show takes viewers on a tour of the two locales, with host Doug McConnell doing some good-natured score-keeping to decide who has the best attractions.

"Backroads" producers won't reveal who wins the contest, but it should make for interesting viewing.

The show is repeated at midnight.




Copyright 1997, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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