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Campus partisans tussle before the Big Game

| 12 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

While there’s no good time for a Berkeley student or staff member to be caught wearing red, it’s practically a hanging offense in the days leading up to the annual Big Game between the Bears and the Stanford Cardinal.

Though the November match is serious stuff, you don’t have to wait until kickoff — this year on Saturday, Nov. 22 — for the rivalry to heat up. A week before, the two schools start squaring off in a series of musical and sporting happenings.

The Tuesday before the Big Game, Nov. 18, Stanford will host an appearance at The Farm by several of Berkeley’s a capella choirs.

“We mainly sing Cal songs,” says junior Ming Cheng, a math and business student who’s a member of both the UC Berkeley Women’s Chorale and the UC Rally Committee. “But we also have a little fun.”

In past incarnations of this event, Berkeley students have parodied the Stanford fight song and changed the words of well-known tunes “to make fun of Stanford,” Cheng says — all, of course, in a spirit of fun, not malice. “We’re tired of the negative atmosphere,” she says. “Last year, when the event was here at Berkeley, we had an announcer ask the audience to try to keep the mood positive.”

Cheng recalls the last time the event was at The Farm: When Berkeley singers would blow their pitch pipes to find their musical key, Stanford audience members would hum in a different key to throw them off. She’s hoping, this time, for a more “civil, festive evening.”

The musical event is not billed as official competition — though “we like to think we’re a little bit better,” Cheng admits.

Also in a musical vein, the third-annual keyboard scrimmage between the two campuses’ university organists will take place at 3 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 16 at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Davitt Maroney, professor of music and organist at Berkeley, and Robert Huw Morgan, of Stanford, promise a program full of surprises.

The Cal Marching Band has a dizzying schedule of performances during Big Game Week (35 in all) — only a few of which involve Stanford, and only one of which could be termed a competition. On Thursday, Nov. 20, the two opposing marching bands will be making a lot of noise at Pier 39 in San Francisco, at the annual Battle of the Bands.

“We try to have a good time of it,” says Cal Band director Jim Bosch, a senior in physics. “There’s a decent amount of fans from both sides cheering us on.”

Some songs are on both groups’ playlist, so part of the competition is trying to play favorites first, before the other band gets to them.

After that, the bands’ next meeting is on the field at Stanford Stadium on Big Game Day, where there’ll be more occasion to work in unison. “We will play “The Star Spangled Banner” together,” says Bosch. “The Cal Band makes a box and Stanford will make ’USA’ inside the box.”

At least one pre-Big Game event, however, involves athletic competition. Traditionally, the Berkeley and Stanford economics departments hold a daylong contest the Friday before the Big Game — in soccer, ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, and, of course, football.

The soccer match comes first. “Both departments have a lot of international students, and this is a game they can really get into,” says Justin Sydnor, a Berkeley grad student.

Competition heats up when practitioners of the dismal science meet at the scrimmage line. The economists’ first football game, in 1983, was coached by Nobel laureates Kenneth Arrow of Stanford and Gérard Debreu of Berkeley. No one remembers who won, but the game became a tradition. These days, the winner is awarded a bronzed-apple-core trophy, in honor of Arrow’s and Debreu’s Nobel Prize-winning theoretical work on the equilibrium (the “core”) of an economy. Its title, depending on who won it last, is the Debreau-Arrow or Arrow-Debreau award.

Cal’s team is made up mostly of first-year grad students. “It’s a great release for the new guys who have been working so hard since they arrived,” Sydnor says. “As grad students get a little older, they become busier and, well, creakier.”

After volleyball and Frisbee, the contestants adjourn to a neighborhood bar or restaurant to relax and yak about matters economic.

Another ‘little’ Big Game occurs hours before Big Game kickoff — when the Berkeley and Stanford chapters of Tau Beta Pi, the oldest national engineering honor society in the country, square off on the field.

“The event is hosted for the sake of rivalry, but also to build some tradition and some interaction amongst Tau Beta Pi chapters,” says Brian Love, Cal’s chapter president.

Greek bonding notwithstanding, the two teams play to win. “Last year, Stanford brought a lot of people to Cal to cheer them on,” Love reports. But to no avail. “We won a very close game,” he says — followed, of course, by the real contest, in which the Bears trounced the Cardinal 30-7.