Photos by Howard Gale
by Brian Caulfield
For countless Cal alums, there are no college memories more vivid or more thrilling than those of the annual football competition between Berkeley and Stanford. This fall marks the 100th anniversary of the Big Game.
More than just a sporting match, the Big Game embodies the decades-old rivalry that exists between the top public and private universities in Northern California.
For many, the Big Game brings back memories of blazing bonfires held the Friday night before the match and yelling "Freshmen more wood!" There is the week of wearing blue and gold. And who can forget (or in some cases, remember) the wild tailgate parties.
And how many recall watching Oski effortlessly wandering up and down the steps of Memorial Stadium? Or the Card Stunts, where students in the rooting sections used colored cards to spell out "Cal" and other spirited messages.
But for those who were actually on the playing field, Big Game memories hold a special place in their hearts and minds. In this report, four football heroes from Big Games past recall personal moments of glory.
There isn't an official Big Game museum, but if there were, it would look a lot like Kapp's Pizza Bar & Grill in Mountain View. Hundreds of items including Big Game programs, autographed photos and football helmets from legendary Cal and Stanford players fill every nook and cranny of the sleek, wood and bronze sports bar. It may be the only place on the planet where one can find Blue and Gold and Red and White displayed together so proudly.
Joe Kapp, whose brother, Larry, owns the bar and grill, is the unofficial curator of the Cal-Stanford shrine. Joe Kapp led Cal to Big Game victories in 1956 and '58 as quarterback, and went on to play professional football, taking the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl in 1970 before returning to Cal as head football coach in 1982.
Between sips of orange soda, Kapp offers his view of the Cal-Stanford rivalry.
"Stanford certainly is a worthy opponent. It's a very respectful rivalry," he says. "(The Big Game) should be more of a model for competitive athletics."
Kapp leans forward, as if to share an intimate secret, and adds: "You know, I love Stanford people. They're just really intelligent and warm-hearted and gracious - especially when they lose."
Cal fans are hoping for another gracious loss this year when Berkeley and Stanford celebrate a century of Big Game tradition. The rivalry will be played out Nov. 22 at Stanford Stadium.
Back at his brother's bar and grill, just a few miles down the road from Stanford Stadium, Kapp settles on his favorite souvenir. In a corner of the bar under a television set mounted high up on the wall hangs a paper ghost with an intravenous drip of Corona beer hooked up to its arm, a promotional relic left over from Halloween.
Kapp brushes the display aside to reveal a small red axe mounted on a plaque. On it is the score of the 1982 Big Game: Cal 26, Stanford 20.
Stanford alum Jon Erickson remembers a different tally. He was among the scores of Stanford fans who in 1982 rushed onto the playing field to celebrate what they believed was a Stanford victory. He swears that at the end of the game the Memorial Stadium scoreboard read: Stanford 20, Cal 19.
In a photograph taken at the end of that game, Erickson says one can just make him out in the crowd of Stanford fans Cal player Kevin Moen plowed through on his way to the last second Cal victory, which has come to be known as "The Play."
The memory of that upset is all behind Erickson now. The axe is in Stanford's hands. Unlike the copy of the axe that hangs in Kapp's bar, something more substantial than a drunken paper ghost guards the real thing. Near the Stanford Sports Hall of Fame inside the university's new sports administration building, Erickson wipes a smudge from the thick bullet-proof glass case in which the axe is displayed. The red-handled axe is mounted on a plaque with the dates and scores of all the Big Games.
However, consistent with Erickson's recollection, the plaque reveals a major discrepancy from the official record. The score of the 1982 Big Game reads 20-19 in favor of Stanford.
What's going on here?
"That's one of the mysteries of the axe," Erickson explains. "When Stanford wins the Big Game and takes the axe back, right about in the middle of the Bay Bridge, the scores - floop - revert to what we consider the right score. As to what causes that, well, you could say there is a certain magical element to that axe."
As an alumni advisor to Stanford's Axe Committee, the student group charged with guarding the axe, Erickson is well versed in axe lore.
The axe first appeared at a Cal-Stanford baseball game in San Francisco in 1899, according to Big Game historian and Cal alumnus John T. Sullivan. Stanford fans used the axe to chop up blue and gold ribbons they brought along to taunt Berkeley fans. Cal won the game, but the Stanford axe angered Cal fans so much they decided to take it from them.
A series of skirmishes ensued during a daylong chase through the streets of San Francisco. At the request of Stanford officials, police were summoned to search outgoing 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, and since then, they have guarded it vigilantly.
"We take security very seriously," Erickson says. "I tell the students if there is one name you never want to be associated with, it's that of Norm Horner."
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, revered at Stanford as "The Immortal 21," attended the rally and afterward followed Horner to the armored truck used to transport the axe. They then followed Horner to the Berkeley bank vault where the axe was kept, and seized the axe as Horner left the armored car.
A short time later, following tense negotiations, Stanford and Cal alumni decided to award the axe as a football trophy to the annual winner of the Big Game.
Since then, the axe has been stolen twice from Stanford and three times from Cal. After each incident, the axe was returned to officials in time to be awarded to the winner of the Big Game.
Stanford built a new home for the axe three years ago, encasing it in a big metal structure anchored into the building which houses the Sports Hall of Fame.
"It's probably impossible to get it out," Erickson says. "I don't know how anyone could do it. It would take a couple of Mack trucks with cables, and they would have to tear the building apart."
What about Cal's home for the axe? How safe is it?
"Pretty safe," says Erickson. "I've looked at it closely."
Short of detonating a neutron bomb underneath the Stanford vault, the only way Cal is going to get the axe is on the football field. No Cal Coach has captured the axe more times than Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf, who coached the Golden Bears from 1947 to 1956. He led Cal to three straight Rose Bowl appearances and lost only one Big Game.
Kapp channels Waldorf's words in a deep, gruff voice: "'Joe,' he would say to me - and this is how you can tell great coaching - 'Joe, call whatever play you want and have a reason. You went to school.
You know what I think. Just have a reason.'"
Waldorf died in 1981, but visitors can find his likeness on campus beneath a redwood grove in the Faculty Glade. A bronze statue of the big, grizzled man kneels with one knee up. In his hand is a list of 10 games, "Pappy's Big Games."
Jim "Truck" Cullom played a major role in the second game on that list. The Big Game of 1948. A 7-6 victory for Cal.
Cullom remembers how Stanford had just scored a touchdown and was about to attempt a conversion that would tie the score at 7-7. The Stanford linemen stood in a two-point position, hands raised, to ward off the Cal blitz. When Cullom saw this unusual stance, he thought fast.
"I got a good jump. I got my left hand on (Stanford lineman) Al Rawl's shoulder and got myself up and picked it off," Cullom recalls. He puts a hand on his desk as if it were Rawl's shoulder, and reaches up into the air with the other.
Hoisting himself on the Stanford blocker, Cullom deflected the kick with his hand. For the first time, the Big Game had been won by a single point. Cullom's block, and his successful conversion kick in the first quarter, had insured the Cal victory.
Cullom, who retains his burly, lineman-like physique, recalled his Big Game memories from his office at Piedmont Travel Agency, which he founded in the early '70s. A big binder stuffed with the names of friends he played with at Cal and Stanford sits on his desk.
Cullom's old leather helmet rests in a place of honor at Kapp's bar and grill.
"Truck, more than anyone else I know, carried on Pappy's legacy at Cal," Kapp says.
Another of Kapp's favorite mementos is a photograph of a play that shows Cal player Kevin Moen crashing down on a Stanford trombonist in the end zone.
Kapp was coaching the Bears in the Big Game of 1982, and Cal was down 20-19 to a heavily-favored Stanford team with just four seconds left on the clock. All-American quarterback John Elway, now an NFL football star with the Denver Broncos, had just led Stanford back after Cal had jumped ahead 10-0 in the first half. Stanford fans were already celebrating their amazing victory.
Then, came a 57-yard play in which Cal players passed the ball to each other back and forth as time on the clock ran out. The Stanford band, playing a victory number, was marching onto the playing field.
Moen says the plan behind The Play was simple: "Keep the ball alive," he remembers.
Moen charged the final 15 yards to the end zone through the
Stanford band, accidentally crashing into the Stanford trombonist.
"I didn't have a whole lot of time to think after that," says Moen, who is now a partner in a southern California real estate firm. "The Big Game is about excitement and unpredictability," Moen says. "Anything
can happen, no matter what level either team is playing at. My advice to anyone attending is: Don't leave early. You never know what is going
[Table of Contents] [Berkeley Magazine Home] [UC Berkeley Home]
Please e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org