BERKELEY, Calif. - There are a million examples one could give to show how the cities of Houston and Berkeley are polar opposites. That same person could narrow his review to just the campuses of Cal and UH and come away with an even greater disparity between the two. Yet with the culture shock that comes naturally to a first-time visitor to Berkeley, one can still find a massive amount of similarity between the Bears and the Coogs.
Berkeley is considered laid-back, liberal and a great place to visit by most who make the trip to the left coast. With outstanding food, a great climate (we wore two layers of clothes during much of our trip there) and breathtaking scenery, our travel party thoroughly enjoyed this visit, save the agony of the last three minutes of the game.
Cal, nestled among the pines of the Berkeley hills, is not exactly a football haven (campus beauty doesn't exactly make for winning football. Just ask UT). Coach Tom Holmoe is in his second year of rebuilding the program, and after a 3-8 record in 1997, can only hope to better that mark with his version of the West Coast offense.
Even with Cal's unlimited resources, Holmoe doesn't exactly have it made. The feeling on campus at Berkeley toward athletics is remarkably similar to what you experience on the UH campus: total, uninvolved apathy. With football season on the horizon this week at Berkeley, Alan Greenspan's visit to campus dominated the attention of the self-absorbed school. Here, Saturday nights are reserved for contemplating macroeconomics, not gridiron wars.
A decent-sized crowd of Houston alumni traveled with the team to root for the Coogs. Often times in Memorial Stadium, which features amazing natural acoustics, you could hear Cougar fight songs over the 33,000 Berks. How can you explain that? Apparently, they just don't care.
You could even see it in their celebration. Following the come-from-behind win, most Cougar fans could not tell by the home-crowd reactions who won the game. Complete and total withdrawal. For the Berks, it was time to get loaded. Or study physics. Or whatever the hell you do in Bezerkeley for fun.
Many of the "Cal fans" did not even pay to get in the stadium. In the hills just east of the stadium, a group of onlookers gathered, raised a banner that proclaimed themselves the "tightwad group," and drank themselves into oblivion. Between saving the whales, marching for Tibetan freedom and protesting against the Satan capitalists, you wouldn't think the subway dwellers would have time to organize a cheap liquor party under the context of football.
But lack of quality pastimes is where the differences between the Cal and UH students end. Both groups, with very little exception, don't exhibit the pride that college football should bring. Even losing programs draw fans. And Houston, while lackluster in 1997, has a superb football history and had an outstanding 1996 campaign.
Even more reason to support this Cougar team is the difference from the team of a year ago. This team showed grit. This team showed emotion. And, most importantly, this team showcased an improved defense, due in equal parts to better coaching, improved conditioning and players stepping up. Patterson Owens, Mike DeRouselle and Adriano Belli came to the Berkeley hills on a mission: The quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.
In all, the defense recorded five sacks on Cal QB Justin Vedder and pressured him all day long. The Cougar defensive linemen were in the Bear backfield on 11 plays.
It is never fun to travel somewhere and have a game slip through your fingers. Yet the hurt doesn't sting nearly as much as if expectations for this team were high. Kim Helton himself did not know what to expect from the '98 squad. After the game, the Love Coach admitted that this team is better than he originally thought.
Maybe it is a positive that the Coogs started the season on the road. After this impressive showing, and even after such a gut-wrenching loss, the fair-weather fans may come out of the woodwork and support these Coogs. I cannot tell you how many games they will win, but I can say that they have incredible heart and unbelievable upside. And those two individual traits often produce results that talent alone cannot.
This week, Cal goes on to play Nebraska, and Houston gets Minnesota in Robertson. Memorial Stadium seats 75,000, but only two-thirds of the seats will be full as the defending national champions invade the Bay Area - a typical Cal thing to do. While only seating 20,000, Robertson will be full as the Golden Gophers, who nearly lost to lowly Arkansas State, come calling.
There is no reason that Cougar students, alumni and fans should not swarm Robertson to cheer on a team that has the potential to have a great season. Houston students should resurrect the pride that has sorely lacked on this campus.
Without the support of the UH community, this team is doomed for failure. Time and time again it has been proven that fan support can lead a team to victory. Or you could take the position of the Berks. I just don't think hippie-speak grooves as well as winning football.