My grandma’s not a football fan. She prefers her hometown Cubs to the gridiron. She prefers Downton Abbey and quiet games of gin rummy to loud NFL Sundays. She probably can’t tell the difference between Jim and John Harbaugh—let alone Peyton Manning from Papa John. She’s not a football fan. But she is a Stanford football fan, specifically a Stanford football fan when Stanford plays (and beats) Cal.
My grandma’s Cardinal affinity goes back to 1954 when she moved to De Soto Drive in Palo Alto with my grandpa—back when The Farm was actually a farm: arid, sparse, and a little sleepy. It was back when Liddicoat’s Market was the hottest spot in town (especially when they started delivering), back before Tiger Woods, John McEnroe, and John Elway, back when plum tree orchards grew where Gunn High School is now. It was before Stanford was Stanford. There wasn’t the buzz or the prestige there is now. But there was always Stanford-Cal, a fiery November ritual that got even the apathetic locals involved.
“I usually know the coach’s name, but I’m not so good with players’ names,” my grandma once told me. “It’s nice when Stanford wins—especially against those stinkin’ Golden Bears!”
If it’s Stanford against Oregon State or Utah, my grandma will ditch the game for her book or NPR. If it’s Stanford against USC or Oregon, my grandma might alternate chapters of her book with Stanford’s offensive series. But if it’s Stanford against Cal—if it’s Big Game—my grandma will watch. And care about the outcome.
“The band wasn’t on the field this year—and we won! Best of both worlds!” she said back in the Andrew Luck Era.
Stanford-Cal is the one game that mild fans truly care about. It’s the one game both fan bases can easily drive to. It’s the one game where I’m reminded, by my 84-year-old grandma, how sports serve as this incredible constant—how every year, regardless of the teams’ records and regardless of where we are in our lives, there’s Big Game.
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