Good Night Bryan and Thank You

bryan jess and me

This morning I received the awful news that a wonderful friend of mine died last night.  He wasn’t killed.  He didn’t suffer in a terrible car accident.  He didn’t die from a long battle with a fatal condition.  From what I understand, he got home from work last night, while watching TV with his fiance he fell asleep… and never woke up.  Just quietly, peacefully and uneventfully like that.

It’s so tragic it’s almost poetic.  Bryan was such a kind soul and paradoxical to his rally-the-troops way of getting friends together for drinks or a game, he was in fact a quiet man.  He was intelligent and thoughtful, he was sensitive to other people’s condition and feelings.  There was an interesting hard-to-explain calming quality about Bryan.

The photo above was taken earlier this year.  That’s Bryan, his fiance Jessica and me enjoying dinner with other friends Rico and his wife Cat, after an A’s game.  That was pretty much a perfect day for Bryan.  A ballgame, a good meal and drinks over a great conversation with good friends. My heart breaks for Jessica. Her pain is 1000 times more intense than mine.

No conversation about Bryan would be complete without mentioning his love of Cal sports and for his love of bringing people together to enjoy them.  His tailgates were legendary.  Here is one from earlier this year and that’s Bryan right there enjoying the hell out of bringing so many friends together. Tomorrow’s game is going to be hard.

OSU tailgate

The funny thing is it’s not like Bryan and I were lifetime friends… we’ve only really known each other for a few years. But in that brief time a bond was created, the sort of connection that makes life so special.  We’d have late night discussions on Facebook about sports and work and life.. we had the same profession so we’d talk about that and Bryan would say to me “When you start your own company I want to be the first employee…”  We’d agree that Cheers was better than Seinfeld.  That this would be the year the A’s would win the World Series or that Cal would go to the Rose Bowl. We’d talk about how great Jessica is…

Bryan’s passing, in such an non-eventful way and far, far too prematurely reinforces in me the philosophy I hold so dear and share with others.  Carpe Diem.  You have to seize the day.  As I say over and over, life is meant to be lived and for you to have an impact on it.  There’s a great speech by Robert Gordon Sproul, UC Class of 1913 and President of the University from 1930 – 1958, an excerpt of which I’d like to share with you:

If man’s brief stay on Earth may be compared to a splash on the sea of life, his circle of friends and associates is the ripple therewith set in motion.  The larger the splash, the stronger the ripple tends to be and the farther and wider it will extend.

Some men profess indifference to the ripple they create, but modesty or blindness may be suspected in that.  Few of us can turn existence into living without the inspiration and the help that comes from others. The more actively we live, the more important others become – for they are both audience and fellow actors. Among them must be sought a supporting cast for the role we dream of playing and the critics who will help us play it well.  One cannot light a torch in a vacuum.

That was Bryan to a T.  So tomorrow as I know Bryan would want I’ll get together with friends at the Cal game and cheer GO BEARS and, as much as I hate the stuff, I’ll raise a shot of Jameson to him.

The very last thing Bryan posted on his Facebook is below, and I can’t think of a more fitting last thought from Bryan.  Fiat Lux Bryan, keep that torch burning bright.

Bryan facebook post

Thanks for reading and if you have thoughts and memories of Bryan you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a reply.

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HEY UCLA! GET YOUR OWN COLORS! GET YOUR OWN DAMN SONG! AND GET A REAL BEAR!

ucla_shirt_back

OK, it’s been a tough year and it’s not going to get any easier.  Did you hear Cal has a few players hurt on defense? So listen, you can either hang  your head and give up or embrace the season for what it is (I’ll have a post regarding that later).  So you know me… annoyingly positive.  Yes, a proud member of the Loyal Order of Sunshine Pumpers.

pumping sunshine!

But UCLA is UCLA.  They stole Cal’s fight song. They stole Cal’s colors.  And they made a phony bear mascot!  So so apropos for LA.  You can book this – when the UCLA band strikes up the Mickey Mouse version of BIg C, inevitably you’ll hear a UCLA student say “Why does Cal has the same fight song as us…”

So with all that in mind, as we head into our game with UCLA, I want to update a post I did for the good folks at California Golden Blogs a couple of years ago.  As you remember Cal crushed UCLA last year in Berkeley.

That has become par for the course in both football AND basketball!

But it wasn’t always that way.  Not all that long ago, beating UCLA in any sport was considered a season making achievement for CAL.  Ask some Old Blues they’ll tell you the horror of 25+ straight years without a victory against the Southern Branch in hoops… or 18 straight years of losses on the gridiron…  This run of futility helped define the two program’s fan bases…  strike that.  All it did was instill in Bruins fans the obnoxiousness that still inexplicably exists today… You see, to them, beating CAL was a birthright, like having blond hair, or making deep and penetrating social commentary on achieving racial harmony!

But enough of that. For a Throwback Thursday post let me tell you about the 1991 game.

bearmania!!

In 1990, after 18 years of futility in football against the Bruins, the California Golden Bears finally put the world right by beating UCLA 38 – 31 in a thrilling game at Memorial Stadium.  The night before, after the bonfire rally, Coach Snyder let me in on a little secret; the team would be entering through the student section!  He told me to keep it quiet and just make sure people were ready… So sure enough, with no fanfare, suddenly a river of big, burly blue started cascading down each side of the student section… as people realized what was happening the student section absolutely exploded as did the rest of the stadium!  The entrance worked as the Bears raced out to a 27-10 halftime lead and would eventually hold on for the great win.  In the closing seconds the crowd let out with a Bear Territory chant that reverberated through Old Memorial Stadium and was repeated in the victorious locker room!.  As the game ended a delirious student section rushed the field to celebrate.  That part’s important because the perpetually uptight head coach of the Bruins, Terry Donahue, took offense at this show of joy and promised to not have to witness a CAL victory again!

Entering the 1991 season there were great expectations in Berkeley.  After starting off 3-0 with a last second victory in Tucson over the Wildcats, The LA Times summed up the feeling in Berkeley perfectly when it wrote in its preview:

It’s early October, and the Pacific 10 football season is barely under way. However, unusual significance has been attached to today’s game between UCLA and California at the Rose Bowl.

There is a sort of crusading fervor in much of the Bay Area, where the Bears, after years of residency in the lower echelon of the conference, are regarded as a championship-contending team.

What you need to know about that early October day at the Rose Bowl is that it was hot.  I mean it was HOT!  And humid… and smoggy… oh was it smoggy…  look, you can barely see the other end of the stadium through that smog.  (now remember, these are OLD photos that were taken with one of those disposal cameras – which were cutting edge in 1991 – and then stored in some shoe box, then scanned, then converted from tiff to jpeg… then uploaded, you get the idea)

cal band ucla 1991 smoggy

This would have an impact because our star running back, Russell White would have an upper respiratory infection, which made it hard for him to breath…  additionally he would need intravenous fluids at halftime!  Here’s a great shot of the end zone pylon!! Oh, if you look closely you can all see Russell White fielding the opening kickoff too!  Good work by the groundskeepers at the Rose Bowl that year….

russell white cal ucla 1991

Cal fans showed up 15,000 strong at the Rose Bowl that day.

Did I mention it was hot?

cal ucla 1991 me

Yes, that’s an incredibly geeky looking FiatLux…  And that box I’m standing on… that black box…. was INSANELY hot. I had to keep pouring water on it and my shoes!  But man did the CAL section rock the Rose Bowl that day!

By the way, here’s a good way to make me feel old.  Take someone with whom I was in college, say, Brian Treggs.   That’s him in the picture there   313623_10150436044782835_612382834_10348303_988853621_a_medium

then tell me his kid is going CAL and we follow each other on twitter… BRB, going to take a glucosamine tablet…

The game was tied 14 at the half… the CAL band put on a great show… but what’s that in  the background?

calband ucla 1991b

Those poor UCLA students can’t even get their card stunts straight….  Little did they know how prescient they were being as CAL was about to turn their whole world upside down!

Let’s fast forward to the 4th quarter… CAL was down 24-14 with about 6 minutes left and UCLA had the ball… This was not going like it was supposed to… it was going to be a looooonnnng drive back up 5.  But that CAL team was special… and before you knew it, Jerrott Willard forced a fumble, Mike Pawlawski hit Brian Treggs for 24 yards down to the 3 and Russell White would then carry two hapless UCLA defenders with him into the end zone to tie the game.  The CAL defense would hold again and Doug Brien would kick a 47 yard field goal to win the game for CAL!!!

There was joy all around!!!

cal ucla 1991 HAPPY

And poor Terry Donahue had to go midfield a loser again.

This game gave me one of my all time favorite quotes from Mike Pawlawski…UCLA players had said after  the previous year’s game that is there had been a 5th quarter they would have won.  I told you they were obnoxious and delusional… to that Pawlawski had this:

“When we beat them last year,” he said, “they started wearing T-shirts about a fifth quarter, like they would have beaten us if we could have kept playing. Well, looks like today they should have been thinking about the fourth quarter, instead of the fifth, because that’s when they needed to play.”

They just don’t make ’em like that anymore!

One last thing.  At half time of the game, Jerrott WIllard came over to me and said “Ken, you got to keep the crowd going… they’re making so much noise and we get totally fired up and feed off it!”

So listen, I’m no fool… I know it’s a long shot.  We’re going to be using some offensive players on defense.  But man, you can’t call yourself a fan if you’re just in it in the good times. This isn’t a pro team.  This is YOUR team.  You went to school at Cal, or grew up with Cal… these guys are students, classmates, friends, dates… they represent the greatest university in the country in a way in which we can all take pride.  So if you’re a student, get the RVs ready for the drive.  If you’re in Southern California, head out to the Rose Bowl on Saturday.  Because while the odds are long, you never know… we could see a repeat of this from 2009!

cal beats ucla at rose bowl

Why a Baseball Game in Oakland Should be on Every Sports Fan’s Bucket List!

It’s the worst stadium in professional sports.  It’s literally craptastic! It’s not located downtown or in an up and coming warehouse district where fans can distract themselves from, you know,  the actual game. There are no views.  There’s no faux retro charm.  They have to share the stadium with a football team so the field gets beat up at the end of the year, just when the A’s are hoping to be on the national stage.

There are no micro-breweries or Japanese – Scandinavian fusions restaurants where you can grab a bite before or after the game. Nope, it’s located between a freeway, an industrial complex, recycling yards, train tracks and some pretty dicey public housing.  Yep, that’s what you get when you come to a baseball game in Oakland. And that is EXACTLY why a game in Oakland should be on your bucket list!

Because, see, what you get is the best crowd in professional sports.  Not the biggest mind you, but the best.  Last night in Oakland the A’s and Tigers played the first game of their 5 game playoff series.  And this is what the crowd was like – WITH THE A’S LOSING – going into the bottom of the 9th inning!!!

And here is the reaction in the 7th inning when Yoenis Céspedes of the Oakland Athletics blasts a two-run homer to pull the A’s within 3-2, sending 48,000 fans into delirium.

Games at the o.co Coliseum are a mixture of college football, European futbol game and minor league baseball all in one.  The fans – by far the most diverse group in pro sports – non-stop chant, bang drums, honk horns, sing and wave towels and banners.  It’s one of few stadiums left where handmade signs are draped around the railings throughout the stadium.  And it’s all just so sort of ironic given the fans are the farthest away from the field, there’s no roof or baffling to keep the sound it.  But don’t just take my word for it, Detroit manager Jim Leyland talks about it here:

And the players interact with the fans in way no other players in any professional sport in America do.  That last point is due in large part because with the A’s small payroll,  the vast majority of the players are making not insanely  more than the fans who fill the stadium do.  They can relate with the fans and the fans with them. And even the few players who make in the millions for the A’s get caught up in that.  There is a camaraderie between player and fan you see nowhere else (with maybe the exception of Green Bay and the Packers).

So if you’re sports fan, and you long for what you think professional sports should be all about, do yourself a favor and head to a game at the o.co Coliseum in Oakland.  And just for that night, no matter who you normally root for, go ahead and let out a few hearty “LET’S GO OAKLAND” chants with the rest of the crowd!

Cal 2013 Football Season 2.0 Starts Saturday! Hop on Board and Enjoy!

Memorial Stadium Sunset

To paraphrase the immortal words of former Arizona Cardinals coach Denny Green, the California Golden Bears are who we knew we would be!  The second youngest team in America playing the toughest schedule in college football, front loaded with three of their first four games against ranked opponents, 2 of those against opponents in the top 5.  Throw in a new coaching staff, new scheme and a bunch of injuries to an already young and thin defense and… well while all of us hoped for great things, most of us thought the team would be 1-3 at this point.  

I’ve been saying since game 1, this is going to be a great year.  Not necessarily for the results on the field but because of what we’re witnessing.  I honestly believe we’re at the start of something big.  There are times in life when you know what you’re experiencing now is the set up for something greater that will be made ever more sweeter because of what you went through to get there.  I think back to Oakland A’s in 1980.  Not far removed from winning three straight World Series, they had become the laughing stock of baseball.  In 1979 drawing fewer than 300,000 fans… FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON.  But then the Haas family – Cal’s very own – bought them and in 1980 the start of something great happened.  My best friends and I went to probably 70 games that year and even tho the A’s barely finished .500 it was as exciting a year as I can remember.  And we even got to see Ricky Henderson excel in his rookie year – honest that’s Rickey’s smile!!!  And the following year the A’s would roar to success!

Ricky Henderson 1980

But back to this Cal team… I love these players on the team.  Nick Forbes has been selected to the AllState AFCA Good Works Team.  You can go that link and vote for him EVERY DAY!

As this video shows, Mark Brazinksi defines brawn and brain and has already graduated with a double degree or something that I didn’t even know existed…

You go up and down the roster and these are players you can be proud of to be Cal student athletes.  Get out there and meet them, you’ll love them.

We have, for what seems the first time in a few years, a fun offense to watch!

We have coaches that not only want to be coaching at Cal, they want to be part of the community in Berkeley!  Tony Franklin embraces the diversity of Berkeley and lives downtown in a loft!  Head Coach Sonny Dykes lives in Oakland and has embraced the history of Cal football, the fans and has opened practices to anyone who wants to come!

Yeah yeah yeah you say, but we’re 1-3.  And I say who cares.  Seriously, who frickin’ care.  Yeah, winning is more fun than losing, but this year is about the journey.  Are you having fun at the games?  Are you liking – flaws and all – what you’re seeing?  Do you like the trick plays?  The dramatically improved special teams?  Witnessing a young quarterback develop right in front of you? Do you feel good about the development of the young players (which is to basically say all of the players)?  You just have to.  If you don’t, folks, you’re wasting your time.  Go follow the pros.

Wazzu is the start of Season 2.0.  So here’s what I propose.  Fill the place for Washington State.  I want to see the student section filled early.  That really is a challenge.  Do you believe in college athletics? Do you believe that these guys are your fellow students, classmates, dormmates, friends, etc.  They represent Cal great and deserve your support through thick and through thin.  And yep, right now it’s a little thin.  But this is going to be a great game.  It will be fun. Watch these young guys develop before your eyes.  Wazzu is the start of the season 2.0.  Not only will you watch these young guys develop, but when we’re challenging for a title in the coming years you’ll be able to say “I was there when…”

So this post ends with a simple question.  Are you a Golden Bear through and through?  Will you be there Saturday?  Will you be like 60,000 Nams???  Let’s make it happen.  GO BEARS!!!