YOLO! Why I’m Fist Bumping the Spirit of Mark Bingham on 9/11

mark-and-me

YOLO!!!!  You Only Live Once!!

Oh do I get grief for that.  And for my obsession with the fist bump – the exploding fist bump!  So I thought I would take a moment to share with you the genesis of that.

Yep, it’s 9/11, so time for my annual homage to my great friend Mark Bingham, who was taken from us entirely too early 14 years ago today. It would almost be impossible for any of you reading this, who likely know me, to not know of Mark Bingham.  Mark was one of the heroes of United 93 who in a selfless last act of courage helped bring down the aircraft which experts believe had the US Capitol Building as its target.

Mark was one of my best friends.  Now the great thing about Mark is you could probably ask 20 people and each of them would also say about him “Mark was one of my best friends,” such was the infectious, suck-the-marrow-out-of-the-bone approach to life and friends  Mark lived.  Back in 2001 I, along with Cal Rugby Coach Jack Clark and Cal Rugby Alum Jon Beck were interviewed for a story about Mark in the Daily Cal which you can read here.

One of the tough things about losing a great friend so young is you expect a certain arc in life.  You selfishly expect to enjoy that person’s friendship and company, to experience the highs and lows, and that they will grow old with you and to share in all that life has to offer.  When that’s taken from you, you feel a loss that’s more profound… and lonelier than you imagine it’s going to be.

I am sure you all have friends with whom you share some great memory that only you share. And at the simple drop of a word will make you laugh and connect.  Mark and I had many of those but I think my favorite was bauble.  Back in 1988, there was an SNL skit of the Winter Olympics with Tom Hanks playing a very gay ice skater; it was hilarious. At one point a very excited Dick Button is gushing about Hanks taming  the ice when all of a sudden he goes stumbling because as Button exclaims “There’s a bauble!”  So whenever Mark or I would trip or stumble we would both simultaneously say “BAUBLE!!!”

So back to the exploding fist bump – because it’s really not a fist bump without the explosion at the end!  After 9/11, I made two commitments to myself to honor Mark’s memory; to let go of pettiness and to enjoy the hell out of life and make an impact.  That first one, well let’s say I struggle with that one… I mean I try, but as anyone who has argued a point with me on Cal sports blog will attest, I fail at it.  Too often.  Like I said, I’m trying!  Life is just too short to let pettiness dictate who we are or how we live.

But the exploding fist bump, often accompanied by a smile and a YOLO!   That’s my sort of daily, physical reminder that life is supposed to be fun.  It’s meant to be lived and enjoyed and laughed at and sung along to and danced with and devoured and experienced… Because I am telling you right now, not one of those victims on the planes or on the ground or in the Pentagon or the World Trade Center planned on dying that day. But they did.  And no one plans on getting killed in a car accident, or finding out they have terminal cancer, or losing a loved one to some tragic accident today.  But that will happen.  To thousands of people.

So what do we do?  We live, that’s what.  If  you’ve made it this far and will indulge me, I’d like to share with you advice that Robert Gordon Sproul, one of the great presidents of the University of California, gave to an audience in Berkeley. It’s really informed how I approach life and why I so often throw away my dignity in the moment!

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’s sort of how I’ve approached life.  I don’t know, maybe at the end it will have been a mistake, but I don’t think so. I jump into the water doing a great big cannon ball!!

That old photo up there of Mark and me…  17 years ago… seems impossible. Even though it’s an awful photo of me, I love it because what it represents.  It’s taken at a restaurant in Chicago during a crazy summer weekend that all started with a phone call on a Friday from Mark:  “Ken, let’s go to Chicago for the weekend,” and so we did.  Got on a plane the next morning at 6AM… Went to a Cubs game.  Had some great meals.  Went to the museums.  Went to some bars and stayed out entirely too late and were exhausted getting into the office fresh off our return flight on Monday morning.  But man, what a weekend.  And son-of-a-gun here I am today!

So that brings me back to the exploding fist bump. That simple little gesture is my tribute to Mark. It’s a reminder to not take life too seriously and to live my life to its fullest.  So the next time I fist bump you – and insist you explode the fist with me – that’s why.  And if it makes you smile – and even better laugh – despite yourself, then I’ve accomplished something that day.  So today give me that fist bump, let’s see it explode and go ahead and say it…. YOLO!!!!

If you have your own great memory of Mark I’d love to hear it.  And in honor of Mark, with all the hale and heartiness you can muster, GO BEARS!!!

Now THIS is BEAR TERRITORY! Cal Football is back!!!

Courtesy Kelley Cox, USAToday

Means FIGHT for CALIFORNIA!

Perfection. That’s about what any Cal fan will tell you Saturday was. (Be sure to read all the way through for a raucous Bear Territory – how YOU should be doing it!)

As I’ve bored you already (and will again I am sure), it was such and awesome honor to have Coach Dykes have me speak to the team last Sunday after practice. They are a FOCUSED group. One of the things I conveyed to them is their focus is shared by the fans and they should feed off that because something special is happening. There is a sense of excitement in the Caliverse and you hear it talking with fans, alumni, past players… This doesn’t happen a lot but there are times in life where you don’t even need retrospect, you can actually sense in the moment that you are at an inflection point. 1990 was one such year for Cal football.  2003 was another. And I believe 2015 (can it REALLY  be 2015 all ready… how is that possible?) is definitely such a time.

And the proof? On the kind of spectacular Bay Area September Saturday that we all brag about and people visiting wonder “why aren’t we livingmemorial stadium view2 here,” more than 60,000 people filled into Memorial Stadium. For a game against an FCS opponent… Truth be told, also for a chance to watch the world famous Grambling State Marching Band who was kind enough to bring along their football team for the game. And while the Grambling band lived up to expectations and then some, and their football team played gamely though over-matched, it was the Cal offensive juggernaut and the rejuvenated defense that had the fans in such high spirits. It was such a sense of good feeling that the Grambling State Marching Band received a standing ovation for their scintillating halftime show… and late in the game down 73-0, when Grambling finally scored, what was left of the crowd gave the visiting team a nice round of applause.  I thought it was a terrifically gracious gesture, as if to say, way to hang in there and keep fighting (and we’ve been there before). It’s what college sports is supposed to be all about.

Speaking of what college sports is all about, a huge – HUGE – shout out to the students who filled the Student Section well before kickoff… THAT is what the team hopes for and NEEDS every week… We are ALL in this thing together… And while the “Bear Territory” got drowned out a little by the piped in music, you could see the players feeding off of you so make  it happen again next week!!  Also a massive “job well done” to everyone in Cal Marketing who worked their asses off to make that big crowd happen. These things don’t happen on accident and by themselves and as much as we’ve complained about some of the marketing in years passed, it’s great to see that group REALLY stepping  up too…

I had a chance to talk with men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin during the game. His #WhyNotCal brings tears to my eyes because it’s so right – WHY NOT CAL!!!!  A lot of us have been saying this for YEARS… We have the world’s greatest public University – arguably the greatest university, period – in the country’s fourth largest media market. We have tradition and pageantry that are second to none… and we have a fan base with the pent up anticipation of a 40 year old ve… well let’s just say we’re ready to EXPLODE! Yep, Cal fans have been thirsting for this mindset for years and finally we’ve got it in both Basketball (men’s AND women’s) and football!  That of course in addition to all the Olympic sports and the mightiest of Cal sports, Rugby.

Others will dissect the game. All i know is this makes me very happy.

Finally, one last word about that Grambling State Marching Band… SENSATIONAL! As I mentioned their halftime show was amazing, and man do they know show business and how to play to a crowd because the finished with California Love and as on cue, the Cal crowd showered them with California love with a standing ovation… That is the first time I have ever seen that for a visiting band – at ANY school.

After the game both bands performed a 5th quarter show for about 7,000 fans who stayed, and were all glad they did. While both bands performed well, there is little doubt it was Grambling State who stole the show.

After receiving a huge ovation the students in the band all waved back to the crowd.  I have to think as they get home, game results aside, they’re going to tell their friends and family and anyone who will listen, what a great time they had in Berkeley. In my book, that’s a pretty great thing to be a part of.

And of course the only fitting  way to end is with Daniel Lasco leading a resounding version of BEAR TERRITORY!  If you made it all this way, thanks much for reading!  GO BEARS!!!

Cal Football 2014 – WERE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!!!

VICTORY!

YES!!!  Cal Football 2014 was WILDLY ENTERTAINING!  Let’s put a few things in perspective… Last year our Cal Bears were 1-11.  We were blown out by historic margins in all but 2 games.  But through it all, game after game, blowout after blowout, I stayed through to the end.

Staying til the end against Oregon State

This year that all changed.  Cal quintupled its win total over last year.  The games were competitive. The games were FUN.  So you’ll forgive me for not moping over the loss on Saturday and instead being excited about what happened this year!!

You know, I realize I can be the most annoying positive person on the planet. I just hate wallowing in misery and defeat (and I’ve experience plenty). It’s just how I get through life, seems to work for me but certainly not you have to do it.  So leaving Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon,  like everyone I was disappointed in the loss.  But I certainly wasn’t disappointed in the season.  And I wasn’t upset and I wasn’t disappointed for me.  I was disappointed for the players and the coaches. I’ve seen how much they have embraced the Cal community. So I just want to share my thoughts on why I loved this season so much and why I am so excited for next year.

I’ve seen how incredibly accessible these coaches are (and their families) to the fans. I would find it hard to believe there is another coaching staff in American who is as interactive with the fans and community as this staff is. Heck even their wives – if you go to the game and you’re sitting by her, be prepared for Kate Dykes to come over and high five after every great play!

For instance, Offensive Line Coach Zach Yenser and his awesome wife Beth were nice enough to invite me (a Thanksgiving orphan) over to dinner for Thanksgiving.  Beth and Zach and his folks, sister and brother-in-law provided one of the nicest Thanksgivings possible (and son Graham provided the entertainment!).  And here’s the thing.

They’re all southerners.  And you know what they all said – THEY LOVE CALIFORNIA.  They said that the Student Section for the Big Game was better than any student section in the SEC.

And they’re not alone. Heck several of the coaches live within walking distance of Memorial Stadium including famously Tony Franklin  who has a loft in downtown Berkeley.  They have welcomed back former players.  They have our current players singing the fight song after game – when do you remember that happening?  The classroom performance is on its way up.  We have players who you should be proud are at Cal.

Adcock

Going into the season, after what can only be described as a brutal 2013 campaign,  fans were almost uniformly of the same belief; we wanted to see 3 or 4 wins, a win over a traditional  rival would be nice, and we wanted to see the team be  competitive.  Well you know what, we got two of the three.  Cal was in just about EVERY game.  3 of our losses were one possession losses, including a Hail Mary.  We fought back  HARD against USC.  We held our own against Oregon (look at how other teams not named Arizona did).  We were two awful official calls at the end of the game away from beating UCLA.

We were taken out of the Big Game game by nationally embarrassing officiating.  And through all that we got something else, some wildly entertaining football.

In fact, that  stretch of Arizona, Colorado and Wazzu was quite possible the most amazing stretch of craziness one team has ever had.  Even the national media like the New York Post were taking note:

NY POST Cal crazy

That last point can’t be glossed over.  After last year (with the exception of the Northwestern game), and 2012, and even 2011 (even though we had more wins) and 2010 it had been a while since Cal games were fun.  Honestly,  think back to those years and just how not enjoyable the games were.  Sure we won some games, but even then they never felt fun.  Did ANYBODY have fun at the Holiday Bowl against Texas? Something was wrong. Well this year, almost every game was fun.

This year started off beating beating Northwestern in Chicago with about 5K Cal fans in attendance!

And as the game came to an end the players did something no one expected… they joined the crowd in singing Fight.  Every fan there got goose bumps on that!

Heck I was even in Tucson for the Hail Mary loss, but there’s no denying that was a FUN game and even managed to lead a few cheers without pulling anything or breaking a hip !(hey once a micman always a micman!)

I was up in Corvallis for the win!

I was at SC for the loss, but was so proud  of how we fought back and was great to see old friends and meet new ones!

So I guess I ask, WERE WE NOT ENTERTAINED!!!

Cal football is amazing.  It’s a chance for all of us to come together and reunite with old friends and meet new ones as we support this most amazing of institutions!

Once  again Cal fans  came out in force for the Big Game bonfire rally!  And here’s something cool – Spike Dykes, Coach Dyke’s dad told me “This is as a good as  anything we have in Texas!”

So with all  that’s happened this year, I wondered, why were people so unhappy after Saturday’s loss. And looking at this post it dawned on my, by going to Northwestern and Oregon State, I got to experience two more wins than a lot of people who weren’t able to travel with team.  And by going to Tucson and SC i got two more losses 😉  But they were fun. Sure, there’s the absolutely understandable revised expectations.  We started out 4-1 and  suddenly a bowl seemed not only reasonable, but possible. That of course didn’t take into account our season was incredibly front loaded in terms of winnable games.

But man, this is the time to show our mettle.  Second guessing is totally understandable, and I do it. Coaches don’t care and I’m sure they do it themselves.  And I wouldn’t for a second invalidate your feelings of disappointment.   This is when we get to show the great fans we are – and we are great fans.  So as we get some time to reflect on this season, instead of proverbially stomping our feet and issuing ultimatums , how about doing something else. Spending that time  THANKING THE  TEAM for making football fun again and reminding why we love Cal Football.  #GOBEARS!!!

Don’t forget we’ve got Goff coming back as a junior.  And all those receivers.  And Lasco. And most of the Oline.  And the defense will have another year under its belt.  And so will the coaches!  I am EXCITED about 2015!

As  always if you like this please feel free to share.  And if you don’t like it feel free to share how stupid it is!

GO BEARS!!!

Why I Love Cal, Reason #146,872 – Olympic Gold Medalist Winner Missy Franklin Singing the Fight Song!

women swim sing fight song

A quick one this morning.  How can you not love this.  A long tradition at Cal, the Cal Women’s Swim Team freshmen serenade the Men’s Water Polo Team before the men leave for their first game of the season.

This year one of those freshman is four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin.  Click on  the photo to watch them in action!

I’m not sure what I love more… the women singing or the men clapping along.  I know one thing for sure…

GO BEARS!!!

(Photo and video courtesy Cal Men’s Water Polo and Kirk Everist)