Nov. 17, 2011
By Tim Miguel - Cal Athletic Communications
Anything can happen in The Big Game and often does. Seemingly everyone remembers The Play that gave Cal a stunning 25-20 victory over the Cardinal in 1982, but there have several other games that have not ended the way many thought they would.
The most recent instance was merely two years ago the last time the teams played at Stanford Stadium. Just like in the upcoming 114th edition of The Big Game this Saturday night, Cal went into The Farm as the clear underdog.
The Golden Bears proved that night that when the game starts, rankings and BCS projections go out the window.
Cal was going up against then-No. 14 ranked Stanford. Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck, then a freshman, had burst onto the scene in 2009 as one of the college football's biggest rising stars. Stanford also had Heisman trophy candidate running back Toby Gerhart entering the contest as one of the best backs in the nation. Meanwhile, the Bears were without their star running back Jahvid Best and were relying on backup Shane Vereen to carry the load. It was all lined up on paper for a big Cardinal victory.
But things didn't turn out the way many people thought.
Vereen carried the ball an amazing 42 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns, and Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed came up with a huge interception of Luck with just over a minute and a half remaining in regulation as Stanford was driving for the go-ahead points. When the clock hit zero after three Cal kneel downs, the scoreboard read - Cal 34, Stanford 28.
"On that play, they only had two guys in route and my guy stayed in to block," Mohamed said. "So I was just trying to help out the safeties. Luck threw it low, I don't even know if he saw me. I just reached out and snagged it."
Current Cal linebacker D.J. Holt, who also started in that 2009 epic win, remembers the play like it was yesterday.
"I had so much energy when Mike picked that ball off, it was crazy," Holt said. "I remember everything that happened on that play. I was rushing off the edge and I couldn't get to Luck in time. I turn around and I see Mikey Mo pick the ball off."
Mohamed's interception was huge, but the Bears wouldn't have even made it to that point without the extraordinary night by Vereen.
For how tired and sore he was, Vereen said it did not seem like he ran 42 times. Perhaps that whole night was just a blur for Vereen, who will no doubt never forget that night.
"That win was my greatest football memory," Vereen said. "Stanford was so highly-ranked; they were on a roll at that time. That win showed how great of a sport that football is. Our team was not given much of a chance to win that game. That victory was all teamwork."
Isi Sofele, Cal's leading rusher in 2011 with 1,029 through the first 10 games of the season, remembers watching Vereen do his thing from the sidelines and just being in awe of how much he carried the team on his back.
"It was amazing how he pulled through," Sofele said. "I knew he was hurting out there, sucking for air. You have to have heart and determination to do what he did."
Not only did Cal pull off the impressive victory, but the Bears gained the win after spotting the Cardinal 14 points. Gerhart posted a 61-yard touchdown and later a 2-yard score in the first quarter to help Stanford jump out to an early lead.
"We told each other that it was still early," Mohamed said after Cal trailed 14-0. "They scored two easy touchdowns, but there was still a whole game to play. We believed the whole time that we would get back into the game."
Cal's historic mantra of "The Bear will never quit, the Bear will never die" turned out to be true that night.
Flash forward two years later and Cal finds itself in a similar situation heading into the 2011 edition of The Big Game. Stanford will host the Bears as a top-10 team with another Heisman hopeful in Luck, and Cal is once again the clear underdog.
However, if you ask quarterback Zach Maynard, the Bears will head into The Farm excited and ready for a dogfight.
"I feel great about it, it's a rivalry game," Maynard said. "It's important to Cal and Stanford. We're playing at Stanford this year, and it's going to be huge for us, playing against a ranked team. Coming off a couple wins, we have some momentum going into It, and I'm excited."
Holt and the rest of the veteran 2011 Bears who played in the 2009 Big Game have been preaching to the younger student-athletes that the rankings don't mean much when the game starts.
"Anybody can be beat any Saturday, regardless of rankings, that's just a number," Holt said. "Anybody can be beat. It all depends on who shows up and who executes. We're ready this week, but you can't take them lightly either. They're a great team, one of the best in the country. You have to give them respect, but you can't fear them. We have to go in with high hopes."