Anyone who follows Cal Athletics on an even casual basis knows that football coach Jeff Tedford discovered quarterback Aaron Rodgers only after recruiting tight end Garrett Cross at Butte College in Chico.
What people might not know is that, in his own way, Cross helped recruit Rodgers to Cal as well.
When Tedford visited Chico to watch Cross in person, he already knew all about Rodgers. That's because when Cross sent Cal a highlight tape of his play, he made sure to include the best highlights of Rodgers as well.
"They asked for some tape, and I put in a couple of game films where I didn't have that great of a game, but Aaron had a phenomenal game," Cross said during Saturday's win over No. 25 UCLA, in which he participated in the rededication of Memorial Stadium. "The one game in particular was when we played Fresno City College. I had one touchdown but Aaron threw for five. Sure enough, they called and asked about him."
The rest is the proverbial history. Rodgers and Cross both came to Cal and helped the Bears to a special season in 2004, when they went 10-1 and were ranked No. 4 in the country before losing to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
Cross said there was enough on the game tapes he sent to Cal to showcase his skills, but he wanted to make sure Rodgers, a fellow Chico native, was seen at the same time.
Shortly after sending the tape, Cross received a phone call from then-Cal tight ends coach Dave Ungerer.
"Coach Ungerer went through the formalities, asking me about school and my family. Then he said, "Hey, who's your quarterback?'" Cross said. "I knew the question was coming. I was just sitting there smiling. He asked me if Aaron was a freshman or a sophomore. I said, 'He's a freshman, but he's not going to be around next year. Somebody is going to snag him up.'"
While Rodgers has carved his own meaningful path as an NFL superstar with the Green Bay Packers, Cross has done the same serving his country. Cross, who had a brief stint with the Packers after leaving Cal, is an infantry officer with the 2nd battalion, 5th Marines from Camp Pendleton in Southern California. When Cross appeared at Saturday's game, he had only been back in the U.S. less than two months after a six-month deployment in Musaqua'la, in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.
Cross also returned home in time to be with his wife, Kim, for the birth of his first child, Mason Sean Cross.
"When I left, my wife looked like she always does. When I got back, she was nine months pregnant," Cross said. "We had a little time to relax and have fun. Then she went into labor and Mason was born. I was off work for about a month so was able to spend a lot of time with my family and son, and just be with my family."
Cross has been part of two deployments in the Marines. The first was part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit in Southeast Asia in which he was stationed on a Navy ship with the purpose of reacting to any potential conflict. The second deployment took him to Afghanistan, where he was part of a team that trained and advised the Afghan National Police.
Cross said last weekend marked the first time he has spent any extensive time at Cal since his playing days were over.
"The first thing I did was go down Telegraph Ave.," Cross said. "I had to pick up some tickets at Haas Pavilion so I just walked around. Bancroft and Telegraph was incredible."
Cross said Saturday's game reminded him of a night game he played against UCLA in 2004 in which he made a diving catch that became a "Top Ten" play on ESPN's SportsCenter. The Bears won big that night, one week after a heartbreaking loss in a heralded game at USC.
"Being back here at the stadium is incredible," Cross said. "Seeing what they've done with the stadium is remarkable. The special thing was just being down on the field and hearing the crowd. It brought back so many memories."