June 13, 2012
By Anton Malko
BERKELEY -A historic element of California Memorial Stadium currently lies in storage, patiently waiting for its triumphant return to a new location that will put it in literal touch with the Cal faithful.
The Andy Smith Bench has been a lasting tribute to the legendary coach who led the Golden Bears to four national championships, five Pacific Coast Championships and two Rose Bowls between 1916-25. Smith's squads included the famous "Wonder Teams," which won 50 straight games from 1920-24.
Originally commissioned by a committee of his former players, led by 1920 captain Cort Majors, the Andy Smith Bench was placed on the home sideline on the east side of Memorial Stadium at the end of the 1927 season. Eighty-three years later, it was stored for safekeeping when the stadium's renovation commenced at the end of the 2010 season.
When it returns to Strawberry Canyon at the end of the summer, the Andy Smith Bench will command a new location outside the north entrance of the stadium, where fans will have access to it on game days and every day as a feature of the campus park being created there.
The spirit of Coach Smith, who set an all-time record of 74 career wins before his death on Jan. 8, 1926, permeates Memorial Stadium. It's been called "The House that Andy Built" in tribute to the success of his teams, which filled the stadium with ticketed fans after it opened in 1923.
After Smith died, his ashes were spread on the field. Almost two years after their coach's death, on Dec. 31, 1927, his players introduced the bench prior to the game between Cal and Pennsylvania, which was Smith's first stop as a collegiate head coach.
In the Dec. 30, 1927, Berkeley Daily Gazette, the bench is described as "seven sections of gray granite and teakwood, each weighing 2500 pounds." It measured 42 feet in length.
On the back of the bench was an inscription: "In tribute to Andrew Latham Smith, 1916-1925." Inscribed on the players' side of the bench were two of Smith's most memorable quotations.
The first is credited as Andy Smith's coaching creed: "We do not want men who will lie down bravely to die, but men who will fight valiantly to live."
The second is attributed to a Philadelphia newspaper, to which Smith reportedly gave the final interview before his death: "Winning is not everything and it is far better to play the game squarely and lose than to win at the sacrifice of an ideal."
Generations of college football fans - above and beyond everyone associated with the history of Cal football - have looked to those words for inspiration. Smith was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1951 along with Brick Mueller, and 19 former Bears have joined them there since.
When the stadium reopens on Sept. 1, 2012, following its seismic retrofit and renovation, that enduring symbol of Coach Smith's era and ethos will have a new home at the top of the new Grand Stairs outside the North Entrance.
While most supporters have been unable in recent history to interact with the bench, the Cal Band has long made it the penultimate stop during the annual Silent Walk to welcome its freshmen. Dan Cheatham, a 1957 drum major, said Smith "deserves all the respect and admiration that he receives. His inspirational words are lessons everyone can learn from."
The power and symbolism of the bench, right down to its teak wood seating, which will be refurbished, have never eroded. Its placement in a new, dignified and specifically public setting resonates with the way in which football has evolved over the decades since its origin. Originally designed to be seating for players whose numbers have increased in size exponentially since the 1920s, the bench will now be a place that inspires countless people in a more accessible setting.
On Nov. 27, 2010, after the final home game of the year, the bench was raised in preparation for storage in a ceremonial groundbreaking of the stadium renovation. Webcor, the General Contractor for the stadium project, disassembled the bench, wrapping each of the pieces before placing them into storage at a Richmond facility owned by the University. Webcor subcontractors will put it back together, mortaring and grouting the joints between each section.
Asked whether Webcor ever tires of playing such an important role in the preservation and continuation of Cal history, project manager Allan Miller said, "That never gets old. There is nothing more gratifying than being able to retain an important piece of history that will continue to be shared by future generations."
Miller said an analogy could be drawn between Coach Smith, who emphasized perseverance and integrity, with the effort being made to prepare Memorial Stadium for its reopening. "That's exactly the way we approach the whole project," he said.
Cal football has never lost sight of Andy Smith's tremendous impact on the program. Every year, the player with the most Big C playing time receives the Andy Smith Trophy, most recently given to tackle Mitchell Schwartz, and head coach Jeff Tedford credited Smith for creating "a legendary foundation for Cal football. The values, traditions and history of Cal football that he played such an integral role in defining and developing many years ago are still important to our football team today."
Tedford, whose 75th win at Cal moved him ahead of Smith for most all-time for the Bears, added, "I am honored and humbled to be mentioned along with Andy as one of the winningest coaches ever at Cal."
From Old Blues to new members of the Cal family, the Andy Smith Bench offers unending inspiration. Its new home is certain to spawn future generations of proud Bears who will strive for excellence and uphold their ideals.