Dec. 11, 2006
By Tim Miguel, California Media Relations
[This story originally appeared in the December 2 issue of "Kickoff," the official California game day program]
Before Jeff Tedford made his way to Berkeley, you would have to look back to the Pappy Waldorf days to find similarly consistent championship-contending teams. Although the Golden Bears had strong seasons between the Waldorf and Tedford eras, there were only two years when Cal smelled roses, 1975 and 1991.
Fifteen years ago, if you went to see the Bears in Memorial Stadium, you would see the likes of running back Russell White speeding past defenders and quarterback Mike Pawlawski airing out deep passes to Brian Treggs and Sean Dawkins. The defense featured the formidable talents such as linebackers Jerrott Williard and Cornell Collier disrupting opposing offenses.
The 1991 Cal team finished 10-2, including a decisive 37-13 victory over Clemson in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 1992. The bowl game was the first time the Bears played on New Years Day since the 1959 Rose Bowl.
"I will never forget playing on New Year's Day," Collier said. "It was one of the most enjoyable days of my life. We were in a great bowl game, playing against a great team with loads of No. 1 draft picks. We also felt that we would show the nation how good of a team we were. I don't think anyone picked us to win. I remember people saying how Clemson was going to destroy us. They said that we weren't going to score. Well, we know what happened."
There are many similarities between the 1991 and the 2006 Bear teams. The comparisons between Pawlawski and Nate Longshore go deeper than the fact that they both sported the No. 9 jersey. Both quarterbacks tallied over 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns in their respective seasons.
The running game featured two strong backs on both teams, White and Lindsay Chapman in '91 and Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett in '06. Although White wasn't a Heisman candidate in '91, like Lynch is in '06, it was his performance that season that made him a Heisman candidate the following season.
"I believe the 2006 team is very similar to the 1991 team," Collier said. "They have great players, great coaches, and a great support staff. The difference is that they are a younger team than we were at the time, but the 2006 team is doing a great job. Just imagine, if Longshore didn't get hurt last year, this would be the same team [as 1991]."
One difference between the two teams was the opening-day performances. This season's Cal team had a rough outing against Tennessee, but the '91 team had a much easier first game that broke many Cal records, some of which still stand today. The Bears squared off against Pacific, coached by current Stanford head coach Walt Harris, and gave the Tigers a thorough thrashing, beating them 86-24. The Bears set 16 records that day and 10 of those have yet to be broken. Some of those records include, most points scored, most touchdowns scored (12) and most first downs (35).
Just like this season, for as good as Cal was, it was not considered the Pac-10 favorite. The Bears had a midseason showdown with the eventual national champion, Washington Huskies. The game went down to the final play of the game, but when the dust cleared, it was the Huskies who escaped Strawberry Canyon with a 24-17 victory.
"We had them and we knew we could have beaten them," Pawlawski said. "There were a couple of plays we shouldn't have made and a couple calls that didn't go our way. We played a hell of a team. We went toe-to-toe with them and if weren't for two or three plays, we should have won. We were the type of team that didn't just want to play with them, we felt like we should have won."
The loss to Washington was the first of the season, but the Bears almost suffered an early-season loss to UCLA. With six minutes remaining the fourth quarter, the Bruins held a 10-point lead. Much like Lynch took over in the fourth quarter and carried the Bears in this season's game against Washington, White carried Cal to its first win in Pasadena since 1971. Following a Cal field goal, White, who was suffering from walking pneumonia that day, tied the game with a touchdown run with just over four minutes to play. The Bears got the ball back and White carried the ball six straight times to set up the game-winning field goal.
As good of a game that White played, Pawalawski credits the offensive line and the team as a whole for the comeback performance.
"The offensive line was great in that game," Pawlawski said. "Everybody contributed in that game. Russell got the Sports Illustrated article for that game, and he definitely was great, but there was never a game when it was one guy who carried the load. It was always a team effort. The offensive line was great all year long, as were our defense and our receivers."
Although the 2006 Golden Bears fell short of their goal of reaching the Rose Bowl, just like the '91 team, it would be unfair to label either season as unsuccessful. The 1991 and 2006 seasons featured a lot of victories, a lot of excitement and put the Bears in the national spotlight.