With a new air of confidence in Strawberry Canyon, Golden Bear football fans young and old attended Saturday’s Fan Appreciation Day, meeting players and coaches on the re-energized Cal football squad.
After a dismal 1-10 performance last season, fans and players alike say the new coaching staff, led by head coach Jeff Tedford, has instilled a much-needed confidence in the team.
Responding to the newfound enthusiasm, many Cal fans turned out to show their support on Saturday.
“It seems like there’s a new attitude,” said veteran Cal supporter Steve Schmidt. “I’m here to help energize the players and to energize myself. We need to let them know we’re still behind them. Selfishly, I want to get some autographs too.”
While crowds at Memorial Stadium have thinned over the past few seasons as the team has struggled, Saturday’s event, which included performances by the Cal band and dance team, football drills and even a cheer clinic, raised spirits for many.
“I think they’ve put a new face on the program. It’s still a developing program but there’s definitely more enthusiasm and a lot more positive vibes than last year,” said Amanda Williams, a sophomore at Cal and member of the school’s Rally Committee.
Many Golden Bear supporters, including the Cal Dance team and band members, feel confidence on the part of the players can be infectious.
“They really look more confident and more composed this year. When they’re working hard and they’re energized it makes us more energized. We definitely feed off of them,” said Tricia Bautista, a member of the dance team.
Of course, many Cal fans remain realistic, having learned to grin and bear it through more than a few losing seasons.
“As a Cal fan you learn to be upbeat and optimistic regardless of the score. You just keep smiling, that’s a big part of what we do,” said Christine Sequeira, a senior on the dance team.
The last few seasons, however, have tested the resolve of even the most patient supporters. When former head coach Tom Holmoe stepped down last fall after five disappointing seasons, many felt a change was already long overdue.
“It’s been hard the last few seasons. Even the die-hards have been a little dejected. There’s been some people who’ve simply been turned off,” said Doug Redinger, a Cal alum and supporter.
Though the change in leadership is critical to many Cal fans, other, younger supporters are just beginning to experience the tradition and family that is Cal football.
“Football is the least interesting thing for her,” said Redinger of his young daughter Jackie. “She likes the cheerleaders, the band, the pompoms. I took her to a women’s basketball game last spring and when we were about to leave the cheerleaders came out. We couldn’t leave then.”
Introducing youngsters to the game is an important way to give back according to Aaron Merz, a second-year center on the football team.
“Today’s a lot of fun for the kids. I always looked up to college players when I was growing up. It’s great to be a role model for the younger fans,” said Merz.
Standing in long lines throughout the morning, scores of wide-eyed youngsters wearing blue and gold received autographs from team members and said hello to the Cal Mascot, Oski the Bear.
“We need to show them [kids] how fun it is, how much of a family atmosphere it is. We need to show them that the bear will not quit, that he will not die,” pledged Schmidt.
According to new head coach Tedford, fan support is appreciated but the real test of both the team and fans comes next Saturday with Cal’s first game against Baylor.
“I appreciate all [the fans’] support,” said Tedford. “I just hope they all come out next week at the game.”