Despite an encouraging start to the season, the Cal football team played to a tiny crowd of 24,619 fans at Memorial Stadium on Saturday against New Mexico State, a fact that surprised several Bears players.
“I definitely expected more people to show up,” senior safety Bert Watts said Tuesday. “I guess we can only hope to win more games and get more fans out there.”
The crowd, which barely filled one-third of Memorial Stadium’s seats, was concentrated in the alumni sections and student section on the sidelines, with some of the corner sections barely populated at all. When the Cal chant leaders tried to get the two sides to coordinate on a cheer, it took several tries to get things going.
Remarkably, Saturday’s attendance was lower than any of the Bears’ home games last season, a 1-10 disaster that may still be keeping fans away. Other factors include a lack of parking in the stadium area, with fraternities nearby charging $20 or more for a spot, and lack of enthusiasm over watching the Bears play low-profile New Mexico State.
“I can understand why people didn’t come,” said wide receiver LaShaun Ward. “When you think about it logically, they didn’t know what to expect. They probably thought the opposition wasn’t too tough, but a win’s a win for us.”
The Bears face a sterner test this week against No. 15 Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich. Wideout Geoff McArthur thinks an upset of the Spartans will prove to fans that Cal might be a team worth watching in person.
“I think if we come back off the road with a win, they’ll understand it’s not a fluke,” he said.
Even the orgy of scoring in Cal’s 70-22 opener against Baylor didn’t attract additional fans. In fact, the attendance dropped nearly 3,000 from the first game to the second. Apparently a 48-point win wasn’t impressive enough to draw people away from their television sets.
“I hope everyone was home watching the game on television,” Watts said. “That’s what I’ve been telling myself. I’d hate to think no one saw us win.”
Head coach Jeff Tedford, who came to Cal from football-crazy Oregon University, wasn’t convinced the crowd was actually smaller in his second game with the school.
“When I looked up during the game, it looked like there were more people in the stands,” Tedford said. “I was surprised to hear there were actually less than the first week. It’s not something we worry about during the game, but I was hoping there would be more people there.”
Tedford said the home-field advantage was a big factor in the Ducks’ rise to prominence while he was an assistant in Eugene, and he hopes to build the same kind of fan base in Berkeley with some success on the field.
“If you can create that kind of atmosphere, it can help your team a lot,” he said. “I think we’ve given the fans every reason to be optimistic at this point. We just have to do our jobs and hopefully we can win some support back.”
One encouraging sign was the spirit of the student section for the first two games. Chants of “We love Tedford!” and “Undefeated!” have rung out late in games as students get used to cheering for a winning team.
Watts said he has gotten plenty of support from fellow students on campus.
“I’ve talked to a lot of other students who seem really excited about us,” he said. “I talked to people who watched the Baylor game on television and went out and bought season tickets.”
Senior defensive end Tully Banta-Cain, who gave the crowd something to cheer about with 4 1/2 sacks against the Aggies, admitted puzzlement over the reduction in crowds despite the team’s winning ways.
“Even last year when we were losing we were getting big crowds, and now that we’re winning we’re not. That’s pretty weird,” Banta-Cain said. “Not to dis the fans who are up there, because that shows who the true fans are.”
NOTES: Wide receivers Chase Lyman and Junior Brignac continue to battle injuries. Brignac has an ankle sprain and Lyman a hamstring pull that will keep each out of Saturday’s game. Tedford said it’s too early in the season to consider redshirting either player... Defensive end Tom Canada continues to be away from the team with what Tedford termed “personal issues.” Canada, a senior, missed the New Mexico State game and will not travel to East Lansing... Banta-Cain’s mother, Joya Banta, produces a website that follows her son and the Cal football team through the 2002 season. It can be found on at www.joyadesigns/tully.com.