Press Releases

A Rookie’s Guide to Braving a Cal Football Game: By STEVEN FINACOM

Special to the Planet
Friday October 08, 2004

For some Berkeley residents, football season at the University is about as welcome as a visit from the Republican National Convention. They’re regular autumn gripes about home game day noise, crowds, and traffic or the philosophical meaninglessness of college sports. 

Other permanent residents are enthusiastic Cal fans, some don’t care one way or the other, and many probably don’t notice at all. It’s sometimes surprising how routine life goes on in Berkeley, even when thirty or fifty or seventy thousand people are crowded into Memorial Stadium on the east edge of town. 

But whatever your feelings, if you’ve never been, why not go at least once to a Cal home game? Besides being part of a great experience of local pageantry and tradition, this year you’ll also see excellent college football. 

Cal has been ranked as high as #7 in the college football polls, and is scoring well over 40 points per game. Even if Cal loses this Saturday—a possibility since they’re playing #1 ranked USC on the road in Los Angele s—the Bears should still be a hot ticket for the rest of the season. 

There are three available home games left, UCLA on October 16, Arizona State on October 30, and Oregon on November 6 (plus the Big Game, against Stanford, which is in Berkeley on November 20, but already sold out). 

If you decide to go, and if you can get tickets, here are some pointers for those not familiar with Cal home games. 

Start off with the tickets. They’re available at or at the Athletic Ticket Office (Mon.-Fri., 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at 2223 Fulton St., where Kittredge dead ends. Buy soon, because good seats have been selling out (I was told on Wednesday there were only about 10,000 tickets left for the UCLA game). 

For good views of the game, buy high. Avoid t ickets below about row 30, unless there’s absolutely no alternative. And hold onto your tickets; they’re not refundable, or replaceable. 

Where to sit? Cal students concentrate in a huge mass on the east side of the Stadium. They’re antic and fun to watch, but you probably don’t want to be crowded amongst—or right next to—them. 

The majority of season-ticket-holding alumni face the students from the west, across the stadium and below the press box. Single game attendees concentrate in the end zones and co rners, where they are still good views and good company. 

Visiting fans tend to congregate in the southeast, below the shoulder of Panoramic Hill. The north and south end zones (now called the Goldzone and Bluezone, respectively) are general admission and “family” sections, typically Cal fans, with a scattering of foes. 

If you want maximum sun, head for the northeast or the Goldzone; for the most shade, as the afternoon goes on, the southwest, closest to International House, is best. My own favorite sect ions, where I held season tickets for many years, are in the northeast of the Stadium, north of the students and below Charter Hill. 

There you’ll find an eclectic array of Cal fans, including faculty and staff, and a few visitors and you’ll see a differe nt side of the University. For years I sat behind an otherwise distinguished professor, a man calm and cultured as a Boston Brahmin in academic settings, who regularly fumed and shouted expletives at both coaches and referees. 

Fans range in age from babe s-in-arms to octogenarians. There are lots of families, couples, and groups of friends, but a single fan won’t feel out of place. 

And Cal games are wonderfully egalitarian events. Everyone sits on the same benches and stands in the same restroom lines, m illionaire alumnus and penniless grad student alike. 

It’s as it should be at a public university, and one hopes that doesn’t change much, even if and when stadium improvements take place. Insert “luxury boxes” and other trendy alterations and Memorial wo uldn’t be Memorial. 

If your section of the stands isn’t a sellout you can easily spread out on the benches and shift around instead of being fixed in a chair. It’s not unknown to see people stretching out to take a nap during a sunny game. 

But don’t sle ep too long. Cal home football can be pretty memorable. Memorial had seen nail-biting come-from-behind victories, hard-fought ties that seemed like wins, the longest game in college football history (and one of the most exciting), as well as, alas, more i nstances of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory than Cal fans care to admit. 

All that excitement, and you’ll probably need refreshment during the game. The public drinking fountains at Memorial are lamentably few and far between. Concession stand li nes can be long and beverage prices exorbitant. Bring your own (non-alcoholic) beverage, in small, unopened, plastic bottles. 

When you’re looking for an entrance gate, remember that the more college-age fans in your line, the more rigorous the individual inspections seem to be, and the slower the entry. 

If you’re a Berkeley resident you can walk to the game and already have a time advantage over those out-of-town fans desperately looking for street parking in front of your house. 

Plan to arrive at least half an hour before kick-off, perhaps even earlier (and remember that the kickoff time can change without much notice, if a game is suddenly scheduled for television). I’m told that this season the crowds are so large that the entry wait is much longer than usual. You must get to your seat early to soak up the ambiance and watch the Cal Band pre-game show. 

The Cal Band is a sharp, skillful, delightfully entertaining, all student-run corps that performs intricate maneuvers and good music. 

The Band performs three times at every home game, before kickoff, at half-time, and after the game. Be there for the first two shows; it’s also fun to stay a while afterwards, particularly if the Bears triumph and the Band serenades the stands with “Palms of Victory,” only played after a win. 

In addition to the Band, half-time events frequently feature student rooting section card stunts (first used at a Big Game). They often finish with a free form throwing of thousands of cards, which is probably Berkeley’s larges t and most spectacular annual amateur performance art event. 

If you want to see the actual card stunt words and images clearly, make sure you sit in the western half of the Stadium. 

There’s usually plenty of organized cheering, although most non-student fans only participate in the “Go! Bears!” chants that reverberate across the Stadium. And at the Arizona State game this year you can look forward to the introduction on the field of distinguished academics as well as athletes. This is Berkeley, after al l. 


Extra Tips (Sidebar) 

• While in academics “Berkeley” often prevails, in athletics, the institution is “Cal” or “California.” You’ll be watching the “California Golden Bears,” not the “Berkeley Bears.” 

• Wear blue and gold or yellow, or white. If you can’t or won’t, neutral colors are fine. For some reason—maybe it’s Berkeley’s environmental ethic—Cal games also seem to attract a number of fans who wear brown or green, which is OK except if one of the Oregon schools is the opponent. And a die-hard fe w show up in tie-dye or black, Berkeley being Berkeley. 

• DON’T wear red, even a red hat, scarf, or shoes, to any Cal home games. It’s not respectful—red is arch-enemy Stanford’s color at any time of year—and it’s quite likely even mild-mannered Cal fans will heckle you. 

• If it rained the day or night before the game, pack a hand towel to wipe any leftover moisture off the seat. And, by the way, those metal seats can be hard; seat backs can be rented at the Stadium ($5) or fold up your towel or bring a small cushion. 

• Like most event venues these days, Cal severely restricts what you can bring to the Stadium. Check the “security” section of the website for details, and carefully read the little printed handout that comes with your ticket s. 

• Remember, “no cans, glass bottles, alcohol, weapons, coolers” or chains and handcuffs (sorry, Raiders fans), and no bags bigger than 12 x 13 x 6. Prohibited items, including hard and obviously throwable fruit, can be ruthlessly confiscated at the e ntrances, so think of bringing grapes, not grapefruit. 

• Bringing binoculars is a plus, not only to watch the play but everything else from the card stunts to the sunsets—spectacular from the stadium rim—to the seagulls that congregate on the dome of Int ernational House next door and fly up in excitement when the Victory Cannon on Charter Hill fires to signal a Cal score. 

• Remember to bring both hat and sun block. Don’t come loaded down with clothing, but the standard Bay Area advice of “wear layers” h olds true for Cal football games. On a sunny day, the concrete bowl of Memorial can get quite warm, even hot. Conversely, if it’s stormy or overcast, if the fog threatens to roll in, or if it’s a late afternoon game that will end after dark, it can get ch illy. 

• If you’re not a football expert, the stadium announcements—not to mention congenial surrounding fans—will keep you generally informed on game highlights, but some also like to bring a small portable radio and listen to the KGO (AM 81) broadcast as well.