Back to Berkeley: Cal Football Preview: Huddling With Coach Tedford By ZELDA BRONSTEIN Special to the Planet
On Friday, Aug. 5, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford and his coaching staff hosted the second annual Cal Women’s Football Huddle from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in Memorial Stadium. As advertised on the official Golden Bear Athletics website, the event—“for women only”—would “interactively teach participants about the ins and outs of football, from officials’ signals to individual position responsibilities.” More than 300 women had signed up in 2004; many more were expected this year.
As soon as I heard about the Huddle, I asked Daily Planet Executive Editor Becky O’Malley if I could cover it. The request surprised her. My regular beat at the Planet, local politics, does involve Cal football, thanks to the controversy over certain questionable changes planned for Memorial Stadium. But the Huddle doesn’t qualify as a political event.
More to the point, as far as Becky knew, I was the antithesis of your stereotypical football fan: a woman and an intellectual with a Ph.D. in the History of Consciousness and a former career as an English professor. She wasn’t aware that ever since my sixth-grade teacher required all the girls in class to learn the rules of football, I’ve harbored an intense if sporadic interest in the game. Last fall, I informed her, I’d followed the Golden Bear’s rise to glory: at one point they were ranked ninth among the nation’s college teams and were strong contenders for a Rose Bowl berth.
My predilection for football aside, the Huddle sounded like a fun story—which is to say, it sounded utterly unlike current Berkeley politics. I was up for a fun story.
Becky said go ahead. She told me that Anne Wagley, who works at Planet, was going to be at the Huddle (Anne’s husband coaches football at Berkeley High). I promised to look for her at Memorial Stadium.
The Huddle was indeed delightful. After a buffet supper, the 550 attendees split up into teams of 25, each bearing the name of an NFL franchise, plus one group named the Bears composed mainly of Cal coaches’ wives. By the end of the evening, each team had moved through 16 stations on and off the field. At each station, the women got a seven-minute lesson from a member of the Cal football coaching staff or, in one case, from a PAC-10 referee. The subjects included recruiting, videos, equipment, training, weight-lifting, officiating, side-line communications, and the positions on the team, starting with running back and ending with linebacker. Every time the clock ran down to zero, Director of Football Operations Mike McHugh sounded an air horn, and everyone had a minute to hustle to the next class.
In the golden light of the long August afternoon, hundreds of women cavorted on the artificial turf, kicking, passing, receiving, tackling, pushing the exercise sled. At one end of the field, five participants lined up across from five others, each of whom was holding a big pad in front of chest. “When I say go,” said special teams coordinator and tight end coach Pete Alamar, “we’re going to see if you can drive anyone off the line of scrimmage.” In the officiating class, held in the stands, David Lambros, back judge and official for the PAC-10 conference, asked if anyone could name the most commonly called foul on offense in college bowl. The answer: false start (holding is second). Wide receiver coach Eric Kiesau offered a simple formula for impressing “husbands”: more receivers on the field means they’re going to pass; less means they’re going to run. The thing to remember when you’re trying to make a tackle, advised linebacker coach Justin Wilcox, is to “wrap and grab.”
There was a lot of laughter, whooping, cheering, and of course huddling. Many of the women had attended last year’s event and had come back for more. “It was fabulous,” said returnee Helynn Rueda, from Castro Valley, who added that she’d bought season tickets “because of this event.” Jeanna Rushwood, from Concord, also attended last year. This time, she said, she and her friend “came for the strip.” In 2004 “the equipment guy explained all the parts of the uniform” by taking off “each piece, all the way down to his undies.” The demonstration was not repeated this year because, she said, there were “disparaging phone calls ... That sucks.” Like most others, Rushwood came to the Huddle with somebody else. Christina Polk, a season ticketholder from Moraga, attended with her mother. “I love Cal athletics,” said Polk. “You’re pregnant,” I noted, stating the obvious. She replied, “I’ve been watching and taking lots of pictures of my mom.”
The students weren’t the only ones enjoying themselves. “Are you having a good time?” I asked Justin Wilcox. “It’s awesome,” he said. To all appearances, he could have been speaking for the entire Cal football staff. “That girl just booted that ball all the way through the uprights,” said a coach who was watching from high up in the stands. “A 30-footer.” “Sign her up,” said another.
I never did find Anne. I’d figured it would be easy to spot her, with her long blonde hair. As it turned out, a great many of the attendees fit that description.
But I did connect, in a manner of speaking, with somebody else: a handsome man holding a diagram that showed the order in which the women’s teams moved from station to station. He was the only member of the staff who wasn’t wearing a name tag. That should have tipped me off. Ditto for the autograph-seekers who kept stopping by. Somehow I missed those clues.
“You are…?” I asked.
An infinitesimal hesitation. “Coach Tedford.”
Some rich and famous individuals, when they’re not recognized, get huffy. Coach Tedford was totally cool.
We chatted a bit longer. I asked him for a prediction about the coming season.
He smiled, graciously. “We don’t make predictions,” he replied. “We’re going to work hard and do our best.”
Then he said: “The Daily Planet—is that a new thing around here?”