August 18th, 2004

Hopes Up

To top off preseason rankings in both major polls, we now have this assessment from the ESPN Power 16 to contend with:
10. Cal
Last Season: 8-6 (5-3 Pac-10)

First-year coach walks into tumbleweed football office and stumbles on the answer to a decade of losing. Happens all the time. Well, once anyway. The future of Cal football was discovered the day Jeff Tedford went to Butte (Calif.) CC in the winter of 2003 to watch film of a tight end and found QB Aaron Rodgers as well as the tight end, Garrett Cross. The mentor of five first-round QBs may now have his sixth. Last season, the kid with no other scholarship offers threw for 2,903 yards, second-best all-time at Cal. He'll shoot higher this year, with WRs Geoff McArthur, second in the country in yards (1,504), and Burl Toler (48 catches) at his disposal. The Bears' "under" defense attacks from everywhere too, with at least five sacks last season coming from three different positions: DE (Ryan Riddle; 6.5), LB (Wendell Hunter, 7.0) and DB (Donnie McClesky, 5.5). But to cap their rags-to-riches turnaround, the Bears will have to beat that USC juggernaut. Hey, there's something that has happened before.

–M.K.

The Edge

Before gameday, Tedford often challenges his QBs to a game of football checkers. After setting up pieces in various defensive fronts, blitzes and coverages, the players take turns making quick "on the board" adjustments. The "Bobby Fischer experience," the players call it. "He prepares us for everything," says Rodgers. "It gives us confidence." Plus, it's always fun to beat your coach at his own game.

Donnan Takes The Edge Off

"They'll complete passes for first downs, so limit the big plays, control yardage after the catch and pressure their protection schemes. You have to get good drops from your LBs; if they're not at the right depth and width, Rodgers will pick you apart. Just don't overblitz because then Rodgers will hurt you deep. Pitch-and-catch short passes are their staple, but with their RBs, J.J. Arrington and Marcus O'Keith, they can run it, too. Be sure to save some wrinkles for the second half; Tedford is a master of halftime adjustments."

For Argument's Sake

Where will Jeff Tedford be in two years?

Gene: In Berkeley. Tedford is becoming the Steve Spurrier of the West Coast. Recruits seek out Cal now. Why bolt before the fun really begins?

Ivan: He'll be packing a U-Haul – for Austin, Knoxville, San Francisco, Seattle, you name it. You think Google stock is big? Wait 'til Tedford goes public.
The chances of beating USC for a second year in a row, this time in an away game are remote. What worries me, though, are the other games that a team with this promise needs to win. And the ones it would be an embarrassment to lose, like the October 23rd contest against U of A here in Tucson. I'll be there for that one, naturally, since it will be the first time that Cal has played here since we moved to Arizona in 2000.

It's funny. I thought I'd lost interest in college football back in the late 1990s. But it turns out that Tom Holmoe and crew -- remember the abysmal Justin Vedder? -- were to blame for that decreased blood flow to my gridiron member.

At least I'm pretty sure that, regardless of Cal's record this year, the team will be entertaining to watch. Tedford really is a great offensive coach. And Aaron Rodgers has quite a touch, coupled with Mike Pawlaski's instinct for extracting triumph from the cavernous mouth cavity of defeat.

On three: Goooooooooo! Beeeeaaaaaarrrs!
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In Spite of Myself

Alright, it happened. I've been watching the Olympics now and then, focusing most of my energy on the late-night obscurities shown on MSNBC and Bravo. But I've also been taping prime time, in case Skylar wants to watch something later. Tonight, feeling fried, I decided to tune in while the VCR was doing its thing. And I got swirled into the vortex, even though I already knew the results -- but not the details -- of the three events I watched: the men's 100m freestyle, the women's 4 X 200m freestyle, and the men's all-around gymnastics.

Somewhere around 10:30pm, as the announcers were declaring that Paul Hamm, fresh off a disastrous fall on the vault, had no chance of winning the gold, the narrative chained me to the sofa. I mean, I knew Hamm had won, but it didn't matter. I had to know how he had managed to win against impossible odds. The expression on his face after his dismount from the high bar, his last rotation, was beautiful. Watching him say, "No, no" in disbelief as his coach and teammates told him of his improbable triumph was even better. By the time he was wearing his floral crown, listening to the national anthem, I was starting to feel liquid in the corner of my eyes.

That's what the Olympics American-style is all about, really: succumbing to the storyline in spite of yourself. I did it as a four-year-old barely comprehending Mark Spitz's seven golds or the day of Jim McKay looking way too somber. And I did it again tonight. Maybe I should go watch some of Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia to free myself from the prison of top-down narrative.
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Pour It Down

It's raining, ever so lightly, on the song and on the driveway. I go outside, let the drops fall on my face, on the camera I'm trying to capture the lightning with. All you can do is guess. Thank goodness for my retro Weizen glass, the disc of lemon that makes me feel the wet.
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