Saturday, September 11, 2010
Bullish on the Bears
(Above: Roy Riegels on his infamous wrong-way run that lost the 1929 Rose Bowl)
Berkeley has a long tradition of town-gown conflict, but next weekend the university and the city will get together to celebrate something everyone can agree on: the glorious history of Cal sports.
It's a new exhibit at the Berkeley Historical Society called "Golden Bear Pioneers: UC Sports & Athletic Traditions from Their Beginnings to 1945," and what treasures they have! Among them:
* A patch from the jersey worn by Cal running back Loren Hunt in the first Big Game in 1892. (Herbert Hoover was the Stanford team manager.)
* A football-shaped program from the fourth Big Game, featuring long (and, apparently, necessary) articles explaining how the game is played. They also have the program from the 1929 Rose Bowl, which Cal lost 8-7 because of Roy Riegels' wrong-way run.
* Lapel buttons reading, "I'm a stadium builder," which were given to contributors to the Memorial Stadium building fund in 1923. For a $100 donation, you got free Big Game tickets for five years, plus an option to buy tickets for the next five years.
* Action photos of tennis greats Helen Wills Moody and Helen Jacobs, football All-American and track star Brick Muller and the Olympic gold medal-winning 1932 Cal crew, shown at their moment of triumph as they edged out the boat from Italy at the finish line.
But my favorite photo is of Bill Rockwell, the original Oski, shown walking along the crossbar of the goal post (no kidding!) at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 26, 1941, when he appeared for the first time in the now-familiar letter sweater, baggy pants and oversized shoes.
Alas, he had so much fun being Oski, his grades quickly went south. At the end of the semester the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor; so he dropped out of school, joined the Navy and won many medals as a fighter pilot. After the war he went back to Cal and got his degree in 1948.
The word "fan" comes from "fanatic," and that's what the curators of this exhibit, Keith Tower and Bart White, are. Tower, who attended Cal in the mid-70s, has been lovingly collecting Golden Bear memorabilia since he was a kid.
White, who graduated in 1995, didn't get the bug until he was an undergrad, but he's been making up for lost time. Taken together, their collections constitute the second-largest compilation of Cal sports stuff in the world, second only to the Bancroft Library.
"It's a very expensive hobby," White sighed. "And it's getting more expensive all the time, thanks to eBay."
I visited him while he was sorting through his treasures. The boxes and piles spilled out of his living room into the kitchen and hallway.
"We have an agreement that the stuff stays down in the basement and we get to live up here," said his wife, Michelle. "But, as you can see, this is not always true."
But she's a good sport about it, perhaps because she was a history major at Cal, so she understands the attraction of historical artifacts.
The exhibit will open Sept. 18 and run through March 26. It's on the first floor of the historic Veteran's Memorial Building, 1931 Center Street, and is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. Call 510-848-0181 for more information.