It was unseasonably brisk for Berkeley on September 15th, 2012. So much so that I felt compelled to break out my jeans for the early morning escapade into enemy territory for reconnaissance and observation. I was told by my intelligence officer, Adam Pratt, that large numbers of California Golden Bear fans were known to congregate on game days at a place only known as “Pappy’s.” Instantly, a potential #situationalbourbon/Inception scenario was in play, and I was intrigued.
Adam and I made plans to pregame at Noah’s Bagels, apparently the only thing open on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley before 9am. I got there a bit early to find my compadre across the street, listening eagerly to a man I can only describe as a mixture of PigPen from Charlie Brown and a pile of actual dirt. As I ventured to rescue my friend from the clutches of what was sure to be the next episode of The First 48, I was informed that the walking pile of performance art had a name. And that name was “Shaggy.”
This set the tone for the rest of the day, though I would not realize it until hours later. It was Shaggy and his dog (who was decidedly and disappointingly NOT named Scooby) who both reinforced and dispelled the notion of the standard stereotypical Berkeley resident and Cal fan. After bidding Shaggy good day and waiting an inordinate amount of time for two bagels and a cup to pour our own coffee from the Art Majors at Noah’s, Adam and I finally made our way over to Pappy’s.
Reminder, the game was a 9am kickoff for us on the West Coast. The sign we were greeted with at Pappy’s told us they would open promptly at 9am. So, we had to hope for no Ted Ginn like runbacks to start the game. Or so we thought. The sight of two such rugged individuals must have sparked something within the hostess, as she allowed us to come in a good 15 minutes before kickoff on the firm promise that we would purchase and consume multiple adult beverages on site. As we assured her that we were there for two things only, to watch the Buckeyes beat Cal and to drink heavily whilst doing so, we were in like Flynn.
We took our seats in front of the projection screen and waited patiently for the game to begin. As we were regaled with the local ABC news affiliate, we heard a hearty “O-H” come from the entrance. It seems our brethren had begun to arrive. Before any actual Cal fans showed up. We returned with our customary “I-O” and the gameday was officially underway. From kickoff to the end of the first quarter, the remainder of the Ohio State contingent trickled in. At one point before halftime, Ohio State fans outnumbered Cal fans. In their own bar. 3 blocks from their campus.
Their low numbers and lackluster output on the field in the first half kept most of the Bears fans in their seats. That didn’t keep them from vocalizing their displeasures at calls, coaches, flags, non-flags and everything else under the sun. When Braxton Millershook that Cal defender out of his cleats, there were groans and mutters about Coach Tedford that I cannot reprint here.
All that changed after the break. As Cal turned, so did Pappy’s. When Brendan Bigelow tore off his two huge runs, the place was deafening. Apparently the word had spread that Cal actually had a chance against the powerhouse, as one minute I turned around and was flabbergasted at the sea of Cal fans that had packed the now standing room only bar and grill that just two hours previous was a ghost town. It was truly a sight to behold. That did not sway the Scarlet and Gray Squad from our resolve. We were at war now and prisoners were being shot on sight. But when Devin Smith and Miller dropped the sandlot play on the Cal secondary, it was all quiet on the Western front. A minute later when Christian Bryant hauled in the pick from Zach Maynard, people started to file out and the 20 of us Buckeye faithful prepared our postgame ritual.
All in all, the Cal fans that we encountered that day at Pappy’s on telegraph were, just like Shaggy, a glimpse into Americana as seen through the eyes of one of America’s freest cities. These were not fans who were despondent when their team lost, as we would almost certainly have been. They were realistic, yet starry eyed dreamers. For a moment in time on Saturday, they had that taste of what it would be like to experience redemption. To seek and be granted validation. To taste victory, even if only of the moral variety.
And in some small measure, both the men on the field as well as the men and women inside the bar nearly 2400 miles away, received all they were looking for.