SAN FRANCISCO-Throw the records out-at least that's how the saying goes when it comes to rivalry games. And no one knows that better than senior Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed.
"Each side knows that we're trying to beat each other, and we're not looking to make friends out there," Mohamed said. "I wouldn't say that it's a dirty game; there's definitely a lot of respect out there, but we both know that we're not going to let up on each other. If you want that Axe, if you want that W, you're going to have to fight until the final whistle."
In last year's Big Game at Stanford, Mohamed came down with a game-changing pick with less than a minute left on the clock, sealing a dramatic win for the Bears. That year, of course, Cal had no trouble getting bowl-eligible. This season, the 5-5 Bears have precious few opportunities left to qualify for postseason play.
"It's been really tough," Mohamed said. "Any time that you're used to going to a bowl game for sure, and now, we might not go to a bowl game, that's tough. But, we're just focused on trying to finish strong. As a senior, it's going to take some leadership for some of the younger guys."
That leadership will take the form of a pregame address from the elder statesman of the defense, though it will stop short of an interpretive dance reenactment of his pick a year ago.
"No, nothing like that, I won't do that, but I'll have some words of wisdom, just being a senior, and just try and be a leader for them," said Mohamed, who will address the entire team either Friday night or Saturday morning. "I'll have something to say to the team, try to get them fired up, try to get them ready. I've got a little something planned. Being a senior, my last Big Game, it'd be crazy not to."
After a heartbreaking loss to No. 1 Oregon, in which the Bears defense effectively shut down the high-octane Ducks attack, Mohamed believes that the team will have no trouble at all replicating the kind of intensity and attention to detail that enabled Cal to deal such a stunning blow to Oregon, even in a 15-13 defeat.
"It's tough. Any time you put your whole heart and soul into that, and then walk away with a loss, it is tough," Mohamed said. "But, it's a team game. We win together and we lose together. All we can do is try and go out there and play our best, and hopefully, we make plays as a whole and try to win. This is Big Game. Naturally, you're going to be up for it. I think the biggest thing is that last year just proved that we can hang with a top team in the country, and Stanford, being No. 6, they're definitely one of the great teams in the country right now. It's going to take a lot of focus, a lot of energy, but, like I said, it's the Big Game. Energy shouldn't be a problem."
Mohamed's interception in last season's win on The Farm powered what proved to be the signature victory for a Bears team that finished a disappointing 8-5, losing in the Poinsettia Bowl to Utah.
"It was crazy. I'm glad that it happened, but there were some times where somebody would notice me, just walking down the street, and they would say something, so I got a lot of praise for that. But, that was last year," Mohamed said. "If the opportunity presents itself, I'd do it again in a heartbeat, but hopefully it doesn't come down to the wire like that. That was a little nerve-wracking. It was definitely pretty stressful."
In head coach Jeff Tedford's eight previous Big Games, Cal is 7-1, outscoring the Cardinal 236-113 with an average margin of victory of 17.14 points. 'Down to the wire' has been the last thing to describe the tenor of the past eight contests.
"Going into our ninth one here, we've had some great games against Stanford," Tedford said. "They've been very competitive, and I want to congratulate Coach Harbaugh for their success. Coach Harbaugh has done a fantastic job with their program, which is sixth in the country right now. Going into this football game, it's going to be imperative that we play our best in all phases of the game."
Since coach Jim Harbaugh has taken over, the games have been decidedly closer. Harbaugh is 1-2 so far in Big Games, and has produced two of Stanford's three closest losses to the Bears in the past eight seasons. This year, he guides the No. 6 team in the land into Berkeley to try and reclaim the Axe, as well as a spot in a BCS bowl game.
"It's the biggest game for us, this year and every year," Harbaugh said. "It raises the standard of play, I think, for each team, knowing that you've got that game at the end of the season. Everything you do in the offseason is geared up to play your rival."
Stay tuned for more comprehensive Big Game Week coverage from BearTerritory leading up to Saturday's 113th Big Game.