GoldenBearReport - The Big Game Still Holds Big Meaning
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The Big Game Still Holds Big Meaning

Ben Hawk Schrider (left) has had taking back the Axe marked on his calendar since grad transferring to Cal
Ben Hawk Schrider (left) has had taking back the Axe marked on his calendar since grad transferring to Cal (Kyle Terada - USA Today Sports)

The 122nd iteration of the Big Game has been circled on Cal outside linebacker Ben Hawk Schrider's calendar when he decided to graduate transfer to Berkeley in the spring.

"Not having (the Axe) for a while," Schrider said, "is a huge goal for me coming in here."

The Berkeley native has been bathed in the rivalry between Cal and Stanford since his childhood, as he attended the Big Game growing up and thanks to his grandfather, carries a level of disgust for a color.

"I don't like red," Schrider, stone-faced, told media members Monday, "I don't wear red, that's the biggest thing for me."

Schrider went back on that a bit, noting that he wore red in playing for St. Mary's College High School (in Berkeley), and has had to wear it when he's gone back to substitute teach there, but the senior outside linebacker has a chance Saturday

"With Cal and that school with the tree, that rivalry means a lot. Ever since I was little, we used to have Big Game parties, I learned all the chants. I rushed the field when I was little, I think my biggest memory was when Burl Toler scored, he scored when Marshawn Lynch threw him the ball, 04, that was a big moment."

That moment has a special significance for Toler, now Cal's wide receivers coach.

"That stands out above them all," Toler said, "My last play in this stadium was Aaron pitching to Marshawn, Marshawn running and throwing it to me for a touchdown. We ended up quite a few points that day, and it's a vivid memory for me because everything's heightened for the Big Game."

That play, which put the Bears up 34-6 late in the fourth quarter against the Cardinal (an eventual 41-6 win), was a culmination for the then Cal senior, who had been ailing prior to the Big Game

"I missed four to five games before that," Toler noted, "I was back healthy, and I played sparingly in that game, I was just coming back, but I was able to get it together to play in that game.

"All the weeks are big, but there's always something special when we play Stanford."

That's the takeaway around practice this week. Practice has ended with yells of 'get the Axe.' Cal is a win away from bowl eligibility. They haven't beaten the Cardinal since 2009, a game that saw:

- A redshirt freshman Andrew Luck get intercepted inside the five to seal it

- Tiger Woods (an honorary Stanford captain) booed off the field (a week later, he crashed into a fire hydrant, setting off a firestorm of revealed infidelity).

- Shane Vereen (who was on the TV broadcast for last week's Cal-USC game) scored 3 touchdowns, carrying the ball 42 times despite a knee injury

Luck and Vereen are now retired. Toby Gerhart and Mike Mohamed, who both played key roles for their respective teams, have both been out of the NFL for some time. In that decade since, Cal fans have seen a lot of heartbreak, a few blowouts, and repeated off-key renditions of 'All Right Now.' That's all the more reason for the Bears to take back the Axe, as they come into the contest with the better record for the first time since 2008. It makes the game all that more meaningful for those playing in it.

We haven't beaten them since I've been here," DB Cam Bynum said, playing in his third Big Game, "the first year I played, it was a three-point game, that killed me, we were this close to getting a stop and getting the ball back to the offense. For me personally, if I've never beaten a team, whether it's a big rivalry game like this or not, I'm going to have an extra edge against them."

"I'd go over to a friend's house," TE Collin Moore added, playing in his first Big Game, "their parents would be Cal grads, so the kids would wear whatever their parents put on them, go over to another friend's house, they'd be a Stanford family, they'd be wearing a Stanford sweatshirt, always wearing the conflicting sweatshirts and I'd be watching from afar, a lot of tension going on in the room. Epsecially when Jared (Goff) came here, coming from Marin, I don't think there was anyone in Marin that wasn't watching the Big Game just for what Jared did for the county."

"I think I had my own rivalry game last week with USC," center Mike Saffell noted, playing in his second Big Game, "I've got another year to get after those guys. I think this game is unbelievable for the school, the history of the school. It's the type of game that you win, and nothing else really matters about the season, I think a lot of people feel that way about the rivalry game."

Schrider is one of the handful of Bay Area natives set to play a role for the Bears Saturday afternoon in Palo Alto, and guys like Saffell and Bynum know how much that means to their teammate.

"As a whole, for these Bay Area guys, that's who you're doing it for," Saffell said, "People like Ben Hawk Schrider who grew up dying to go to Cal, dying to be in this game and to pull something off like that, obviously he was disappointed on senior night, but this is another chance to make it up for him."

"I just know he rides and dies with the Bay Area," Bynum added. "Once we get that win, it's going to be exciting for him."