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Column: Cal stopped in tracks in run for roses

Another century, another college football season, another year to laugh at the silly notion of Cal representing the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl.

Cal’s last Rose Bowl team was 42 years ago during the 1958 season, with Joe Kapp at quarterback. Tom Holmoe would be born two years later.

Since Cal’s 38-12 loss to Iowa in that long-ago Rose Bowl, every Pac-10 team has played in the Rose Bowl game with the exception of Arizona, which didn’t join the conference with Arizona State until 1978.



In explaining Cal’s Rose Bowl drought, more lies have emanated from Berkeley than can be found in a divorce court. But the truth hurts: Cal’s once-hallowed football tradition reeks.

Cal’s 1920 Wonder Team was voted the best college football team of the first half of the 20th century. Cal’s 1937 Thunder Team, alas, is the last bunch of Bears to win a Rose Bowl game – 63 years ago.




Cal has made four New Year’s trips to Pasadena since, and lost all four. Cal brags about winning the Citrus Bowl, Copper Bowl and Alamo Bowl – a wiser alternative than discussing defeats at the Garden State Bowl and Aloha Bowl – but who cares?

The Rose Bowl is where it’s at, and Cal hasn’t a clue as to how to get back there.

Now, Cal alums, don’t use the old academics excuse. Cal is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 public university by U.S. News and World Report. But UCLA, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Penn State are ranked in that same top 10, and they’ve all played in the Rose Bowl since Cal last was invited.

Thus the free-thinking world has every right to doubt the possibility of Cal’s ever getting another Rose Bowl bid. Winning the Big Game is a tough enough chore for Cal, having lost five straight.

Holmoe’s coaching career at Cal is in danger of ending for reasons beyond a Rose Bowl appearance. But he was asked if Cal is Rose Bowl worthy.

“If you’re going to put a percentage on it, it’s not for me to do it. It’s for the pundits,” he replied. “I cannot for one second say we can’t be a candidate. We can. Stanford did it last year. That gives you hope.”

Stanford was picked eighth in last year’s preseason conference media poll, then went to the Rose Bowl. Cal is picked ninth this year. Holmoe rates USC and Washington 1-2, but they’re not the dominant Trojans and Huskies of the past, he noted, before noting the conference is up for grabs again.

“What has to happen for us is that Kyle (Boller) would have to have a great year, and our offensive line has to stay together,” Holmoe said.

Boller is the heralded sophomore quarterback who had shoulder surgery last November after a forgettable freshman debut. His arm is “stronger than ever – he threw one 85 yards,” reports Cal center Reed Diehl, who has worked out with Boller all summer and also is impressed with his accuracy.

Cal’s season hinges on Boller and the offense. The defense and special teams are solid, with two preseason All-Americans in end Andre Carter and punter Nick Harris. But with only five home games, and the nation’s third toughest schedule (according to InsidePlayers College Football magazine) behind Michigan and Michigan State, the Bears are worried more about survival than Pasadena.

On the other hand, Cal believes if Washington State can return to the Rose Bowl after a 67-year absence (three seasons ago), why can’t the Bears claw their way back to Pasadena after 42 years?

“As soon as Cal can get the offense to jell,” envisions Diehl, “anyone can go to the Rose Bowl, including Cal.”

Is Diehl a realist or an incurable optimist?

“A realist,” he said. “We’re picked ninth, so there’s no pressure on us. (Making the Rose Bowl) would erase all the hardships, the 10, 20 years of the wouldas, couldas and shouldas. It would prove Cal would win.”

But, first, Cal must avoid a 0-3 start against Utah, Illinois and Fresno State. Though Holmoe has two years remaining on his contract, he implied he will resign this year if he has a fourth straight losing season.

That said, does Holmoe expect to sign the contract extension offered him last fall by athletic director John Kasser?

“Absolutely,” he said. “If it didn’t happen, I’d be disappointed. I’m very optimistic.”

Holmoe loves Cal. Cal loves Holmoe. Rose Bowl-starved Cal alums don’t love him quite as much.

“The majority (of alums) are all-time people,” he said. “You want to win for them. The minority are jerks.”

And if miracles do happen, and Cal makes it back to the Rose Bowl …?

“It would be dangerous,” said Holmoe, speaking of all alumni.

It’s good to hope if hope is all you have.

(Dave Newhouse is a columnist for the Oakland Tribune/ANG Newspapers.)


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