Cal Football: Bears' Greatest Bowl Games: No. 1 -- The West Rises

Cal coach Andy Smith (left) and his entire coaching staff.All photos courtesy of Cal Athletics

Jake Curtis

With Cal’s Cheez-It Bowl game against TCU just a few days away, we bring you to the final entry of our most significant Cal bowl games. Here is the game ranked No. 1 on our list:

-- 1. January 1, 1921 Rose Bowl – Cal 28, Ohio State 0

Two statements were made by the Bears in their very first Rose Bowl appearance: One, the West could play some pretty good football, much to the surprise of folks east of the Rocky Mountains in those days. Two, Cal’s Brick Muller could throw the football like no other person in the country.

Despite having outscored opponents 482-14 while going 8-0 in the regular season, coach Andy Smith’s Bears were six-point underdogs to Ohio State, because . . . well, the Buckeyes were from the Midwest and Cal was from the West Coast.

Ohio State had a player known as Tarzan Taylor, the man-eater, and the Buckeyes were expected to push the Bears all over the field with their physical play.

So when the Bears completely dominated the Buckeyes with their speed and trickery, the front page of the January 2 San Francisco Chronicle – not the front page of the sports section mind you; the front page of the entire paper – ran this story under the headline: U. of C. Beats Ohio State by 28 to 0 Score:

“University of California proved itself the best football team not alone of the Pacific Coast but of the Middle West by beating Ohio State yesterday in the East-West Classic at Pasadena by a score of 28-0.”

A headline in the sports section screamed: Contest One of the Greatest Upsets in Gridiron History in the West.

Followed by: Forward Passes Win the Game for the Bruins

It was really just one forward pass that made the difference and wowed viewers, as we will note in a moment. (And, yes, Cal was called the Bruins occasionally in those days.)

(Story continues below photo of Brick Muller throwing a pass)

Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics

Pesky Sprott scored a touchdown early in the first quarter to give California a 7-0 lead, and the Bears rolled to a 21-0 lead at halftime.

The Bears players and coaches had held a jocular, devil-may-care attitude in the days leading up to the game, while the Buckeyes were serious, intense and humorless.

But at halftime, with his team leading 21-0, coach Smith reportedly started crying because he was so grateful for what his team had accomplished. The players started crying with him.

One of the scores of the second period stood out. Muller, playing end, took a pitchout from Sprott, and launched a majestic 46-yard touchdown pass to Brodie Stephens.

The forward pass was not a major part of the game in those days, and the beauty of Muller’s long toss mesmerized fans and sports writers.

One writer called it the “heave that will be talked about for years to come.”

Another wrote that the pass “will be used as a basis of comparison for all other throws for years to come.”

A third said the pass “stands out like a Campanile.”

Finally, one writer concluded that Muller “is the greatest thrower of the forward pass in the country.”

Muller had another 40-yard completion negated by a penalty, cementing his reputation.

And remember, Muller was an end, and was not even part of the Bears’ backfield.

That was the beauty of this Cal team, known as the Wonder Team, which used a number of trick plays, including the Statue of Liberty play, to destroy an Ohio State team that had been unbeaten.

That day Muller had two interceptions, three recovered fumbles, five receptions and three completed passes, not including the one negated by a penalty. A few months earlier Muller had won a silver medal in the high jump at the 1920 Olympics.

(Story continues below photo of Brick Muller)

Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics

You will note that many stories rating the greatest players in Cal football history rank Muller No. 1. His throws in the 1921 Rose Bowl had a lot to do with that.

Cal scored more points in one game than the 20 points Ohio State had given up in its seven regular-season games combined. And to top it off Ohio State was accused of playing dirty against Cal.

Cal’s victory had an impact on college football in California. Rose Bowl historian Maxwell Stiles stated in his book "Rose Bowl" that “overnight, there was born in California a football hysteria.”

Amid that hysteria was the construction of the Rose Bowl stadium, which was designed in 1921 and built in 1922.

And wouldn’t you know it, in the very first game ever played at the new Rose Bowl stadium, on October 28, 1922, Cal beat USC 12-0.

Click here for a story on Cal's No. 2 Bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 3 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 4 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 5 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 6 Cal bowl

​Click here for a story on the No. 7 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 8 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 9 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 10 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 11 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 12 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the bowls ranked 13 through 22

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