Top 50 Cal Sports Moments -- No. 26: Oski-Tree Fights, 1988, 1995

The mascots of Cal and Stanford had two memorable physical confrontations that would rival Ali-Frazier
A 1948 version of Oski, Cal's mascot
A 1948 version of Oski, Cal's mascot / Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics

As the Pac-12 Conference era comes to a close after more than a century, we count down the Top 50 moments involving Cal athletics.

THE MOMENT: When it comes to Oski’s fights with the Stanford Tree, one moment is not enough, as the two iconic mascots did battle on the football field and the basketball court. On Saturday, November 19, 1988, at Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium, Oski and the Tree had a memorable fight during the Big Game in which the mascots tried to inflict serious damage to each other before security broke it up. Then on Thursday, February 2, 1995, at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion, the Tree and Oski got into another tussle, and police had to step in, this time ushering Oski out of the arena.

THE STORY: Cal was using live bear cubs as mascots until that became problematic. So Rocky Rockwell and Warrington Colescott, an editor of The Daily Californian, came up with an alternative. Rockwell designed the costume and was the first to wear the outfit of Oski the bear, named after the “Oski Wow-Wow Yell” used at Cal football and basketball games.

Oski made his first public appearance at a freshman pep rally at the Greek Theatre on September 25, 1941, and first showed up at a Cal sporting event two days later, when Cal defeated Saint Mary’s in a football game on September 27, 1941.

Oski stories are legendary. The most famous may have been an episode in January 1990 during a basketball game at Cal’s Harmon Gym, when he (or she) threw a cake toward Oregon State fans in the stands, with some of the cake landing on the father of Oregon State point guard Gary Payton. Oski received a two-week suspension for that little trick.

But it was when the Stanford Tree made its debut in 1975 -- introduced during a football halftime show as a spoof on mascots -- that Oski had a worthy adversary.

Troy Taylor was the Cal quarterback in the November 19, 1988, Big Game that ended in a 19-19 tie, but when asked last November about his memory of that game as he prepared for his first Big Game as Stanford’s head coach, Taylor had a vivid recollection of something that occurred outside the lines that day.

“It was also the game that I remember Oski and the Tree getting in a fight,” Taylor said. “And it was a legitimate fight; they were trying to hurt each other. I think it was in between series, and I remember Oski trying to tear the Tree apart and got pulled apart, and I remember Oski pointing his finger – one of his, whatever, four fingers he has – at The Tree like, ‘This isn’t over.’ It’s going to continue at some point. I’m thinking, this is bizarre, living in a cartoon world or something.”

Security had to rush in and break up that battle, which, as Taylor suggests, got pretty brutal.

Oski-Tree II took place on Stanford’s home turf. That rematch occurred on February 2, 1995, during a timeout of an ESPN-televised basketball game at Maples Pavilion, and . . . . well, we’ll let the video below provide the description and commentary for that fight:

It was that kind of mascot animosity that led to special rules being put in place for the 1998 Big Game in an attempt to prevent the kind of fan violence that had occurred the previous year. Essentially Oski and the Tree were placed in protective custody. Security for the game was increased, and the mascots were provided police protection and could not participate in the halftime shows. They were required to limit their activity to a 30-yard span in front of their own school’s rooting section. And here’s the kicker: Police were directed to administer pregame Breathalyzer tests to the Tree and to Oski.

There was no comment from Oski, because, as we all know, Oski does not speak and the identity of the student wearing the Oski costume remains a secret.

*Top 50 Moment No. 27: Papa Bear, 2022

* Top 50 Moment No. 28: Racial Cancellation, 1923

Only specific acts that occurred while the team or athlete was at Cal were considered for the Top 50 list, and accomplishments spanning a season or a career were not included.

Leslie Mitchell of the Cal Bears History Twitter site aided in the selection of the top 50 moments.

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Jake Curtis


Jake Curtis worked in the San Francisco Chronicle sports department for 27 years, covering virtually every sport, including numerous Final Fours, several college football national championship games, an NBA Finals, world championship boxing matches and a World Cup. He was a Cal beat writer for many of those years, and won awards for his feature stories.