The action in Berkeley was almost more than a body could stand. The 28,000 students at this cultural heartbeat of the statewide University of California are, above all, sophisticates, cosmopolites, philosophers and realists. In a more recent word, cool. But they could be forgiven if they staggered around their campus on Sunday morning glassy-eyed. The world as they knew it had undergone a seismographic upheaval, and the very foundations of their social structure seemed to be in dire jeopardy. The Berkeley beards were on a losing streak, and the football team was on a winning one.
Taking things in sequence, there was first the Battle of Moses Hall in midweek. A couple of hundred of the beards, their adrenaline racing, had decided it was high time to close down the University in behalf of Black Panther Author Eldridge Cleaver, who they felt should be given equal faculty status with all those Nobel prizewinners. After a few preliminary skirmishes, the battle escalated into a glorious night of shouting and tissue throwing as the beards barricaded themselves in Moses Hall. Came the dawn and the campus was strangely mute. Gone were the TV crews from CBS and NBC. Moses Hall stood gaunt and empty as gardeners swept up the refuse. Those who had come to Berkeley to get a degree were silently gliding along the paths to their classes. Off in the cooler somewhere were the 75 survivors of the beards' last stand. The university still existed.
Saturday's conflict was yet to come, however, and the result was a good deal more predictable, even though the nation would never get to see it on prime-time Huntley-Brinkley. Ben Schwartzwalder was bringing his big, tough, 10th-ranked Syracuse football team into town to chew up the Golden Bears. Now no one would suggest that football at Berkeley carries anywhere near the same national prestige as protest. So if the beards took such a one-sided pasting at the hands of just a few hundred cops on Wednesday night, what conceivable chance would the Bears have against Syracuse on Saturday?
There was another thing to be considered. Cal's athletic program was only just beginning to recover from last winter's revolt by black athletes, an insurrection that got most of its momentum from the basketball team and that led to the resignations of Basketball Coach Rene Herrerias and Athletic Director Pete Newell, who generously accepted the role of scapegoat. The repercussions were felt in every corner of Harmon Gym, from handball to football—definitely football—so not even the most euphoric old grad dared hope that Coach Ray Willsey could salvage a respectable season out of the turmoil.
November 4, 1968
Willsey is a reasonable man, and those deep frown-wrinkles he picked up with a 16-24 record during his first four years as Cal's head coach are not for nothing. He knows the hazards of trying to run something as square as a football program on a campus where dissent is the most common noun in the vocabulary. As early as spring practice, Willsey set out to clear the racial atmosphere. Negro players were encouraged to unload their grievances in group sessions and individually with the coaches. John Erby, a Negro who had been a varsity guard in the early '60s and who had just returned from Vietnam with part of his right leg gone, was hired as an assistant coach.
Willsey had another thing going for him. After four years of strenuous recruiting, his players and coaches were beginning to think they were on the way up. When the squad arrived in late August, there was something about the feeling in practice that softened the furrows in Willsey's face. "I don't like to speak for my brothers," Irby Augustine, a superb defensive end, said of the general mood before last week's Syracuse game, "but I think we're a real unit now, all pulling for each other and for the team. I think we've worked out those other things that bothered us. For one thing we have pride."
Even so, there was something disheartening in the prospect of taking on Syracuse right in the middle of a conference schedule that could—oh, not really, but just possibly if one could luck past USC and O.J. Simpson—wind up in the Rose Bowl. The source of these guarded bowl hopes was the previous week's 39-15 stunner over UCLA. The opening victories over Michigan and Colorado had been nice, but then Army had let a lot of air out of the bubble with a last-minute bomb that beat Cal 10-7 at West Point. Still, when you beat a Tommy Prothro team, any Tommy Prothro team, 39-15, you have to begin thinking you are pretty good. And you don't want a game with Syracuse that means nothing to your conference season to wreck the beautiful dream.
"I'm apprehensive," Willsey confessed a couple of days before Syracuse deplaned and shook the quake measurers in the geology lab as it warmed up on Strawberry Hill. "If they whomp us, it could have a serious psychological effect. They're much bigger and stronger than we are. We certainly can't run at them. I guess we'll have to throw the ball to take the game away from their strength." The furrows were back in Willsey's face as he thought about it.
Saturday arrived and so did some 50,000 people who had not climbed all the way up the hill to Memorial Stadium just to watch Band Day. Perhaps with the beards in stir, the football team was the last thing left to cheer for. Or maybe Irby Augustine's wish was coming true. "I know protest is the bag for a lot of guys," he had said, "but I just wish that on Saturday they'd come out and support us." In the 80° sunshine, Memorial Stadium crowded with people looked good. The bands were playing and cheerleaders were leaping and lots of voices were blasting out "All hail, blue and gold." But Syracuse looked good, too. And big, very big, in its white jerseys and orange pants.
It was funny football, though. Syracuse returned the kickoff, passed for a first down and then fumbled the ball to Cal at midfield. Cal made a first down, then marched backward, fumbling to Syracuse on its own 42. Syracuse then completed a pass to Cal's Jerry Woods, who ran it back 25 yards. The ball had changed hands three times in the first three series. Cal finally got the hang of the game and moved 38 yards in six plays for a touchdown, with Quarterback Randy Humphries—who is 6'3" and 203 pounds and likes to run—covering the last 10 yards on a keeper over left guard, while most of the Syracuse team sat on the ground watching developments in amazement.
After Syracuse got the next kickoff, it fumbled the ball to Cal on its own 28. This time it took the Bears seven plays to score, with Fullback John McGaffie diving over from the one. Only 10 minutes had gone by and already the score was 14-0.
Following a couple of punts, Syracuse fumbled the ball to Cal again, this time when Irby Augustine hit Wingback John Bulicz with one of those tackles you can hear on the other side of the Bay. A few plays later Ron Miller kicked a 50—repeat 50—yard field goal and it was 17-0 and still the first quarter had not ended.
About now the Cal linemen began to notice something odd. As one of them put it, "The starch went out of Syracuse. I don't know what it was exactly, but they weren't hitting the way they had been. I mean last year you could feel it right in the bottom of your feet when they hit you. By the end of the first quarter they were like a different team. They were complaining about the heat and the smog and how hard the field was and things like that. I can't figure it. That's not Syracuse."
It certainly isn't. Ben Schwartzwalder said afterward that in all his 19 years at Syracuse he could never remember one of his teams making so many mistakes on offense. A seven-yard punt resulted in another Cal score, and just before the half, Al Newton, the Syracuse fullback who is supposed to follow in the footsteps of Jimmy Brown, Floyd Little and Larry Csonka, was actually tackled at the line of scrimmage by his own center. In the third quarter, after finally managing to make its first first down by rushing, Syracuse was so stunned it was penalized five yards for delaying the game. In all, Syracuse lost three fumbles and had six passes intercepted, the last resulting in a 45-yard touchdown run by Cornerback Bernie Keeles to put the score at 43-0.
Here, at last, Syracuse got its first break. While Keeles was in midflight the final gun sounded and a swarm of small fry flooded the playing field. There was no use trying to restore order, so history will never know whether the score might have been 44-0, or even 45-0 if Cal had recklessly decided to gamble for two points. At any rate, it was the worst beating a Syracuse team had taken in 15 years. Above the stadium on Tightwad Hill the bare-skinned hippies who were sunning themselves and gazing dreamily at the distant scene below-must have thought someone had spiked their pot.
Of course, it is a long way from Syracuse to Pasadena. In between there is Washington next week in Seattle and then the awful confrontation with O.J. in Los Angeles, to say nothing of the Big Game with Stanford, always a meeting as unpredictable as a coed's promise. But should Cal's Bears emerge unscathed, there is no telling what might happen to the Berkeley image. Ronnie Reagan—Supergov, as they like to call him around Berkeley—might even get off Cal's back and stop trying to remake the place in the image of Western Illinois State Normal or Eureka or wherever it was that they molded him in the great intellectual traditions of statehouse politics.