Saturday Traditions: Rivals Unite – Stanford vs Cal

The University of California Golden Bears and Stanford University Cardinal first played football against one another in 1892, making it one of the college games oldest rivalries. 

WATCH- Saturday Traditions: Rivals Unite- Stanford vs Cal

Saturday Traditions: Rivals Unite- Stanford vs Cal

Future United States President Herbert Hoover, while an undergraduate student at Stanford, served as the student manager of both the baseball and football teams and helped organize the inaugural contest. Only 10,000 tickets were printed for the game but 20,000 fans reportedly showed up.

Stanford won that first meeting 14-10, and the two elite academic institutions teams have squared off almost every year in The Big Game since then, the only exception being when it was suspended between 1943 and 1945 due to World War II. 

Great players such as Jim Plunkett, John Elway, John Lynch, Toby Gerhart, Andre Luck, Richard Sherman, Chuck Muncie, Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch, Christian McCaffrey and DeSean Jackson have all suited up for the Big Game, all competing for the highly prized Stanford Axe. 

The Stanford Axe is the trophy that is awarded to the games winner of the Big Game. First unveiled in 1899 by Stanford, it was used to destroy a man made out of blue and gold straw. 

But shortly thereafter, some Cal students stole it and it remained in Berkeley for 31 years, until a group of 21 Stanford students devised an elaborate plan that they enacted at Cal’s 1930 Axe Rally to steal it back. Over the ensuing year, university officials decided to make The Axe the trophy awarded after the Big Game and in 1933, Stanford won the first Axe by beating Cal 7-3.

Perhaps the most famous ending to a college football game occurred when Cal played Stanford for the 85th time in 1982. It has gone done in college football lore as simply, The Play.

In the games final sequence as the clock expired, madness ensued as Cal returned a kickoff for a touchdown thanks to multiple laterals and by running through the Stanford band, whod excitedly marched onto the field thinking the game was over as Cal beat future College Football and NFL Hall of Famer John Elway’s Cardinal 25-20 in perhaps the greatest finish in college football history.

In even-numbered years, the game is played at Berkeley, while in odd-numbered years it is played at Stanford. Stanford has won the last seven games, including last years 45-31 victory at Memorial Stadium, and leads the overall series with 62 wins versus Cals 46, with 11 games ending in a tie.

The oldest college football rivalry in the west, The Big Game grows richer with each passing year in terms of history, tradition and what it means to the overall sport.

Back to top