Jack James was a San Francisco sports editor back in the day when there were Royal typewriters, cheap cigars and booze hidden in newsroom desk drawers.
But a caustic comment he made 90 years ago is possibly relevant again as UC Berkeley's football team plays visiting Presbyterian College on Saturday.
James, upon learning that Washington & Jefferson College would be Cal's opponent in the Jan. 1, 1922, Rose Bowl game, wrote: "All I know about Washington and Jefferson is that they're both dead."
The Bay Area press wasn't done just yet. Washington & Jefferson was labeled "Willie and Jake." For how could this Washington, Pa., school challenge Cal's vaunted Wonder Team, unbeaten over five seasons (44-0-4) from 1920 to '24?
However, overlooked in all its pre-bowl mocking, tiny Washington & Jefferson, with a 500-student enrollment, was also undefeated at 10-0.
The 1921 Cal Bears had outscored opponents handily, 312-33, but so had the Washington & Jefferson Presidents, 222-33. Even though the Rose Bowl turf was soggy at kickoff after nearly a month of rain, Cal was still favored to win.
But Cal coach Andy Smith felt differently. The night before the game, he said prophetically, "We'll kick. The score will be nothing to nothing."
And that was the final score: 0-0. But man for man, the Presidents mopped up the Golden Bears in the mud as Smith -- one of football's early coaching legends -- was out-coached by first-year head coach Earl "Greasy" Neale, moonlighting at Washington & Jefferson from his regular job as a Cincinnati Reds baseball outfielder.
Now fast-forward 90 years. The 2011 Bears, coming off a disappointing 5-7 record, are slightly more impressive this season with a 2-0 record. The Presbyterian Blue Hose are 1-1.
Cal, naturally, is an overwhelming favorite. However, no odds are available on the game as Cal, a Pacific-12 Conference member, plays in the NCAA's Football Bowl Sub-Division, while Presbyterian of the Big South Conference plays one notch below in the NCAA's Football Championship Sub-Division.
"I look at this as David and Goliath," Presbyterian College president John V. Griffith said by phone from his campus office in Clinton, S.C. "And once in a while, Goliath loses."
Presbyterian's enrollment is only 1,300. But Davids do slay Goliaths as Washington & Jefferson proved long ago against Cal in the Rose Bowl, when a tie felt like a win.
The Presidents played only 11 men that afternoon, yet Cal didn't complete one pass, had only two first downs, gained just 49 yards on offense, and Archie Nisbet, true to his coach's words, punted 13 times.
The Presidents scored the only touchdown on a 35-yard run by Wayne Brenkert, but it was nullified by an offside penalty on All-America lineman Russ Stein, who also missed four field-goal tries. An embarrassed Cal was lucky to get off the field 0-0.
Adding insult to embarrassment, Cal's legendary end, Brick Muller, didn't start the game after fighting boils, carbuncles and other ailments that season. When he entered the game at his own request in the second quarter, the Presidents greeted Muller by wiping their muddy hands on his clean jersey.
Ralph Vince, who played right guard for Washington & Jefferson, said, "We should have won. I don't mean we were robbed by the callback of that touchdown run, but I thought we had the better team and that we outplayed them."
Willie and Jake, my eye.
Presbyterian's president has heard the story about Washington & Jefferson.
"I'm very proud of this team," Griffith said. "You'll see a team that works very hard and is ready to play. And I'm hoping there will be a surprise like that Washington & Jefferson game."
Presbyterian has a history of upsets, beating the likes of Clemson. Cal also knows from the 1922 Rose Bowl that upsets do happen.
Otherwise, why play the game?
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