As we noted a few weeks ago in our account of the Cal Stadium dedication game, the California Golden Bears were truly the “wonder team” of the early 1920s, going unbeaten for five straight seasons between 1920 and 1924 and leaving Stanford fans wondering if they were ever going to beat their Berkeley rival again.
Indeed, while the Cardinal had won five times during the period when the two teams were playing rugby instead of football, the last time they’d beaten the Golden Bears on the traditional American gridiron was way back in 1905. After the football rivalry resumed in 1919, Cal reeled off five straight wins by a combined score of 131-17. This wasn’t David against Goliath; this was the Lions against the Christians.
But by 1924 things were beginning to equal up a bit, and though the Golden Bears remained unbeaten, this time the Cardinal held them to a draw in what was at the time perhaps the best game ever played between the two schools. And when 1925 rolled around, the Palo Alto 11 was vowing that this time things were going to be different.
As it turned out, they were right, though it took every bit of heroics by their legendary Captain Ernie Nevers to pull it off. Just out of the hospital and channeling his inner George Gipp, the future Hall of Famer rushed for 122 yards, scored two touchdowns, completed all four of his passes, punted for an average of 40 yards, and to top it off in the words of the New York Times, “it was on defense that the Blond Behemoth was the salvation of the Cards. He was as impregnable as the Great Wall of China.”
And after briefly falling behind in the final quarter, the Cardinal scored the final 14 points to cop a 26-14 win, and walked off the Palo Alto field drowning in cheers, headed for a Rose Bowl matchup with the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.
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