The football series between Oregon and Cal (the University of California at Berkeley to give the school it’s full title, the flagship campus of the entire UC system) stretches all the way back to the 1800s. The Webfoots went south to the San Francisco Bay area and were shut out 12-0 by the host Golden Bears on November 18, 1899. Oregon returned a year later on November 17 1900 and avenged the loss 2-0. Oregon finally tied the overall series with a victory last year in Berkeley and the record stands at 42-42-2.
The Bears had the best of the Ducks for the first half of the 20th century, going 17-8-1 against Oregon through the 1952 season. After taking over in 1951 Ducks head coach Len Casanova had slowly begun rebuilding the program to be competitive with their west coast rivals once more. “Cas” took control of the series against Cal soon enough, and Oregon played the Golden Bears to a 0-0 tie in Berkeley on November 14, 1953. The Ducks then won 6 of the next 7 meetings, but by the end of Casanova’s tenure as head coach Cal wa resurgent. From 1965 through 1982 the Bears went 12-3 against Oregon and the Ducks never won in consecutive seasons.
In the 1980s the Bears program sank back to mediocrity and Oregon’s head coach Rich Brooks finally began making progress toward bringing the team back to respectability. Starting with consecutive wins in 1982 and 1983, the Ducks went 5-5 against Cal from 1982 to 1993. The loss to the Golden Bears at Memorial Stadium in 1993 is still a scar for Oregon fans who remember it. Both teams were undefeated and for the Ducks it was the first conference game of the season. It couldn’t have started any better for Oregon, taking a 30-0 lead with 10:17 left in the 2nd quarter. The hibernating Bears awoke with a vengeance afterward, scoring before halftime to trail “only” 30-7. Oregon came out flat in the second half and Cal kept chipping away, taking a 42-41 lead on a touchdown pass and two-point conversion with 1:17 left in the game. The Ducks still had a chance to get into field goal range on their last possession, but QB Danny O’neil was intercepted with 29 seconds left to play and Cal ran out the clock. It was the second greatest deficit ever overcome in an NCAA Division I football game at the time.
The mid to late nineties were lean years for the Golden Bears, and Oregon won 7 games in a row in the series from 1994 through 2001. Following an abysmal 2001 season, Cal head coach Tom Holmoe was fired and then Oregon offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford was hired as his replacement. Tedford moved away from the Bears long time identity as a gritty, hard nosed, defensive team toward a more modern offense oriented program and quickly found success. In 2003, Tedford led his Bears into Autzen and his team had the lead 10-7 with 14:40 left in the 4th quarter. A malfunction in the stadium lighting system then left the field in darkness, halting the game for a time. Play resumed after nearly a ten minute delay as the lights warmed up to maximum brightness. The lights came back on for the Ducks football team as well, and they rallied back to win 21-17.
The next year in Berkeley Oregon faced one of the best teams of Tedford’s tenure led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and running back JJ Arrington (backed up by freshman Marshawn Lynch). Cal was ranked #4 in the nation at the time having only lost a single, very close, game to eventual national champion USC. Both teams’ talented offensive play makers put on a show in the first half and the Ducks led 27-21 at the break. The defenses adjusted beautifully in the second half, with the first points coming with 13:50 left in the 4th quarter when Rodgers found Geoff McArthur for a 19 yard touchdown to take a tight 28-27 lead. Oregon had a last chance to steal the win but faced 4th and 10 from the Cal 41 yard line with 1:44 left in the game. The Ducks decided to trust QB Kellen Clemens rather than attempt a nearly 60 yard field goal. Clemens came through with an accurate pass on the next play, but his open receiver couldn’t complete the catch and Cal held on for the win.
The Ducks got a measure of revenge by defeating the Bears 27-20 in overtime at Autzen the next year, despite having lost Clemens for the remainder of his senior season the week prior against Arizona. It would turn out to be Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti’s last victory against his former offensive coordinator as the Bears won three in a row afterward. The 2007 game was particularly notable as the only game the Ducks lost that year when starting quarterback Dennis Dixon was healthy. Cal had relied on an explosive performance from wide receiver DeSean Jackson and taken a 31-24 lead with 3:11 left in the game. As time wound down Dixon led a drive deep into Cal territory and the Ducks had a first down at the Bears 5 yard line with 22 seconds remaining and no time outs. Dixon completed his next pass, but the Oregon receiver tried to reach the ball over the goal line from near the 1 rather than get out of bounds to stop the clock. He lost control of the ball on the reach and fumbled out of the end zone, resulting in a touch back and Cal regaining possession to run out the clock.
In 2009 Tedford and the Bears returned to Autzen with a #6 national ranking and faced a home team that had struggled to that point in head coach Chip Kelly’s debut season. After being embarrassed by Boise State in their opener, the Ducks had barely beaten Purdue and Utah at home. Kelly had revitalized Oregon’s offense as OC in the preceding two years, but the team seemed to have lost their potency when he moved to head coach. Oregon’s best player to that point, cornerback Walter Thurmond III (who had a pick-6 against Purdue and punt return TD against Utah), took the opening kickoff and promptly fumbled the ball away to Cal after suffering what turned out to be a season ending injury on the tackle. Oregon wasn’t fazed by the disastrous opening and their defense held the Bears to a field goal. The Ducks proceeded to score 42 unanswered in 90s style beat down wearing their throw back uniforms. Oft maligned quarterback Jeremiah Masoli finished 21-25 for 253 yards and three touchdowns, all of them to tight end Ed Dickson. The following year in Berkeley an undefeated Oregon team needed several big plays on special teams (a successful Bears field goal was negated by a penalty and the second attempt missed, along with Cliff Harris’ punt return touchdown) to escape with a 15-13 win. The tide in the series had turned decisively.
In the years since Cal has beaten the Ducks only twice, a defenseless 52-49 overtime shootout in 2016 and an offensively challenged 21-17 game in the abridged 2020 season, both in Berkeley. With Oregon headed to the BIG and Cal to the ACC today’s game will settle the series for the foreseeable future. Does former Oregon linebacker Justin Wilcox have one last surprise for his alma mater? Or will the 15 year drought for the Bears in Eugene continue?