The year is 1915. Cal’s football program is returning after a stint with only rugby. Arch-rival Stanford was sticking with rugby. The new arch-rival was the Huskies of Washington, who Cal would match up with twice in the coming season. James Schaeffer, the rugby coach who knew nothing about the sport (neither did his players). To learn more about the game, he went on a nationwide tour to find more.
His first stop was funnily enough to Washington, where Gil Dobie was in the midst of a 63 game winning streak with his club. Dobie wouldn’t lose a single game in his coaching tenure. While Dobie initially laughed at his request, James convinced him to coach him up on the fundamentals on the game. He told him to head to the Midwest, where he could learn more. He would meet a coach named Andy Smith there, and appoint him as his successor in a year. But enough about that.
The Bears would face the Huskies in back to back games; first, they would play in Berkeley and then in Washington. The Berkeley game was an absolute shellacking; Dobie and his Huskies poured it on onroute to a 72-0 slaughter. And now the Bears had to head to Montlake. It wasn’t a question of if they lost, but by how much.
But a strange thing happened on the way. The attendance was down, because the 72-0 game in the previous game had dampened all hope of a close game. The Huskies, big headed after the 72-0 win, would be held scoreless for the entire first half. A Roy Sharp pass to Rudy Gianelli gave Cal a 7-0 lead; strange, considering how sparse passing was in 1915. Suddenly, 72-0 was a distant memory. Surviving was the only hope for the Huskies. And they would survive, if just barely. A late drive by the Huskies would give them the 13-7 final, but they were one turnover on the last drive- one stop away from losing to a team that was in its first year of football. A team that had lost to 72-0 the previous week. It should be a game to be remembered even today, but sadly it is little known and lost to history.
The 1915 California Golden Bears almost pulled off the biggest upset in college football history. Sadly they lost, but it is still a performance to be remembered today. Go Bears!
Golden Bears: A Celebration of Cal Football's Triumphs, Heartbreaks, Last-Second Miracles, Legendary Blunders and the Extraordinary People Who Made It All Possible by Ron Fimrite