COLLEGE FOOTBALL PACKAGE: Cal playing for redemption in rematch with Tennessee Print
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Wednesday, 29 August 2007 14:02
NCAAF Headline News

 BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -Every three days or so, Lavelle Hawkins takes a deep breath and pushes ``Play.'' The film of California's 35-18 loss at Tennessee last year flickers to life on his television.
And the Golden Bears receiver gets through maybe one quarter before turning it off, burning with frustration and humiliation.
``It hurts me so bad that we played so bad,'' Hawkins said. ``I was so embarrassed. All that hoopla, and then we played as bad as we played. ... That was the most embarrassing loss I've played in in my life, and I've played a lot of ball. Oh my God, it makes me so mad.''
Hawkins isn't the only Cal player who gets melodramatic about that particular game. Not many videos outside of a horror movie have caused as much consternation as Cal's football follies on that nightmare Saturday in Knoxville, when the Volunteers took a 35-point lead and coasted to a blowout win over the bewildered Bears.
The rematch finally arrives this weekend in Berkeley, and the 12th-ranked Bears believe it might be their only chance to shake the stigma of a loss that seemed to confirm every negative stereotype of West Coast football while casting doubt on a half-decade of rebuilding at Cal, which has risen from a perennial loser to a Top 25 fixture.
Coach Jeff Tedford acknowledges his Bears looked soft, defensively deficient and mentally weak. Their offense floundered with a new starting quarterback, while their secondary gave up a handful of big plays - mostly against a freshman cornerback playing with a cast on his hand and 100,000 people screaming in his ear.
``That's the worst we've ever played,'' Tedford said. ``In my five years, I don't ever remember looking up and being down 35-0. So we deserved it. ... It's not really revenge. If anything, it's redemption. It wasn't that we lost the game last year. I think it was the way we lost the game last year that was the devastating part of it, that hung with us so long.''
M in the Holiday Bowl last season, all California heard about during the summer was its season-opening loss to the Vols.
Tedford has a glazed look in his eyes after spending months reciting his disappointment in that trip to Tennessee, and his players heard about it everywhere they went in the offseason, from downtown Berkeley to their own hometowns.
``It's so annoying,'' offensive lineman Mike Tepper said. ``Just because we lost our first game to a pretty good team doesn't mean we're a joke team.''
But once the Bears got back to work last spring, they turned their attention to the big clock high on the wall in the corner of their locker room. It counts the days, hours and minutes until Saturday, when the No. 15 Volunteers will be in Memorial Stadium.
``In the summer, it hit me in the middle of July,'' Tepper said. ``Wow, we've got Tennessee coming up. I was thinking about it three, four hours a day - Tennessee, Tennessee, 'Rocky Top.'''
Tedford blared the Tennessee fight song through the weight-room speakers for weeks before the Bears' trip to Knoxville last summer, yet the coach now regrets putting so much emphasis on that season-opening game, feeling he set up his players for a fall.
He's trying to tone down expectations for the rematch, but it's difficult when the game still burns his returning players so fiercely. Though Cal recovered nicely with eight straight wins, quarterback Nate Longshore remembers more about his second career start in Knoxville than all of those games combined.
He actually enjoyed stepping onto the field at Neyland Stadium, since ``there's something real cool about 100,000 people booing you.'' But tight end Craig Stevens was injured on the opening kickoff, casting an immediate pall over the day for Longshore, who went 11-of-20 before getting yanked.
Tennessee led just 14-0 at halftime despite dominating play, and the Vols quickly scored three more touchdowns in the third quarter, taking advantage of freshman Syd'Quan Thompson for big gains. While Tennessee fans partied, the Bears watched.
``I just remember it got out of control, and that was it,'' safety Thomas DeCoud said. ``The game, the atmosphere, was just so ...''
DeCoud widens his eyes and glances frantically around the room, accurately miming the Bears' mood.
Cal's need for redemption extends across graduation boundaries as well. Several Golden Bears who played in last season's debacle will be back at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, including tailbacks Marshawn Lynch and Marcus O'Keith, who got time off from their NFL clubs.
``We see it as our chance to show everybody what we're all about at Cal,'' Hawkins said. ``We don't want another offseason like this one.''
 

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