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An impaled teddy bear and fountains that run red: Stanford’s Big Game traditions

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When Stanford’s fountains run cardinal red, Hoover Tower is bathed in crimson light and a teddy bear is brutally impaled at the tip of The Claw, it can only mean one thing: Big Game is near. 

Big Game is not merely an annual meeting of two of college football’s longest-standing rivals, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley — it’s cause for a week-long campus celebration imbued with Stanford spirit, camaraderie and ritual. Big Game week is steeped in tradition, with yearly commemorations of a rivalry that dates back to 1892. As the 124th Big Game approaches, the festivities will soon begin, campus abuzz with fervent energy and school spirit. And after a year of virtual gatherings, students are more excited than ever for the return of in-person celebrations. 

Bearial

The Stanford Band is an important steward of Big Game week tradition. Every year, members of The Band lead the annual “Bearial of the Cal Bear,” or Bearial for short — a procession of band members carrying a wooden casket across campus. The casket contains a teddy bear representing Oski, Cal’s mascot. The journey across campus ends at White Memorial Fountain, better known as “The Claw,” where students gather to listen to a brief eulogy for Oski, followed by the public execution. A member of The Band climbs atop The Claw and skewers the teddy bear at its apex in effigy. Bearial took place on Monday.

Axe Comm 

The Stanford Axe Committee (Axe Comm) is also a keeper of Big Game week tradition and guardian of the Stanford Axe, the trophy of the annual Big Game. In the week before the contest, Axe Comm enhances campus with Big Game decorations, such as hanging giant “Beat Cal” banners on Green Library, dyeing the fountains a grisly crimson to symbolize Oski’s blood and lighting up Hoover Tower with ominous red light. Axe Comm also leads a campout in White Plaza prior to the game for the same number of hours as the number of Big Games held thus far, blowing a train whistle every hour in countdown — this year, they’ll be camping out for 124 hours. Axe Comm also hosts an annual Big Game Rally in Memorial Auditorium featuring a retelling of the history of the Axe, a freshman dorm banner contest and recognition of senior football players before their final Big Game. 

Gaieties

Every year during Big Game week, Ram’s Head Theatrical Society puts on Gaieties, a student-composed musical performed in Memorial Auditorium. The first iteration of the show in 1911 was known as “Football Follies,” a performance to rally students for the Stanford vs. Cal rugby game, and by the 1970s, it had evolved to revolve around the theme of Beating Cal. Gaieties is Stanford’s longest standing theatrical tradition, and while different every year, every production of Gaities exalts Stanford and derides Cal. No Gaities is complete without cameos by university administrators (even President Marc Tessier-Lavigne has made a surprise appearance). Every year, Gaieties galvanizes the student body with energy and school spirit. This year, Gaieties will be performed on Nov. 17, 18 and 19 at 7 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium, and tickets can be purchased here

Other Athletic Events

Stanford and Cal compete throughout the fall in various other sports both at the varsity and club level, where each matchup is named in honor of Big Game: “Big Splash” (water polo), “Big Spike” (volleyball), “Big Sweep” (quidditch), “Big Freeze” (ice hockey), “Big Sail” (sailing) and Ink Bowl (a flag football game between members of Stanford and Cal’s student newspapers).

This article has been updated to reflect that the Rivals for Life Blood Drive is not occurring this year. The Daily regrets this error.

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Alex Tsai ’21 is a senior staff writer for The Daily. Previous roles at The Daily include news desk editor and mobile app developer. Alex is majoring in Computer Science and is a member of the varsity lacrosse team.