‘Take Back the Axe’: Stanford gears up for Big Game with decapitated teddy bear and train whistles

Nov. 15, 2022, 11:39 p.m.

In anticipation of the biggest game of the football season, Stanford’s campus pulses with Cardinal pride.

As the 125th Big Game between Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley (Cal) approaches, students across Stanford are preparing for a week of celebrations steeped in tradition and spirit. Fountains are dyed red, the Hoover Tower is illuminated by red light and campus is animated with events that rally students leading up to the football face-off on Saturday.

Bearial

On Monday, the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB) led the annual “Bearial of the Cal Bear” where band members carry a teddy bear, which represents Cal’s mascot, Oski the bear, in a wooden casket inscribed with the words “HERE LIES A POOR PATHETIC FOOL” across campus. This year, the execution of the teddy bear was Greek Underworld-themed. Protesters holding “STANFORD HATES FUN” posters were among the attendees. The Stanford Hates Fun movement calls upon the university to enhance social life.

The teddy bear is traditionally skewered at the apex of The Claw in White Plaza. However, this year, the bear was larger than in previous years, and the Stanford Tree and a LSJUMB member skewered and decapitated the bear on the side of The Claw. Band members then led a chant of “In five more days, we’ll take the Axe.”

“I could definitely tell that there was a lot of spirit, especially about the band. The band was all in black like in mourning,” said Daniela Gomez Navarro ’26. “It was really funny.”

Bringing Home the Axe

The Axe first emerged as an emblem of the Stanford-Cal rivalry in 1899. 31 years after Cal stole the Axe from Stanford during the spring of 1899, a few days after the Axe’s inception by Stanford students, a group of 21 Stanford men, known as the “Immortal 21” took back the Axe in 1930. Born from the Immortal 21, the Stanford Axe Committee (Axe Comm) has since served as the guardians of the Axe, which is now the trophy of the annual Big Game, ever since.

“I love being a part of something that is so at the core of the Stanford tradition,” said Hayden Henry ’25, who is an Axe Comm Big Game week coordinator. “[Big Game] is like the engine that drives campus.”

The Axe Comm holds an annual countdown campout in White Plaza’s birdcage. During the countdown, students blow a train whistle every hour leading up to the Big Game. This year marks the 125th Big Game and Axe Comm will be camping out for 125 hours.

Jared Diaz ’23, an Axe Comm member and former chair, said countdown allows members of Axe Comm to bond as a community through “pulling all-nighters … doing karaoke, watching movies, playing games [and] generally talking.”

On Wednesday evening, Axe Comm will host another annual tradition, Big Game Rally, in White Plaza, featuring a retelling of the history of the Axe. Additional festivities at the rally include a freshman dorm banner contest, a bucket hat giveaway and a recognition of the senior students on the football team.

Some students are hopeful that the Axe, which has remained at Cal since Stanford’s loss last year, will be retrieved this weekend.

“I feel like we’re very committed to the cause. I think we will bring the Axe back home,” said Yujina Basnet ’26.

Gaieties

This year, Ram’s Head Theatrical Society will put on their 111th iteration of Gaieties, titled “Cardinal Sin.” The student-created musical performed to rally school spirit before the Big Game dates back to 1911

Gaieties is described as “the ultimate celebration of how proud, ridiculous, and clever we are as Stanford students” on the Ram’s Head website. Past productions have featured cameos by university administrators, including President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

Other Athletic Events

At the varsity and club level, Big Game-themed athletic contests between Stanford and Cal are played throughout the fall. Such games include water polo’s “Big Splash” and volleyball’s “Big Spike.” The two schools’ student newspapers compete each year in a flag football game known as “Ink Bowl.”

A Deep Rivalry

The Stanford vs. Cal rivalry dates back to over a century ago, originating in the 1890s. The two institutions faced off in football for the first time in the spring of 1892. Stanford won the inaugural game by four points.

“It’s one of the oldest rivalry games in all of college sports … so it’s run very deep for the Stanford spirit,” Henry said. “I think it’s a very important thing that we keep these traditions going.”

Diaz said his hatred for Cal is “a very learned thing,” as he did not grow up knowing about the rivalry.

Some students have closer ties to Stanford’s rival across the bay. Gomez Navarro has three friends at Berkeley and her cousin is a Berkeley alum.

“If we don’t win it’s going to be really embarrassing for me,” she said. “I think besides personal pride between me and my close friends, there’s nothing bigger than that. I just think it’d be kind of humiliating if we lost.”

To students experiencing Big Game week for the first time, Henry recommends to “just get out and experience tradition, especially since we’re really getting back into the spirit this year.”

Callia Peterson is a writer for the university desk of The Daily's news section. Contact her at [email protected]Rani is a reporter for The Daily's news section. Contact her at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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