126th annual Big Game traditions continue alongside student activism

Nov. 16, 2023, 1:14 a.m.

Many students across campus demonstrated their Stanford pride by participating in Big Game traditions.

Over the years, Stanford has continued its many traditions leading up to the Big Game, and the 126th Big Game is no different. Hoover Tower is lit up red at night, and the fountains course with red water. This week, students are experiencing a whirlwind of events that celebrate the Cardinal, which culminate in Saturday afternoon’s football match against the University of California, Berkeley (Cal). With rising tensions on campus amid the Israel-Gaza war, students said this year’s traditions feel a little different, but they are continuing nonetheless.

126th annual Big Game traditions continue alongside student activism
The Leland Stanford Junior University Band performs during the annual Bearial tradition. (Photo: HANNAH SHU/The Stanford Daily)


Bearial is an annual tradition where Oski the Bear, Cal’s mascot, is “executed” to signify Stanford’s superiority.

Roger McAulay ’90, who will be attending the Big Game on Saturday, said, “The ’80s were a great time to experience the Big Game. The Oski captivity was in the headlines for about two years.” The tradition took place this past Monday on Meyer Green, led by the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB).

This year, out of consideration of the ongoing Sit-In to Stop Genocide in Palestine at the White Plaza since Oct. 20, the tradition did not take place at its usual location of the Claw, a decision that upset some students.

On Fizz, an anonymous social media app limited to Stanford students, one student asked, “Is the bearial not coming to white plaza ;-;.” Another post featured a photo from last year’s Bearial of the Claw with Oski’s head at the tip captioned, “Remember this gem from last year?”

Liam Rose ’25, a member of LSJUMB, said, “The burial of the bear and the imagery that comes along with it would have seemed a little crass if it happened right next to the demonstrations.”

Rose said that the “vibe” of the tradition remained similar to previous years, just with a more “somber note” to it.


This year, the Ram’s Head Theatrical Society will put on their 112th “Gaieties,” the annual student-written musical production performed during Big Game week. Since 1911, “Gaieties” has celebrated campus culture, and the plot is always themed around “Beat Cal!”

According to their website, Gaieties is “the alchemy of blood, sweat, tears and above all else, laughter.”

This year, the Gaieties plot will be about Berkeley seeking to “exploit the resignation of Stanford’s president,” with “jaded hero Super-Senior and ambitious, prestige-hungry Fresh-Man” assembling a hero coalition to save the school, said Helena Vasconcelos ’25, one of the producers of Gaieties.

“Students can expect a satirical show poking fun at Stanford’s recent string of controversies, along with some memorable traditions,” Vasconcelos said. “Through music and mockery, Gaieties celebrates the common experiences, personalities and frustrations of the Stanford community to create a sense of unity before the Big Game.”

Rose said that Gaieties is his favorite Big Game tradition and that he will be playing the trumpet in the orchestra. “The whole cast, crew and orchestra is working super hard to make it an exciting production,” he said.

Axe Committee in White Plaza

The Stanford Axe Committee (Axe Comm) serves as the guardian of the Axe, which is the trophy of the annual Big Game. They also play a major role in promoting school spirit not only at the Big Game but also throughout the football season, attending each game to wave flags, toss t-shirts and blow the famous train whistle every time Stanford scores.

For the 126th Big Game, the Axe Comm is camping out in White Plaza for 125 hours and blowing the train whistle every hour.

Hayden Henry ’25, an officer of the Axe Comm, said that he joined because someone had done a “phenomenal job” explaining the role of the committee to him in his freshman year.

“I was really enthralled by the impact we have on Stanford spirit, the association we have with athletics and just being able to be part of such core Stanford traditions,” Henry said. “I think it’s a combination of what we do, what ‘Gaieties’ does and what the band does with ‘Bearial’ that all together make arguably one of the biggest traditions of the year.”

On Wednesday night, the Axe Comm hosted the Big Game Rally in White Plaza, a tradition that features a retelling of the history of the Axe. They also recognize the Stanford senior football players before their last Big Game and judge the freshman dorm banner contest. The winning dorm banner — Larkin’s — will be displayed in White Plaza for the rest of Big Game Week.

A banner that reads get served in white plaza with a depiction of a tree with an axe and a dead bear.
The winning banner from the 125th Big Game, made by Otero. (Courtesy of Mary Lee)

Sharing White Plaza

The Axe Comm’s whistle station is also traditionally held at White Plaza — directly across the pro-Palestinian sit-in.

When asked about how the Big Game traditions would affect the sit-in, Henry said that the political climate adds “a more somber note” to things, whether it’s a Big Game tradition or not.

”For this week, at least we hope that we can offer some sense of reprieve and give people something more positive to think about and smile about,” Henry said. 

He stated that the plan for the hourly whistle was communicated with the sit-in so that they could peacefully occupy the shared space of the White Plaza.

“We always do our best, especially at night to make sure the whistle isn’t too loud, with enough advance warning during the day time,” Henry said.

Yeli Ramirez ’24, a participant in the sit-in, believes that the Axe Comm’s whistles are still “a little excessive.”

“It rings throughout the night,” she said. “We were told it would be 10% of the usual volume. That has not been the case. It’s definitely the same volume at night and definitely affects the sleep of the people [at the sit-in].”

Ramirez urged the campus community to be mindful of the sit-in: “Democracy Day was moved to Old Union. We found workarounds, but this doesn’t seem like a workaround.”  

Cal vs. Stanford rivalry

At the heart of Stanford’s school spirit lies the intense rivalry of the Big Game. This football rivalry originated in 1892 on San Francisco’s Haight Street Grounds, where Stanford triumphed over Cal with a score of 14-10. Today, every Stanford student eagerly waits for the arrival of the Big Game, decked out in red, in hopes of seeing the Axe being brought home.

The rivalry has been an integral part of Stanford’s school spirit for decades. McAulay said, “Big Game has been the central connection to the Stanford Community for me and my friends for the last 30-plus years. I met my Golden Bear wife at the Big Game.”

“The tailgate remains an annual highlight that we look forward to throughout the year,” McAulay said.

Stanford football punter and kicker Aidan Flintoft ’27 said, “I think the Stanford vs. Cal rivalry is a great competition with lots of history and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. I think it’s huge for school spirit.”

He said that the football team felt good about the game: “We’re working really hard as always and super pumped for Saturday.”

Juan Hernandez ’27, a member of the Axe Comm, said, “I feel like the Big Game week is the one week of the year where everybody can get behind a cause, and that’s beating Cal.”

Hernandez concluded his interview with a simple statement: “Go Stanford; beat Cal!”

Anna Yang '27 is a Vol. 265 Title IX Beat Reporter and university desk staff writer from the Bay Area, CA. Contact news 'at' stanforddaily.com.Paridhi Bhatia '27 is a beat reporter for international students and a writer for the University desk. She is interested in developmental economics and environmental policy. Contact Paridhi at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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