10 questions surrounding the UW-Cal football game

Jennifer Buchanan

This game was once a heart-breaker

Washington and California have played some epic football games in their 97-game history. The streak-breaker. The scoreless duel. The double goal-line stand. The Top 10 showdown. The love connection. This series has had something for everyone.

For those who need a refresher or an instant replay, here’s a trip back in time for five unforgettable matchups:

In 1917, the Golden Bears rose up and smacked down the UW 27-0 in Berkeley—ending the Huskies’ 63-game unbeaten streak, which more than a century later remains an NCAA record.

In 1937, No. 1-ranked and unbeaten California and a two-loss Washington team played to an exhaustive 0-0 standoff in Berkeley. The game ended with the Huskies reaching the Bears 20 and Al Cruver missing a field goal low and wide left.

In 1950, the Rose Bowl-bound Bears beat the Hugh McElhenny-led Huskies 14-7 in Seattle, stopping them in the fourth quarter on consecutive possessions at their own 2 and 9. This 8-2 UW team might have been the school’s best that didn’t appear in a bowl game.

In 1991, the No. 3 Huskies and 7th-ranked Bears, both 5-0, slugged it out before a national TV audience and a full house in Berkeley. Don James’ best team and eventual co-national champ prevailed 24-17. It was the UW’s toughest outing in a season where it crushed all but two opponents, including Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

So what are we missing? Oh yeah, this last one was more personal than pulsating. In 1974, Cal won 52-26 in a game that wasn’t that close. What caught everyone’s attention came the day before kickoff—Bears quarterback Steve Bartkowski met Washington sorority girl Kathi Arnason and this became repeated headlines. He was checking into the team hotel; she was handing out apples to visiting players on behalf of the UW. He was a senior; she was a sophomore. He became the NFL’s No. 1 overall draft pick six months later; she was part of a group called the Husky Honeys, since disbanded.

“I know it sounds corny, but it was, you know, like love at first sight,” Bartkowski said.

Confirmed Arnason, “We really, really like each other.”

She would fly to California and watch him play again. They would talk daily on the phone. It was a November romance that made headlines, which brings us to 10 questions leading up to Saturday’s game …

  1. What happened to those football lovebirds?

Bartkowski lives near Atlanta, which was his NFL city for much of his career, has beaten colon cancer and is married—to someone else. Arnason, who was from Bellingham, lives in La Quinta, California—and is married to someone else, too. Their flirtation lasted about two months.

  1. OK, who gets the start for Washington at running back?

Last week, redshirt freshman Sean McGrew drew his first career start. This week, it’s a good bet that sophomore Salvon Ahmed pulls the game-opening assignment. Incumbent Myles Gaskin has a shoulder injury, something that doesn’t mend in a week or two, and he shouldn’t be in uniform for this one. Ahmed, on the strength of his 73-yard, one-touchdown output against Colorado and his blazing speed, should be ready to carry the load.

  1. Why is the UW 6-2 and not unbeaten?

The biggest reason, if injury indications remain true: No Trey Adams, Hunter Bryant, D.J. Beavers, Shane Bowman, Jordan Miller or Gaskin. That’s six starters lost, three on each side of the line of scrimmage. That’s a lot of manpower sitting idle, nursing wounds. Considering the amount of proven talent on the disabled list, 6-2 looks admirable.

  1. Who’s the Cal quarterback?

Ross Bowers, the junior from Bothell High in the Seattle suburbs, started much of last year and this season’s opener. Chase Garbers, a redshirt freshman, started last week against Oregon State and four times overall. Brandon McIwain, the transfer from South Carolina, plays a lot and has two starts. The answer is: Everybody but Bowers. The local kid has been deemed no longer mobile enough to take snaps. The other two guys now split the job.

  1. Could the Huskies get upset?

The answer is yes. This good but not great UW team is favored by 11 points but it’s not at full strength (see question No. 3), which makes it extremely vulnerable for a faceplant, especially with Gaskin in street clothes. He’s always been a calming influence for the Huskies in their time of need. History also gives Cal nearly a 50-50 shot at winning at home—the guys from Seattle lead this series just 26-21-1 at Memorial Stadium.

  1. Who will be the leading tackler in this game?

The easy answer would be the UW’s Ben Burr-Kirven, currently the nation’s second-leading tackler averaging 13.5 per outing. However, the mighty mite has some serious competition this Saturday in Cal linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk, who leads the nation in solo tackles with 59 and averages 12.3. It’s a game within a game to see who wraps up the most runners.

  1. What does Muhammad Ali have to do with this football match-up?

Bloodlines and tattoos. The late, great boxer’s grandson suits up for the Bears. He's redshirt freshman running back Biaggio Ali Walsh from, where else, Las Vegas. He’s appeared in three games this season and made a tackle and forced a fumble. He’s got a butterfly and a bee tattooed on him—paying homage to his grandpa’s famous line: Float like butterfly and sting like a bee.

  1. Why is this more like a home game for Jake Browning?

The UW quarterback grew up 98 miles up the I-80 freeway from Cal in the town of Folsom, home to 72,000 people and known for its famous prison. The last time he visited the neighborhood, Browning looked real relaxed calling signals, leading the Huskies to a 66-27 victory.

  1. In the city by the Bay, what can we expect for game conditions?

If this game was in Seattle, these teams would play in a steady drizzle. Ah, but this is California in late October, and the weatherman predicts a perfect football Saturday, calling for 70-degree temperatures. Which leads us to the final query …

  1. Who will win this battle of the two longest-running members of what is now the Pac-12?

The Huskies have a 54-39-4 edge in the series. They have Browning but no Gaskin while the Bears can’t settle on a quarterback. In the sunshine, these two will play a sloppy game because one team is missing a lot of important pieces and the other team doesn’t have a lot to begin with. Unlike 1974, love is not in the air. Washington 24, Cal 15.

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