Sunday, November 20, 2005

SF Chronicle: Levy's presence a gift for Cal, dad

Ray Ratto

Fate destined Steve Levy for special things, from the moment he was named Jewish Athlete of the Year as the star quarterback and linebacker at Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey.  This was an especially proud honor for him, considering that he is not Jewish.  Then again, he's been many things, just since he's come to Cal ... special teamer ... fullback ... backup backup quarterback ... and now, in his greatest stretch since that magical day four years ago when he became both Jewish and Italian Catholic, Big Game hero.  "Yeah, this is pretty amazing," Levy said with a luminous Mediterranean smile. "I could never have dreamed of something like this."  And yet, dreaming had nothing to do with his performance in Cal's 27-3 pounding of Stanford Saturday. Levy's game was guts and guile, presence and poise, and above all, doing nothing silly to make Jeff Tedford think he might have backed the wrong horse early Thursday morning by choosing Levy to start.

"Honestly, I had a hard time sleeping Wednesday night," Tedford said, "but in the morning, we just talked about it in the staff meeting and decided to go with him."   And now they will go with him to a bowl game worth going to -- "Yeah, I think we'll go with him again," Tedford said with that flatline look he has when he has been assaulted with a question that doesn't need answering.  

Levy's tale, notwithstanding the way he fell into Saturday's start and turned it into a shining moment in the history of this rivalry, is the classic story -- hard-nosed kid leads with his face and heart, becomes a big deal in Jersey, goes to Cal and gets everything but his spirit buried beneath the weight of numbers and non-opportunities. He got stuck behind Aaron Rodgers, wanted to become a linebacker and was told there were too many of those in front of him (plus at not quite the 6-1, 215 he is listed at, he probably wasn't imposing enough), then told Tedford he couldn't stand watching and became a special teams player.  Then, when Rodgers left to seek his fortune in Green Bay, Levy gave quarterbacking another try, but ended up third behind Nate Longshore and Joe Ayoob, then second behind Ayoob, and finally, on his father Mark's 49th birthday, first.   "I asked him two months ago what he wanted for his birthday, and he said, 'Start in the Big Game,' '' Levy said, laughing at the improbability of such a request. "So when I called him Thursday and told him I was starting, he started bawling right there on the phone. I told him I'd give him an even bigger present Saturday."   And because every once in a while life actually becomes a made-for-TV movie, he did. He hit DeSean Jackson with a 56-yard touchdown pass on the second possession of the game to give Cal a lead it never relinquished. He held his own through a fitful first half, then broke open the game with successive scrambles of 21 and 10 yards to set up Justin Forsett's 21-yard score, and controlled himself, the huddle, and the Stanford defense the entire way.

His numbers (10-for-18, 125, one TD, one pick) won't make you see the grandeur of his day, but Tedford saw it almost immediately.    "It was the way he took command of the huddle," Tedford said. "The way they broke the huddle, the way he ran the play clock, the way everyone went to the right places in the formation and nobody was looking around confused. That's the thing that impressed me most, that and he didn't make many mistakes for a guy who hadn't been out there."

Well, there was that one interception in the third quarter, but by then the tone of the day had already shifted irrevocably. Because Cal owned the line of scrimmage and blitzed Cardinal quarterback Trent Edwards and backup T.C. Ostrander into submission, Stanford would not score, or even threaten much beyond the one Michael Sgroi field goal.   Thus, while South Florida, Navy, Central Michigan, Colorado State and Utah all became bowl-eligible Saturday, the Cardinal became bowl very improbable, with Notre Dame standing between them and a 12th game. Indeed, this must surely have been their worst showing of the year against a non-Division I-AA opponent.   And Steve Levy had finally gotten the chance he doubted would ever come his way -- to prove to those who thought he had washed out at Cal that all he really had done was wait for his moment. "Just some people who thought I came out here and didn't do anything," he said, declining to identify his detractors. "It's no big deal."    Well, it is a big deal to him, otherwise he wouldn't have brought it up. Besides, now it's safe to bring it up, because he's got bragging rights that will never end.   I mean, nobody else in his neighborhood in Jersey ever had Keith Jackson look at him the night before a big game and say, "Well, ain't you somethin'?"   And nobody ever got to answer him the next day by saying, "Well yes, I'm a fullback and a wedge-buster and almost got to be a linebacker and now I'm officially Big Game lore, plus I'm Jewish and Italian Catholic, and I have the papers to prove it. So, yeah, I guess I am somethin' after all."  Sounds like more than plenty for anyone.



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