Wednesday, August 29, 2007

AP: Cal playing for redemption in Vols rematch

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- Every three days or so, Lavelle Hawkins takes a deep breath and pushes "Play." The film of California's 35-18 loss at Tennessee last year flickers to life on his television.  And the Golden Bears receiver gets through maybe one quarter before turning it off, burning with frustration and humiliation.  "It hurts me so bad that we played so bad," Hawkins said. "I was so embarrassed. All that hoopla, and then we played as bad as we played. ... That was the most embarrassing loss I've played in in my life, and I've played a lot of ball. Oh my God, it makes me so mad."  Hawkins isn't the only Cal player who gets melodramatic about that particular game. Not many videos outside of a horror movie have caused as much consternation as Cal's football follies on that nightmare Saturday in Knoxville, when the Volunteers took a 35-point lead and coasted to a blowout win over the bewildered Bears.  The rematch finally arrives this weekend in Berkeley, and the 12th-ranked Bears believe it might be their only chance to shake the stigma of a loss that seemed to confirm every negative stereotype of West Coast football while casting doubt on a half-decade of rebuilding at Cal, which has risen from a perennial loser to a Top 25 fixture.

Coach Jeff Tedford acknowledges his Bears looked soft, defensively deficient and mentally weak. Their offense floundered with a new starting quarterback, while their secondary gave up a handful of big plays -- mostly against a freshman cornerback playing with a cast on his hand and 100,000 people screaming in his ear.  "That's the worst we've ever played," Tedford said. "In my five years, I don't ever remember looking up and being down 35-0. So we deserved it. ... It's not really revenge. If anything, it's redemption. It wasn't that we lost the game last year. I think it was the way we lost the game last year that was the devastating part of it, that hung with us so long."  Even after winning 10 games and a Pac-10 co-title and trouncing Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl last season, all California heard about during the summer was its season-opening loss to the Vols.

Tedford has a glazed look in his eyes after spending months reciting his disappointment in that trip to Tennessee, and his players heard about it everywhere they went in the offseason, from downtown Berkeley to their own hometowns.  "It's so annoying," offensive lineman Mike Tepper said. "Just because we lost our first game to a pretty good team doesn't mean we're a joke team."

Read the entire article here.

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