In the first game of the Jeff Tedford era, in August 2002, Cal scored 70 points.
The Bears ran a trick play on the first play, scored a touchdown and proceeded to smash Baylor 70-22 before 27,000 delighted fans in Memorial Stadium.
Fast forward a decade, to Saturday night. Bruised, battered and overwhelmed, the Bears staggered through their worst loss of the Tedford era -- a 59-17 thumping by Oregon that raised questions Old Blues have been asking on and off for several years:
What happened? How did Tedford's program, once the second-best in the West, get so far off course?
The Bears (3-8), who went bowling every year from 2003-09, will miss the postseason for the second time in three seasons.
They have lost ground to teams they used to dominate, including archrival Stanford.
Their offense, at one time the envy of the conference, is ineffective.
And Tedford, a two-time Pac-12 coach of the year -- the man who resurrected Cal football -- could be out of a job after Saturday's season finale at Oregon State.
"Jeff's a victim of his own success," said former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who employed Tedford as offensive coordinator from 1998-2001. "They were dead in the water, and he immediately made them competitive.
"But there's an adage that every year you coach, you lose 10 percent of your support. After 10 years, you have to do something extraordinary like change the offense or win a championship."
Tedford almost got to the Rose Bowl -- in 2004 and 2006.
The Bears were almost ranked No. 1 -- in 2007.
Since the middle of that season, when a victory over Oregon State would have catapulted the Bears to No. 1, they are 34-36.
It would be easy to attribute their demise to one thing. It would also be inaccurate.
This season, the deficiencies are obvious: The injuries are unprecedented in scope; quarterback Zach Maynard has struggled on and off the field; the offensive line is in shambles; the defensive line is mediocre; the coaches haven't figured out how to best use dynamic tailback Brendan Bigelow.
But expand the time frame to include the past three years, and another layer of problems comes into view: The lack of continuity on the coaching staff, especially at the vital position of offensive coordinator; the ever-growing number of blowout losses; poor recruiting at key positions; and ineffective quarterback play. Tedford, the purported quarterback guru, hasn't produced an all-conference passer since Aaron Rodgers in 2004.
And yet those explanations are unsatisfying -- more symptom than cause. Why have the quarterbacks struggled? Why do the coordinators change so frequently? Why are the Bears blown out so often?
It starts in Tedford's office, where he spends about 90 hours per week grinding away, concocting plays and breaking down film.
It wasn't that way initially. The team Tedford inherited from Tom Holmoe was largely devoid of leadership and accountability, and he invested a substantial portion of his time on team-building exercises. But once an emotional foundation was laid, Tedford settled into the role he prefers -- that of a mad scientist dissecting opponents and devising game plans.
The risk in that approach is becoming disconnected from many of the day-to-day issues that affect a team.
Tedford was, by his own admission, slow to respond to the chemistry problems that were fueled by receiver DeSean Jackson and derailed the 2007 season.
He has been, by his own admission, slow to realize the impact social media has on recruiting.
His handling of Maynard's suspension was, at best, baffling.
Why wait until the season opener against Nevada to punish Maynard (for one quarter) for missing a tutoring session months earlier? Why not handle it swiftly and severely at the time of the transgression? And why keep it secret from the players, especially backup quarterback Allan Bridgford, who was told the day before that he would start the most-anticipated home game in ages (with the opening of the renovated stadium)?
Cal played as if it were shellshocked, lost the game and hasn't been right since.
Tedford's focus on tactics, at the expense of chemistry, also helps explain why the Bears have suffered 15 blowout losses (17 points or more) in the past four years -- a far higher rate than any program that could reasonably be considered a peer.
When adversity surfaces, especially on the road, players must trust their coaches and themselves; leaders must provide inspiration and hold others accountable.
Cal is, far too often, deficient in those vital areas.
But even something as significant as poor chemistry pales in comparison to the Bears' greatest problem over the past half decade:
The lack of an identity on offense.
When Tedford arrived in Berkeley, he installed the same pro-style offense he coached at Oregon: Use the run to set up the play-action passing game, with the quarterback primarily positioned in the pocket. The approach worked masterfully with Kyle Boller and Rodgers.
But Tedford eventually felt compelled to tweak his offense. He began taking plays and formations from other teams and adding them to Cal's playbook -- to the point that the Bears' essence got lost in the clutter.
Stanford's identity is apparent: Ball control, power running, play-action.
Oregon's identity is obvious: Zone read out of the spread formation, warp speed.
USC's identity is clear: Pocket passing, play-action.
But watch Cal on a regular basis and you'll see pro-style passing and some spread option running and some stationary pocket and some moving pocket. Tedford is forever tweaking, forever grasping -- and forever adding to a playbook that is too much for his quarterbacks to process.
Whether it's Joe Ayoob or Nate Longshore, Kevin Riley or Brock Mansion, Maynard or Bridgford, the results have been the same:
Touted quarterbacks fail to meet expectations because the information overload created by Tedford's voluminous playbook prompts them to short-circuit during the heat of the game -- when overthinking is the last thing a quarterback should be doing.
Tedford's constantly changing offense -- and his hands-on approach to tactics -- creates a difficult situation for his assistants. Is it any wonder that the Bears burned through six offensive coordinators in eight years? The lack of continuity brings an incalculable cost.
From the lack of identity on offense, so many problems flow:
The voluminous playbook confuses the quarterbacks.
The constant tinkering creates an inordinate amount of staff turnover, which adds to the burden on the quarterbacks.
The staff turnover also leads to the misuse of personnel and lack of chemistry between players and assistants.
The erratic quarterback play leads to sputtering offense, which creates the potential for blowout losses.
Like the one we saw Saturday night.
For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports.