BERKELEY -- Saturday's grand reopening of Cal's upgraded Memorial Stadium went off like clockwork and just as advertised.
Sunshine! Banners! Alumni! Students! More women's toilets! Ribbon-cutting! Concession stands with freshly cooked hot dogs! Marching band! More men's toilets! Fight song! Smoke-filled team entrance! Cheers!
Then the football game started. And the exclamation points left the building.
The grand reopening turned into ... um, not exactly a going-out-of-business sale. But definitely a going-home-wondering-what-the-heck-happened bummer. Nevada outplayed Cal and upset the Bears 31-24. That was definitely not part of the script.
"The new stadium is nice," said Cal quarterback Zach Maynard afterward. "But we've still got to win games. There's no excuse for us to have a game like this."
There were no protesters in the trees arguing with him about that.
Such a shame. After eight years of meticulous planning and anticipation and controversy leading to Saturday's big unveiling, the idea was for Cal to polish off the story with a victory over a solid but hardly awesome Nevada outfit. Instead, the sellout crowd of 63,186 had to content itself with soaking up the gorgeous atmosphere and trying to forget the final result.
The scene, on a crisp and bright afternoon, was indeed beauteous. The rebooted stadium is an absolute delight to behold. The $321 million renovation is a splendid reinvention of the Bay
All that is gone. The seats are all new and aluminum, some with seat backs. The concourses are bright and three times as wide as the old ones. There are club-level lounges with multiple televisions tuned in to college games across the country.
The stadium is famously built above the Hayward Fault and the retrofit will allow for up to six feet of sideways movement during a quake. In one concourse corner, therefore, concessionaires have labeled one hot dog stand "The Fault Line" because it does, yes, adjoin the fault line.
There is one odd non-improvement. Portable toilets are still needed on the walkway above the east rim of the stadium, where 18 sections have no interior concourse because they're built into the side of Tightwad Hill (which also remains, thankfully). Guess some traditions die hard.
Yet even with that caveat, the new Memorial Stadium immediately becomes the best football venue in California, college or pro. The only other contenders (at least until the new 49ers facility is finished) are Stanford Stadium (which is smaller and less classic than Memorial Stadium) and the Rose Bowl (which is classic but has worse sightlines and way fewer restrooms).
All of this is why, before the game, the mood was so buoyant. A large yellow sash was stretched across the 50-yard-line. Giant scissors were wielded by Cal Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and several major donors to the project.
"It gives me goose bumps," said Wally Haas, representing the family that has been so generous to Cal athletics over the years.
Haas recalled the first time he walked into Memorial Stadium as a child with his late father, Walter A. Haas Jr.
"I've been coming here since I was 5 years old," Wally said. "I'm channeling him today."
He touched on a point that is, for certain, a trademark of college football crowds compared with, say, NFL crowds. In the stadiums, college crowds are always more multigenerational. It's no stretch to say that at Saturday's game, 20 percent of spectators were probably there with either a parent or grandparent. Or both.
However, any sports fan of any generation should want to attend at least one game at the new Memorial Stadium, simply as a bucket-list experience. It's a tossup whether sellouts can continue there. The college game has trouble gaining traction in a Bay Area sports market besotted with pro teams. To keep filling seats in Berkeley -- and pay off the millions in debt incurred for the project -- a winning team is all but mandatory.
Which brings us back to, ahem, Saturday's inopportune football performance by the Bears and head coach Jeff Tedford.
Saturday should have been a triumph for him. After orchestrating a turnaround of Cal football after his 2002 hiring, Tedford had lobbied heavily for facility improvements.
Well, he's got them now.
In addition to the stadium upgrades, there's a state-of-the-art training center. Theoretically, this will make it easier to recruit athletes and produce victories. But after Saturday's defeat, Tedford has lost 16 of his last 28 games. No one at Cal has said his job is in imminent jeopardy. But the rest of this season can't go the same way as Saturday, which explains the expression on Tedford's face -- he looked like a man who'd spent three hours licking sandpaper -- after the final play.
"I'm sorry we didn't play better and let the fans down," Tedford said. "We have to get back to work. This was a setback."
He needs to create exclamation points and fewer question marks. New restrooms can only keep people excited for so long.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com or 408-920-5092.