NSC questions from early today are bit more serious and relevant to the Bulldog football team, but with San Jose State's moderate success this season, it has renewed a dying rivalry. And I had to ask, do Bulldog fans still hate San Hoser? Hawaii has risen up on the charts in recent years as the most hated rival. The Donks BCS run is sure to conjure up some more dislike for them. The old-timers will talk about San Diego State and Pacific, but take away the Marshall Faulk years and neither of those rivalries have meant anything to any Bulldog fan under the age of 30.
I first started following Bulldog football religiously in 1985. My first game was the 1982 Cal Bowl and subsequently went to all the home games in 1983 and 1984, but it was the success of 1985 that kept my attention, after all I was just in grammar school. As well, my uncle had a bunch of old Bulldog programs, pics, tickets and etc -- kept in his old room at my grandma's house -- which I found while digging for his stash of Playboys.
Despite paying little attention before 85, I do remember watching the post game interviews of 1984 game vs. SJSU at Spartan Stadium on TV. The 'Dogs had started the season 6-1 and lost 18-17 to the Spartans, which started a five game losing streak to close out 1984. The 1985 season is arguably the greatest in Fresno State history but SJSU was just 2-8-1 on the season and didn't pose a challenge, losing 37-17. However, 1986 Sports Illustrated Game of the Year, forever changed the FS-SJSU series.
Jim Sweeney had been cultivating JUCO talent in and around California to help build his rising program. The 1986 team had great JUCO's like Stephan Baker, Gene Taylor, James Williams, Jethro Franklin and Michael Stewart among others. But three JUCO's Sweeney didn't offer still haunt Bulldog fans to this day, QB Mike Perez, WR Guy Liggins and WR Lafo Malaulu.
The SJSU coach at the time, Claude Gilbert, was just as aggressive as Sweeney about JUCO's. Guy Liggins was one of the best college football receivers in the history of the game. Unfortunately, Liggins had a hear murmur that cut his pro career short and he died at the young age of 31. I still have nightmares of No. 83 streaking past the Bulldog secondary in his record breaking game of 86. He was part of the 1986 recruiting class, along with Perez.
Perez played JC ball right here Valley, at Taft. But was a complete under the radar guy! Fresno State made it through 1986 with an injured Kevin Sweeney at quarterback, but struggled in 1987 until Dave Telford emerged in mid-season. I can't help but think how good the 'Dogs could have been, if Sweeney would have signed Perez in 86. I really can't blame Sweeney, from what I am told, Perez's coach at Taft had to call in a favor to Gilbert at SJSU. Perez was an absolute stud in his two years at SJSU. The Perez-Liggins connection never lost to Fresno State, won consecutive PCAA titles and played in two Cal Bowls as the conference representative.
Need I bring up Lafo Malaulu's name again.
1986 game had more ups and downs than a Pat Hill news-conference. After the Bulldogs erased a 24-0 deficit to take a commanding 41-31 lead, the game seemed over when Jr. Bulldog safety Rod Webster intercepted Perez late in the fourth quarter. However, a freak injury inhibited Webster's return yardage and in turn changed the outcome of the game per se.
Webster, I believe, pulled a rib -- regardless it was some type of rib injury -- on his way to end zone. The pain was intense he had to completely stop and stumble out of bounds untouched. The 'Dogs failed to put the game away on its possession and we all know the rest! SJSU scores two touchdowns with just over two minutes left in the game. Perez shakes off Franklin's sack attempt and hits Malaulu's for the game winner with :18 left to play.
That game made the FS-SJSU rivalry the most intense and hated series in Bulldog football history. The winner of the game from 85-91 won the conference title and played in the Cal Bowl. At the time, I never thought the series would die. But it did, and aside from a few games early this decade, the FS-SJSU rivalry has had little flavor since the late 80's and early 90's.
SJSU fans still have hatred towards Bulldog fans, but for most Bulldog fans it is almost hard to "hate" San Hoser, when you can't help but feel sorry for them. I can't stand the Donks, and I don't have much love for the 'Bows, but a cocky bunch of San Hoser fans are still the most fun to hate.
I can't speak for the Fresno State-San Diego State rivalry of the 60's and 70's. Although it was renewed in 1992 -- when FS joined the WAC -- it didn't have the luster, in my opinion, because BYU ruled the WAC. It will take some good years for the SJSU-FS rivalry to pick up steam again, but this year is the most anticipated game between two, despite Fresno State's lack of success in 2006.
San Jose would love nothing more than to send Fresno State into the off-season with its worst record since 1978. And it seems for the first time since 1991, Fresno wants to desperately to beat San Jose State. SJSU Head Coach Dick Tomey doesn't have too many years left in him to coach, and unless Hill makes some changes he might not be around long enough to see the rivalry evolve once again. Hopefully, one school or another doesn't fall off the radar, and I really do mean that. A loss to San Hoser, will erase the three wins against against the WAC's St. Mary's Schools of the Poor, the Bulldogs work so hard to achieve.
In order for the changes Hill made post Boise to have any justification, the 'Dogs need to win and leave little doubt. A blow-out would be nice, but as long as San Jose doesn't pull a NMSU or LA Tech mistake late in the game to give the 'Dogs the game, I'll be happy with a close win. Granted SJSU has beaten just one team with a winning record, which happens to be IAA Cal Poly, the Spartans are still -4.5 favorites. Outside of the Utah State debacle, the Bulldogs have proven they can handle the WAC's doormats. The win over Nevada, gives the 'Dogs the edge in terms of WAC "quality" wins and beating San Jose State would "prove" Fresno State is the third best team in the WAC. It seems to be the one thing Hill can accomplish each and every, and that is finishing among the top three teams in one of the weakest conferences in college football.