The 2013 Cal-Stanford Big Game Luncheon annually held the week of the Cal-Stanford Big Game was a rousing success – considering.
First, Stanford Head Football Coach David Shaw skipped the event for the second straight year. The last time Coach Shaw came up from The Farm to San Francisco for the Guardsman’s Fairmount Hotel mid-day party and charity to raise money for at-risk youth was 2011. That was his first year as Stanford’s head coach. In 2012, the Big Game was moved to the month of October, so both Coach Shaw and then Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford skipped the luncheon and sent in video messages.
But for 2013, The Guardsmen Luncheon producers expected Coach Shaw to come and were really miffed that he did not show up. “It’s about the tradition of the event,” one person said. “Coach is going to wreck that by not showing up. This is for a good cause!”
The reason Coach Shaw didn’t show up, those in the know say, is that the event cuts into practice time for The Cardinal. There’s a story of then-Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh coming up to the The Guardsmen Luncheon in 2010 and then getting back to The Farm six-hours later, rather than three hours later, and because the lunch went on a bit longer than it was supposed to, and then his limo driver drove down 101 rather than 280 (which would have got him back there much faster), thus catching the famously slow rush-hour traffic. Coach Harbaugh was reportedly cussing up a storm at the limo driver all the way.
Second, famed local actor and comedian Bob Sarlatte was not the master of ceremonies of The Guardsmen Luncheon for the first time in 32 years. But the reason wasn’t because The Guardsmen “booted” him, as was reported in another publication, but because Mr. Sarlatte refused to do it without his reportedly high fee – said to be equal to about 50 percent of the money raised from the luncheon.
I’m not kidding. It’s a sum so high my sources weren’t willing to give the actual figure.
The Guardsmen Luncheon was under what was said to me to be “new direction” and the person responsible didn’t want to pay Bob’s king’s ransom of a fee. The feeling was that everyone else is volunteering and has other jobs, and so Sarlatte should volunteer his time too – or at least take a lower fee.
So, absent his usual Big Game Luncheon compensation, Bob Sarlatte backed out. The result clearly upset some long-time Guardsman Luncheon attendees, all who have a clear affection for the nationally-known actor who was in Star Trek IV. Indeed, it may have contributed to the lower attendance total for this year. But for years I had assumed that since it was a charity event, Sarlatte did it for free – a tax write off. Not so.
This is not to slap Bob personally, but to explain what was communicated to me by people who don’t want to be identified – there are clearly very hard feelings all around.
The Guardsmen Luncheon producers then turned to their popular second choice: KNBR’s Damon Bruce. But then, just ten days later I’m told, Bruce had his now famous anti-woman-rant on-air meltdown, and that blew his Guardsmen Big Game gig. They called him and said “We’re sorry, we like you but we just can’t do this now,” or words to that effect.
Stuck without an MC, and with the clock ticking, Guardsmen members got involved in the search for a replacement, calling everyone they knew. Eventually, they managed to secure ABC Channel 7 Anchor Larry Beil, who was reportedly paid a small fee (especially compared to what Bob Sarlatte got) and just plain killed it in his debut today. Beil wrote his own jokes and left no stone unturned, even mentioning the Cal Football graduation issue, with Cal Athletic Director Sandy Barbour in the audience, just a few feet away. (The Guardsmen producers were so happy with Larry they asked him to come back for the 2014 luncheon.)
Third, and perhaps because Coach Shaw didn’t come (and may have communicated that to Stanford Alumns ahead of time) the audience was dominated by Cal people, including myself. One observer said that it seemed like “85 percent of the room” was Cal people. But I think that by not coming Coach Shaw and the Stanford Alumns who skipped cause the overall attendance to fall dramatically over 2010, the last time I attended the event.
Then it was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Fairmount Hotel; this time it was supposed to be there again, but because of the lower attendance was moved to the much smaller Gold Room. The lunch was about half the size it has been in the past. That’s really sad as it seems that the overall intent of the luncheon, which is to raise money for at-risk youth, is not being communicated. Something is clearly wrong when Coach Shaw skips out of it for the second year in a row (sending a 15 second video message that was met with a load chorus of boos from the Cal-biased crowd) and a large group of Stanford alums follows suit, or seem to have done so because Shaw elected not to come.
Sonny Dykes The Politician
I give Cal Head Coach Sonny Dykes high marks not just for coming, but also for sticking around to meet as many people as possible after the event was over. Coach Dykes should run for the U.S. Senate (hopefully, he’s a Democrat). He’s a truly nice person and engaging to talk with, especially about football strategy and about vertical set blocking, of which he’s an expert. Dykes is a guy I want to root for, and so I can say I’ve been won over.
The problems with Cal Football are clearly are on the defensive side of the ball, and I believe are due to bad schemes more than youth or lack of talent. Dykes needs a better defensive coaching effort than he’s received to date, but he also must shoulder the blame for selecting the staff and allowing that passive approach to be installed.