Tomey did a number on trying to re-invigorate it when he was here. I remember the game in 2006 being a big deal to him and the team, even after they got the NM Bowl bid. And the game in 2008 was a very big deal I know for both teams - SJSU with 6 wins, basically a bowl on the line. I remember a lot of jawing between coaches, and between players and coaches during that game.
I wonder how much hiring Pat Hill would have immediately made the game matter more to both teams. The fact is, since the Tomey era, the rivalry has been a bit more balanced. 7-5 Fresno since 2006, and in those stretches both teams have seen arguably their best and their worst teams in program history. But ultimately, to make the game matter to the coaches and players, we need more stretches like this...
SJSU-Fresno St. rivalry renewal
By MONTEREY COUNTY HERALD | email@example.com |
PUBLISHED: December 4, 2006 at 12:00 am | UPDATED: September 12, 2018 at 12:00 am
SAN JOSE — To everyone who saw it, including a cable-television audience, it was as if San Jose State”s Claude Gilbert and Fresno State”s Jim Sweeney had lost their minds.
There they were, two highly successful, middle-aged football coaches, madly waving white towels to rally their teams. The other obvious intent: getting under each other”s skin.
And everybody loved it. That is, except for Gilbert”s mother, who called the following morning and scolded her son for his behavior.
“That was one of those you-get-caught-up-in-the-moment deals,” said Gilbert, now 74, of SJSU”s 20-16 victory in 1987. “You wanted to win those games so badly, you”d do just about anything.”
For generations, the San Jose State-Fresno State rivalry was as intense as anything on the West Coast.
But since 1990, the rivalry has been mostly a dud. The Spartans have lost 12 in a row and only three of those games were decided by less than a touchdown.
San Jose State”s resurgence could quickly breathe life back into a series that dates to 1921.
The New Mexico Bowl-bound Spartans (7-4, 4-3 Western Athletic Conference) are favored on Saturday against the Bulldogs (4-7, 4-3). That”s the first time that has happened in years.
“In my mind, San Jose State used to have a rivalry with Fresno. But we no longer do because we haven”t competed,” said coach Dick Tomey, whose introduction to the game was a 45-7 drubbing last season. “It”s our job to make this a rivalry again.”
The rivalry was most intense during a 10-year stretch beginning in 1981. There was something for everyone: competitive games (both teams won five times), colorful personalities, memorable plays, unbelievable comebacks and heartbreaking finishes.
“Those were really great games,” said Sweeney, who coached 19 seasons at Fresno State until 1996 and went 8-8 against the Spartans. “They were always knock-down, drag-out battles. San Jose and Fresno State hated each other.”
Gilbert, the SJSU coach in 1984-89, said, “In our minds, we thought our game was bigger than Ohio State-Michigan. It sure seemed like it in those days.”
The winner of the game was the conference champion seven times, including every season from 1986-90. SJSU won the title four times (1981, ”86, ”87 and ”90).
“It was always the biggest game,” said Mike Perez, SJSU”s starting quarterback in 1986-87. “It didn”t matter what happened the week before or in the weeks after. What you did against Fresno is how you were measured.
“It made fans crazy, coaches and the administration got all wound up. The players were probably the calmest people.”
The rivalry really took off in 1986 when the Spartans scored 14 points in the final 42 seconds for an improbable 45-41 victory. Sports Illustrated called it the college football game of the year.
SJSU was coming off a 2-8-1 season and was just 2-2 when Fresno State rolled into Spartan Stadium with a No. 19 ranking and the nation”s longest unbeaten streak (15).
With a record-crowd of 28,158 looking on, the Spartans took a shocking 24-0 lead. Then they gave up 31 unanswered points. With less than two minutes remaining, Fresno State went ahead 41-31.
Fans began to return when Perez threw a touchdown pass to Guy Liggins with 42 seconds left to make it 41-38. Then Chris Alexander recovered the subsequent onside kick and three plays later, Perez shook off a near-sack and found Lafo Malauulu in the end zone for the winning score.
“The way we came back was almost a miracle,” Gilbert said.
Sweeney, the guy SJSU fans loved to hate — and still do — raised the stakes the following season. He was still incensed about SJSU”s comeback and vowed revenge on the Spartans and his friend, Gilbert. He tried to fire up his players by racing them out of the locker room tunnel to the sideline, but wound up pulling his hamstring.
The towels came out late in the third quarter after Fresno State took a 9-6 lead. Sweeney said he wanted to get the crowd of more than 35,000 excited, so he started waving a white towel. SJSU took a 13-9 lead minutes later, and Sweeney didn”t let up — and the mild-mannered Gilbert didn”t appreciate his theatrics.
“At first I didn”t know what was going on, but there was all this noise,” Gilbert said. “Finally I look over at coach Sweeney and his towel-waving act. A player ran up behind me and handed me a towel, so I started waving it and I”m yelling across the field trying to get his attention.”
Sweeney said, “I did that a lot, not just the San Jose State game, but that was the last time. Everybody in the world is waving towels now, so I”m a trend-setter.”
SJSU held on for a 20-16 win.
But then the Bulldogs began to get the upperhand in the rivalry.
“A rivalry is not a rivalry when somebody is whipping somebody every year,” SJSU running back Yonus Davis said. “We want to make it what it was in the past.”