Friday, February 16, 2007


I can't say I was there for the 5-OT game with Oregon in 1977, which we detailed earlier this week. But I was absolutely there at Harmon to witness the most notorious game in the 126-game history of the Cal/Oregon State rivalry.

January 7, 1990. The Cake Incident.

To set the incident up, you have to appreciate that Oregon State was one of Cal's true basketball nemeses. From 1978 until tipoff that day (twelve seasons), Cal had beaten Oregon State six times. Even the dip in OSU's program following the retirement of Ralph Miller couldn't change our fortunes. Cal fans didn't hate the Beavers, but they feared and respected them as the destroyer of post-season hopes.

That all changed when Oakland's own Gary Payton chose to matriculate to Corvallis in the late 1980s.

Payton's reputation has undergone plenty of shifts over the years, but at that time he was reviled as a showboating, trash talking punk. That he barely considered Cal during his recruitment was another thorn in the sides of Bear fans. Finally, the entire Payton clan would descend annually on Harmon to cheer on the Beavers near their bench, but right in the middle of an otherwise pro-Cal crowd.

In 1990 Cal had legitimate expectations of securing its first NCAA tournament bid in thirty years. The Bears came in 9-3, with their losses coming on the road at UNLV, Purdue and Arizona, and they had just crushed Oregon 95-72 two days earlier. Oregon State was 13th ranked in the country, and this figured to be the first showdown game of the season.

And then Oski came out, wobbling a bit and shaking his fist at the Oregon State bench. I remember the first thing that popped into my head.

Oski's wasted.

At halftime of a pretty close game, Oski brought out a cake - a big two-layer cake topped with elegant frosting. He brought it around the circumference of the court, and Cal students - who had no idea why Oski had a cake in the first place - roared their drunken approval.

Then he brought it to the other side of the court, where the Payton clan sat. He gestured to the Paytons, and Mama Payton took the bait. Jumping to her feet, she seemed to dare Oski to throw the cake at her. Why, I have no idea. But she did, and the small, inebriated person inside the Oski costume played along.

And then Oski threw the cake.

I have no idea who was wearing the suit that day, but whoever it was set back Oski a generation with a single toss. The cake missed Mama Payton and landed on Gary's father and his brother, a minister. All hell broke loose - the Cal section went wild. So did the Paytons. Embarrassed Cal officials offered towels, but the Paytons were having none of it. They wanted Oski's blood.

The game was an afterthought; OSU won, as expected, and Cal had no answer for Payton. Oski was suspended, and chained to a new code of conduct that forbade the use of alcohol, among other things. At his next Harmon appearance following the suspension, our favorite Bear came marching out with a halo affixed to his head, never again to be the same.


At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a great story. I wish I could have experienced that.

At 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hilarious, I remember when it happened but you did a great job setting it up.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In trying to console myself after yesterday's football loss to OSU (10/13/07), this hilarious incident came to mind. So I went searching on the net for info. Your post is absolutely accurate (yes, I was there!). Thanks for bringing back the memories of boisterous, stinky, wonderful Harmon and rowdy, fearless Oski!

At 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend of mine was in Rally Com that year, and was at that game. He recalls that the cake was a birthday cake for a member of the Cal band. I think Oski put it to better use.

At 3:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My memory of that game was sitting across the gym from the students. I recall (correctly or otherwise, I've been unable to confirm) that Payton had a TERRIBLE first half and the Cal fans were getting on him pretty hard. I was thinking "Oh no, just be quiet. This is NOT Reggie Miller. You're only going to get him back in the game". And that they did and that he carried OSU to the victory.

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