COLLEGE FB PACKAGE: Cal fans get free ride on Tightwad Hill

Updated: October 18, 2006, 9:34 PM ET
Associated Press

BERKELEY, Calif. -- The view from Tightwad Hill is a breathtaking panorama of the entire Bay Area. The verdant Santa Cruz Mountains roll toward gleaming San Francisco across the water, and the Golden Gate Bridge leads the eye to sparkling Marin County to the north.

Yet most people who make the short trek up this side of Strawberry Canyon on autumn Saturdays aren't here for the spectacular scenery. For more than 80 years, they've just been looking for the cheapest seats in Berkeley.

California football fans climb Tightwad Hill for its perch just above the rim of Memorial Stadium, where the Golden Bears have played since 1923 in this gorgeous niche on the east side of campus.

Anyone can watch the Bears for free from this vantage point. Just drop your blanket on the dusty hill, say hello to your fellow tightwads and enjoy the show -- and look out for the cannon to your right that's fired after every Cal score. It's been getting plenty of work this season for the 11th-ranked Golden Bears, who have a six-game winning streak and an explosive offense.

Fans eat, drink and get merry, but only in the mellow Berkeley spirit on hallowed ground that's been respected by several generations.

"After a game, you look up there, and it's spotless," said Bud "Dog" Turner, who oversees field security at Memorial Stadium. "They police themselves, and clean up after themselves. People claim their own areas, and they really respect each other."

Tightwad is nothing more than a few hundred square feet of tree-covered Charter Hill, at roughly the same height as the houses that rise above the stadium bowl on Panoramic Hill to the south. Turner said there were fewer trees on Tightwad a half-century ago; he has watched saplings grow into view-obstructing foliage and convenient perches for more fans.

But Tightwad Hill has become a gathering place for generations of Cal students, and their first hike is a rite of passage. Every serious Bay Area sports fan seems to have a story about watching Cal, an NFL exhibition game or a soccer match for free among hundreds of like-minded folks.

Green Day even wrote a song titled "Tight Wad Hill" for its 1995 album, "Insomniac" -- although the wildly popular East Bay band was describing a hillside with the same name, purpose and spirit above the band members' high-school football stadium in Crockett, Calif., a few miles away.

Turner has been in football operations at Cal since 1970, but got his start as an usher while still in high school in the 1950s. He has seen his share of wackiness across the way from his usual security post on the stadium's west side, where he can watch for any possible opposing scouts taking advantage.

But he says everything on Tightwad is grounded in the laid-back communal vibe that made Berkeley famous.

A few years ago, fans hauled two couches up the side of the hill for the season opener, and then left the furniture in place for each ensuing game. The couches weren't stolen or confiscated or even hijacked by other fans -- in fact, somebody brought a coffee table to complete the living-room set.

"They didn't dare move them," Turner said with a shrug. "They belonged to those people."

Because the fans on Tightwad are so orderly and respectable, campus security has few problems, even if occasional consumption of alcohol or other banned substances occurs out of sight.

During the week before a game against Utah several years ago, Turner saw two people wearing red -- the Utes' color -- sitting on Tightwad during practice. He dispatched an assistant to check it out.

"He came back and said, 'All they're doing is smoking pot," Turner said. "It's very Berkeley up there, believe me. We send some student managers up there, and maybe they see some sights they shouldn't see."

Even the cannon has an anti-authoritarian Berkeley history.

Before the 1963 Big Game, Cal's seniors bought a cannon that shoots out tiny bits of cardboard and a concussive blast after every Cal score. When the old Pac-8 Conference banned cannons in its stadiums in 1972, the students simply built a platform on Tightwad Hill and moved the cannon to its present perch.

The free rides on Tightwad Hill aren't confined to football, either. A few dozen yards along the hillside, music aficionados can see and hear concerts at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley's acclaimed open-air venue.

"I'd love to watch a game or a (concert) up there, but I'll wait until after I'm done playing," Cal offensive lineman Erik Robertson said.

Tightwad Hill will be waiting, because it's both a tradition and a way of life.

Cal's non-televised road game at Washington State was shown on the stadium scoreboard last week. Fans were allowed in for no charge -- but a few people stubbornly tramped up the hill to sit in their favorite dusty seats anyway.

"It's just a very cool thing about the school and the town," Turner said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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