BERKELEY - It started with a phone call. Well, it actually started before the phone call, but I'll tell you about the phone call first.
It was 9:30 p.m. on Monday Aug.2, and I was upstairs reading and heard the phone ring downstairs in my office. By the time I got down there, the caller had hung up. I pressed the button on my answering machine and the caller was Cal football coach Jeff Tedford — Jeff Tedford? — asking me to phone him back no matter how late I got his message.
I knew what it was about. That afternoon Tedford had attended the Bay Area College Football Media luncheon and I had asked if he had anything to prove and he said, no. I wrote he did have something to prove and I wrote he came off complacent. The newspaper posted my column online. It could not have been there more than two hours — and here was Tedford calling.
So, I took a deep breath and phoned him back and he thanked me for calling and apologized for troubling me so late on a Monday night. As we spoke, I recalled how some other coaches might have handled this deal with anger and profanity and I remember thinking, "This is a real gentleman."
Tedford blamed himself for misinterpreting my question — took all blame on himself — and asked if we could try again, one-on-one, at my convenience in his office. Sure. And that's why I found myself a few days ago driving up to the trailer that is the Cal football headquarters while they re-do Memorial Stadium.
Tedford came out in a gold Golden Bears T-shirt and in a hearty voice — an athlete's voice — said hello and he shook my hand and ushered me into his office.
I said, "Jeff, let's do it again. Do you have anything to prove?"
He smiled at being hauled back to the beginning and said, "I don't wake up in the morning thinking, "What do I have to prove today?' I'm not entering this season with the thought on my mind that we have to do something to fulfill a need of mine. I would like to recognize our full potential to make everybody happy."
He meant — and I believe him — the focus is on the team, not on him. And he revealed, without meaning to, he is a normal person, normal ego — no NFL coach's ego.
Don't misunderstand. He understands he is Jeff Tedford and he knows what that means. The regular guy in him looks at the coach he is with a certain awe.