In The Doghouse
COVID-19 has certainly made this a different season for the Cal football team.
But even without a once-in-a-century global pandemic, the 2020 season would have just felt a little off for the Golden Bears.
For the first time since 1969, Bud "Dog" Turner is not around for a Cal football season. Turner worked in a variety of indispensable roles for 50 years before he passed away in September at the age of 84. From equipment to operations to security, Turner was a mainstay in the program dating back to Ray Willsey's tenure as head coach.
"What's hard is it feels like we lost him yesterday, still," said Cal Assistant Athletic Director for Football Administration Andrew McGraw, who has served on Cal's football staff for 22 years. "I think the uncertainty of the world right now and the ability for all of us to grieve together and properly has made this harder than probably it normally would have."
The Bears will play their first home game without Turner since 1969 on Friday, when they host Stanford in the 123rd Big Game. It will certainly be an adjustment. While Turner undertook important roles with the program, it was his character and personality that will leave the biggest mark on the team. Turner would make sure to greet every member of the team and staff on gamedays with his patented fist-bump exchange and phrase, "It's a great day to be a Bear."
"He would make sure to connect with every single person associated with the program," McGraw said. "Missing that will definitely be noticed."
During the last several years of his time with the program, Turner served as security for Cal practices. During times when practices were closed to the public, it was Turner who would shoo away wannabe spectators at California Memorial Stadium. With practices open, Turner would pass out rosters to fans from his usual perch in his chair at the opening of the north tunnel of the stadium.
The team has left Turner's chair in its place this season as a reminder of his presence, and the entire team walks by it as it takes the field for every practice and game.
"Everything has completely changed from what we are accustomed to, and the most heartbreaking change of all this year is when we finally take that walk toward the field and turn the corner and Dog isn't there," McGraw said. "For the first couple weeks, I was finding myself getting emotional and tearing up when I'd turn the corner and see an empty chair there."
With no fans allowed at games this season, Cal is holding off on an official recognition of Turner's life and vast contributions to the program. But it is still honoring him in other ways until then. Along with his chair being preserved, the program had T-shirts made with the word "Dog" and a picture resembling Turner's fist bump accompanied by the phrase, "Great Day To Be A Bear." The logo from the T-shirt has also been added to the back of the players' helmets for the season.
Considerations are also in the works to name the north tunnel after Turner and include a plaque in his honor.
"Cal was a perfect fit for him," said former Cal head coach Mike White, who was classmates with Turner at Acalanes High School in Lafayette and became a lifelong friend. "He threw himself right into the Cal scene. He made more jobs available than were even available. I don't think he even had a job description. He made a job. He was always on top of something."
Turner was a beloved figure to players, coaches and staff alike. McGraw said over 50 former players have reached out to him inquiring about obtaining a Dog T-Shirt, including Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
"He was so loyal," White said. "He was obviously loyal to me as a friend, but he never had an agenda or was trying to glamorize what he represented or the amount of years he invested in the program. Cal's had some ups and downs, and he was one of those kind of people that saw the bright side of everything."
McGraw said the program is tentatively planning a formal memorial for Turner once social distancing requirements have been lifted. The team is hoping for some kind of event next fall.
"Dog was with us every step of the way - practice, games and road trips," Cal linebacker Kuony Deng said. "He was a light to all of us. He reminded us to be thankful every day when we walked through that tunnel. It's tough not having him physically with us, but we know he's still with us in spirit."