Two days from clashing in the Holiday Bowl, the teams and staff from Cal and Texas enjoyed lunch Monday on the USS Boxer, an 844-foot long, 40,500 ton Navy ship that accomodates more than 3,100 crew and troops.
The Wasp-class large-deck multi-purpose amphibious assault ship, basically an aircraft carrier for helicopters, had plenty of room for the several hundred guests that included both team parties, as well as military dignataries and sailors.
The teams were escorted up the gangplank onto the ship, where they were greeted by officers and sailors. Both schools’ bands performed on Pier 13 to kick off the festivities.
The luncheon featured a series of speeches by blazer-wearing bowl hosts and their various sponsors, but the highlight was the presentation of the Admiral Grant Sharp Trophy, given to member of each program for unselfish commitment, ability to motivate and display of teamwork with little acclaim.
Players voted on the award and the Bears honored recruiting assistant Kevin Parker, an Oakland native, who serves as big brother and off-field mentor to Cal players.
“Very emotional. It means the world to mean,” Parker said a few minutes later. “I’m at the bottom of the totem pole, I think, at Cal. This shows me that everything I do is appreciated. My mom always told me your actions speak for themselves.”
Parker was raised by his single mom and graduated from Skyline High in Oakland. “My mom deserves all the credit for me,” Parker said.
He played tailback at Oregon, where the offensive coordinator was Jeff Tedford. Now Parker calls himself “a coach off the field in serving” Cal’s players.
“I do it for the guys,” Parker said. “They go through rough times and I need to be there for them because I went through it.”
Parker’s wife Melissa and their four children — Kevin, 14, Larry White, 13, Kevion, 11, and Jayden, 5 — were on hand to watch him accept an award he also was given at the Holiday Bowl in 2006. That was five years ago and an entirely different batch of players recognized Parker’s unsung contributions.
Parker said it was “breathtaking” when Cal’s players leaped to their feet to enthusiastically cheer when he came to the podium.
“I started crying when they stood up for me,” he said. I’ll probably be emotional for the rest of the day.”
Military bureaucracy: Those of us reporting on the luncheon had a bit more difficulty arriving at the Boxer. We were instructed to arrive before 10:30 a.m. at the Navy Base’s Pass and Decal office, so dogs could check our vehicles and we could be escorted to the ship.
Well, a couple of us arrived before the dogs and before the folks at the Pass and Decal gate were informed we were coming. So they sent us to Gate 6, which sent us on to Gate 9, which directed us to Pier 13.
We got there and were promptly asked to return to the Pass and Decal gate. Thankfully, a Navy officer on the scene decided it made no sense to send us back to Square 1 when we were just 50 yards from the ship.