A chartered Boeing 777 touched down at Sydney airport on Monday morning, delivering the California Golden Bears and team officials in Down Under for their much-anticipated opening college football game of the season on Saturday against Hawaii.
The 14-hour flight left San Francisco just after midnight Saturday night. The 100-plus players and coach Sonny Dykes, who were greeted by cheerleaders as they walked off the plane, missed the remainder of Sunday when they crossed the International Date Line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
No worries, the Golden Bears will pick up that time when they return to the U.S. after the game, arriving back in California earlier in the day than their time of departure from Sydney, due to the 17-hour time difference in their favor.
Organizers say Saturday’s midday game – prime time Friday night in the U.S. – at Sydney’s Olympic stadium is expected to attract a crowd of more than 65,000.
Hawaii had less time in the air, 10 1/2 hours from Honolulu. Former Rainbow Warriors quarterback Nick Rolovich, making his debut as head coach, and his team arrived Sunday. It will be the seventh straight year that Hawaii has opened against a Pac-12 opponent, and Hawaii is 2-4 in that span.
Hawaii has had six Australians on its roster in the past, and this year’s squad includes Sydney native and first-year defensive lineman Max Hendrie.
Dykes planned to keep the players up Monday to get them used to the time difference, and what better way than to schedule a practice within three hours of their arrival.
The rest of the week will include a public reception Tuesday at the Opera House and morning meetings followed by noon practices most days, leaving the players free time in the afternoon and evening. There will be a Cal team trip to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
“This is my senior year and I’m here to win a football game,” quarterback Davis Webb said before the team left California. “That’s the way I’m approaching it. I’ll walk around Sydney, see the culture and embrace it and maybe eat lamb because everybody talks about that.”
Webb, who Dykes has already named as starting quarterback, is one of the key Cal additions this year, replacing Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams.
A graduate transfer from Texas Tech, Webb played in 23 games with 14 starts over three seasons, with career totals of 5,557 yards and 46 touchdowns. He’s enrolled in Cal’s public health masters program.
Dykes says he and the team are embracing the trip. Some of the players had never left the U.S., so organizing passports was among the preparations needed for the season opener.
“When you have an opportunity as an 18-year-old to go across the world to a different continent, see a completely different culture, explore a place you might never have had an opportunity to explore, just the impact that can have on your life is great,” Dykes said before leaving. “The value of that, you can’t determine that.”
The game, with Cal designated as the home team, will be the first college football game played in Sydney and the first significant American football game played in Australia since 1999. Then, the Denver Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 20-17 on Jason Elam’s 30-yard field goal on the final play of the game in the preseason American Bowl. Also played at the Olympic stadium, that game attracted more than 73,000 spectators.
It is the first college football game to be played in Australia since Brigham Young defeated Colorado State in 1987 in Melbourne. A crowd of 7,652 watched BYU’s 30-26 win at the 32,000-seat Princes Park stadium, far less than the 20,000 organizers had hoped.
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