BERKELEY -- The last time the California football team took the field at California Memorial Stadium, the stands were all but empty, the rain was falling and a disappointing 5-7 season was coming to a close with a loss to Washington.
629 days later, the Bears once again took the field at their old home, and as the mist burned off and the eyes opened wide, every member of the program realized one thing: You really can come home again.
"It feels like it's been so long since we've been in here, to practice in here again, it feels like forever," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "They're really excited about being in here. We always talk about our house, about owning our house, and it takes on a new meaning when we actually get into our house."
Bud "Dog" Turner -- who saw his first game at the age of 11 and is now in his 43rd season with the program -- said, "When I first saw this stadium in 1947, the Navy game, I thought it was the most beautiful stadium in the world. I went out there today -- and it's better."
"One of the things that I want to make clear to them is that this is beautiful, this is great -- but the product that goes out there, between the lines, is the important part," Tedford said.
The order of the day for Cal -- once the Bears got passed all the ooh's and ah's -- was getting familiar with the new Matrix Turf. Starting tailback Isi Sofele -- for one -- was more than satisfied.
"It's beautiful," Sofele said. "I came out here, got the goosebumps. We did our little chant - 'Who's house is this? Our house!' - and we were doing ti with a lot of excitement. To see everyone out here again, it feels like my freshman year, when we came here. I love to be back out here."
Starting wide receiver Keenan Allen was a bit disappointed that he couldn't replicate his freshman antics of high-fiving fans in the end zone -- due to the lower-by-four-feet field level -- but he's nothing if not resourceful.
"I was thinking about the Lambeau Leap," Allen smiled.
The first day in Memorial was like Christmas in August for the Bears, and seemed to bring out the kid in just about everyone - from Kameron Krebs and others imploring team staffers to take photos of them with their cell phones to Sofele, who said the new turf made him feel darn near Olympian.
"I feel like Usain Bolt out here," Sofele smiled. "Faster. I feel fast out here. Our wide receivers, everybody else, all the backfield guys, we're looking faster out here. It just feels good. It just feels good to be back."
The Matrix Turf used at Memorial Stadium still has some tweaks to be made, but the skill position players were near unanimous in their praise of the quicker surface.
"It feels pretty good," Allen said. "I feel really excited to be in here for the first day. It felt good. My routes were pretty good. I came out slipping a bit to start off practice, but as we kept going, we got a feel for it."