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College football’s steamiest rivalry heats up as Big Game nears

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The Bay Area’s most intense and storied rivalry will returnthis weekend, when the Stanford Cardinal football team travels to Memorial Stadium in Berkeley to take on the Cal Bears in the 109th staging of the Big Game.

The 10th longest rivalry in Division I football, the two teams will square off in hopes of retaining the "Axe," awarded to the victor after each meeting.

Following suit with years past, this week’s build-up to the Big Game has been marked by plenty of traditions, events and celebrations from both schools.

Stanford started the week by hosting a "Bearial" on Monday, a mock funeral for the Golden Bears’ mascot, Oski. The Stanford Band, dressed all in black, led a funeral procession through campus and read a eulogy in remembrance of their rival’s mascot, before impaling a stuffed bear on the "Claw" fountain in White Plaza.

Keeping in accordance with the school’s dislike for each other, the finished performance was greeted by a stirring round of applause from the onlookers.

Cal, not to be outdone, staged their annual Tree Chopping rally on Thursday at Sproul Hall on the Berkeley Campus, making timber out of the Cardinal’s beloved "Stanford Tree."

San Francisco plays a big role for both schools’ bands during the week’s festivities. Members of Stanford’s band launched an impromptu performance outside the St. Francis Hotel in Union Square before the annual Guardsmen Luncheon, a joint celebration of both schools. Various renditions of the Cal band will be playing tonight at Washington Square and other North Beach locations.

"Big Game week is all about seeing old faces and having a good time," said Steve Grealish, a 1976 Cal grad and owner of the North Star, a bar in North Beach. "There is a great atmosphere in The City for the game.

The two schools cap their week of tricks tonight on their respective campuses, with Cal hosting their annual Bonfire Party at the Greek Theater to celebrate the Big Game.

Stanford will present the final night of their stage production, "To Cal With Love" at Memorial Auditorium, a raunchy, raucous skewering of their neighbor to the north.

"Big Game week is obviously a great time for both schools," said Tom Maravilla, Stanford’s Bay Area alumni director. "It doesn’t matter what the records of the teams are, everyone will be having a good time."