Reprinted from the April, 2008 issue of The Bear Insider magazine based on an interview that occurred late February, 2008.
Part 1: Memorable Plays at Cal
A few years back, the movie Invincible treated football fans to the story of former Philadelphia Eagle Vince Papale, who, back in the 1970s, made the team out of nowhere after an open tryout, and - despite his small stature - instantly became a cult hero in the City of Brotherly Love.
Between 2002 and 2003, Cal football fans were treated to a similar story with Vincent Strang, an undersized wide receiver/punt returner who wowed the Golden Bear faithful with his heart, smart play and hard work.
Strang was recently drafted by Texas in the All-American Football League, a new six-team league set to begin play this spring. The Bear Insider recently caught up with Vinney for an update on his career.
Playing at Cal was a big thing for Strang. "It was invaluable for me," he said. "I got to meet some great people, and Coach (Jeff) Tedford was an inspirational coach. It was good to play for him and be part of his offense. I think that has opened up a lot more doors and opportunities afterward. Besides getting a degree from a great university, I also got to play for a great team."
For many Cal fans, three plays by Strang remain memorable. The first came in a 34-27 win over Washington on Oct. 5, 2002 at Husky Stadium, when Strang caught a 55-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Boller with six minutes left in the opening half to give the Golden Bears a 21-13 edge. Strang is best remembered for looking up at the JumboTron before scoring to see himself in the play.
"That was really exciting," he admitted. "I got thrown in the mix because a couple of guys went down. Coach (Tedford) came up to me and made sure I was ready to step into some big shoes. I was looking forward to the opportunity and once I got into the game, I got in a zone. I got out there, everything felt natural and getting the ball thrown my way was a lot of fun.
"Then, they called my number to go deep, (Kyle) Boller hit me in stride and I just remember running with the ball, looking up and seeing myself on the JumboTron, knowing I was going to score," Strang recalled. "They were in a Zone-2 coverage. The guy who was lined up on top of me was a linebacker and he didn't have any deep responsibility. So, I knew all I had to do was get in front of the safety. Once I made my break, I knew that the safety was out of position. The ball hit me right between the eight and the five and it was off to the races after that.
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"It was just an unbelievable feeling, and something I will never forget."
Strang's two other most memorable plays came in 2003. The first was in a 31-24 win at Illinois on Sept. 20, when he returned a punt 69 yards for a score with less than a minute left in the opening half to give Cal a 21-7 edge over the Fighting Illini.
"That was a big one for us," Strang said. "We were going back and forth and had lost our opener against Kansas State, got one against Southern Miss and lost two heartbreakers in a row to Utah and Colorado State only by a field goal each. That Illinois game was a turning point. We had been battling in the first half and at the end of the half, I knew I was going to get an opportunity to extend our lead.
"We were going for a block, didn't get it but I ended up getting the ball," he said. "I started going to the right and realized I was in trouble and reversed my field. I found a seam and ended up going 69 yards for a touchdown.
"That was a huge game for me and my most memorable play as a Golden Bear. To be able to make that play at that point of the game in that part of the season was like a spark. From then on, we had the confidence and motivation to continue. We got to be on ESPN. That was one of the best moments I remember."
In his final game at Cal, a 52-49 win over Virginia Tech in the 2003 Insight Bowl, Strang delivered yet another highlight-reel moment. After two end-arounds had resulted in little gain earlier in the evening, Tedford called the play again with 8:34 left and Strang scampered into the end zone from 13 yards out to give his team a 49-35 advantage.
"That was one of my favorite memories," Strang remembered. "We had run that play a couple of times and knew we were close to breaking it. Finally we did, at the best possible moment late in the fourth quarter, and I got in the end zone. A lot of Cal fans were there and the place erupted. It's so electrifying to be able to feel that and to have your teammates come and smack you on the head. I got to the sideline and couldn't breathe for like three minutes afterward because I was just so excited. To be able to do that in a bowl game was remarkable."
Tommorow, Part 2: Looking Back at Cal, Finding Inspiration
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