"In fact, the Plunkett-less 1971 season turned out better than almost anyone associated with the program could dare to dream. Anyone, that is, except the players and Coach John Ralston. The ‘new' quarterback that year was Don Bunce, who would cap his Stanford football career by being named 1972 Rose Bowl MVP. Not bad for a new guy."
Joyously, the new guy back then ended that season Rose-Bowl bound. That's exactly what the new, new guy is doing today.
While this year's newbie didn't get the starting nod until well into the season, you can say he made the most of his opportunity in a compressed time frame. What's more, Kevin Hogan is unbeaten. Since they fought off UCLA in the conference championship game, for the second time in six days, Hogan and his mates find themselves breathing the rarefied air redolent of roses, a fragrance that eluded more celebrated Stanford teams in the recent past.
So what was our deal this year? We return to the parallels of the season we recalled in August. Just like the 1970 team was identified with another quarterback who spurned the NFL Draft to return for one more season of schoolboy ball, the 2011 Stanford team was headlined by an equally tough act to follow for any would-be successor. And just as Bunce stepped up to lead his team to the Bowl you play for in this conference, Hogan ran in Bunce's footsteps with pinpoint passing and cool-headed instincts. It was a beautiful sight, even if late-arriving.
The '71 outfit relied on a fierce, suffocating defensive front, not unlike the Stanford team that will take the field next month. (Opponents in 1971 averaged 12.3 PPG.)
The "Thunderchickens" were as good anybody and held a rugged Bo Schembechler offense to one touchdown and a lone field goal in the 1972 Rose Bowl. For its part, Stanford too was limited to a single touchdown that afternoon. But with the game on the line in the final two minutes and Bunce dropping back, rolling right, rolling left, and firing darts to sure-handed receivers and backs (when he wasn't taking off and running on his own), and the clock blinking down to just enough time for a game-winning field goal, you can imagine the collective blood pressure on the Schembechler sideline. And the giddy, if tense, air of anticipation on the other.
Funny, we can picture another quarterback in this kind of situation against another Big Ten champ this New Year's Day. Dropping back, rolling right and left. Bootlegging. Or pulling it down and ripping off yardage underneath. We've seen it before, in crunch time. We've seen it since Hogan took the reins and we've marveled at the sight.
We've also seen The Kick(s). Rod Garcia, the placekicker in the ‘71-'73 campaigns, was the goat of one of 1971's more forgettable games, missing three makeable field goals in a stunning 13-12 loss to San Jose State. As fate would have it, this would be the score of the ‘72 Rose Bowl that Stanford would win by virtue of the same toe. Jordan Williamson, plagued by Garcia Syndrome in another infamous game, will now be booting on the same sod as did his own predecessor in that Rose Bowl twilight long ago, brought to you in living color on NBC (cue the peacock). While we certainly hope for a more comfortable margin of victory this time around, we have no problem visualizing the same heroics should it get dicey. We'd get a kick out of it.
So, whether you'll be using a computer screen, a plasma screen or sunscreen in Pasadena, here's a New Year's wish for the Cardinal to ring in a victorious new year, a la 1972. Hey, history does have a way of repeating. And, yes, it was truly the ‘70s: the Thunderchickens wore white shoes.
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