See if you can detect a pattern here, fellow Cardinalmaniacs:
Waaay back in September of pre-cellular, pre-social network, pre-Watergate Nixonian 1970, I was harboring serious hopes for a Stanford Rose Bowl.
Rose Bowl. Say it soft and it's almost like praying. I harbored such thoughts, but felt they were nowhere near safe harbor. Being a Stanford fan and all, I had my doubts. Let's just say I wasn't ready to bet my San Jose State tuition money on seeing my beloved Indians in Pasadena. And tuition at State was all of fifty or sixty bucks back then. Which, now that I think about it, would have bought five or six cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon at F&P Liquors on Santa Clara between Ninth and Tenth ...But I digress.
So what happened to Stanford Football in 1970? Well, you know what happened.
A year later, my rose-colored hopes returned but so did the nagging doubts. It seemed too much to expect Don Bunce, as much as I loved the dude, to channel the great Jim Plunkett. But damned if he didn't. There he was, the evening of January 1, 1972, Rose Bowl MVP.
Fast forward to dot-com 1999: the brave new BCS era and millennium-dread survivalist shops in every strip mall in America. Rose Bowl? Yeah, right. Two words: Texas game. After the debacle in Austin when, as a TV viewer of this abomination I got as steamed as the weather that day in the Lone Star State, I was ready to turn in my "Sheriff's Badge" to any unauthorized Bootleg authority I could get to take it. Turns out even they didn't want it. Bowl game? You've gotta be kidding me!
OK, so here we go again. You know what happened in Tempe a couple of months after Texas. And then again six weeks after the Casey Moore "Run-For-The-Roses" Big Game. That very Rose Bowl Eve, what do we do? We party like it's 1999, that's what!
By then, the Texas chain-saw massacre wasn't even a speck in the rear-viewmirror. Unlike the survivalist shops you could see everywhere.
By now, I think you know where I'm going with this.
As in prior decades, in the weeks leading up to the 2010 season kick-off against the outgunned Hornets of Sacramento State, the one gimme on the Cardinal schedule, I had been dialing back my bowl plans. I mean, c'mon. Toby Gerhart, Heisman runner-up, was playing on Sundays and Mondays now, not Saturdays. How could this not translate into something less than a BCS holiday season for the Cardinal? Bowl, maybe. But a BCS nod? Looked like a long reach, at best, without Engine Number Seven. This, after all, was the guy who made everybody better. Kept the opposing pass rush honest. Kept those opponents from pinning their ears back, as the boys in the booths like to say. I mean, those would be a pair of ginormous cleats to fill, no? Serious slack to pick up. A vacuum of epic proportions.
It would, to my less-than-visionary but metaphorical way of seeing it, be like putting all the red chips on number 12 at the roulette table for one big spin. Not sure I would have bought fifty or sixty bucks worth of chips for that one, either. But, in that 52-17 Orkin-Man extermination of the Hornets we detected two things that augured well: an awesomely entertaining offense and a dramatically upgraded "D". Still, we knew that the true measure would have to wait a week for the UCLA game before we enjoyed any early-season fantasies about the post-season. Visions of perennial deficiencies on defense haunted us. They made us doubt.
Week 2: Deficiencies, my tailgate! Hanging a bagel on Rick Neuheisel's Bruins made all of us sit up and take notice. These were NOT your father's Cardinal, folks, or your older siblings'. These guys were good and they took it to UCLA, 35-zip, right there in Area Code (310) where it had not been done for quite a while. Bowl game? Now more "definite" than "maybe".
With the payback-time, drop-jaw throttling of an overwhelmed Wake Forest in Week 3, to the historic tune of 68-24, things were growing more than interesting. They grew more riveting with every break of the huddle. When there was a huddle. Stanford Football, for the first time in nine autumns, was once again relevant nationally. Even relevant in the Bay Area.
Tailgates were better attended and more convivial. The banter more boisterous. You looked forward to Saturday at the game. Stanford Football was fun again.
Notre Dame was next. And the Irish were there for the taking. So we took 'em. With cruelty and malice aforethought. The 37-14 tally didn't begin to describe the manhandling. Many of the shell-shocked Irish partisans were last seen wandering forlornly among the leaf-shedding Indiana sycamores, mumbling prayers. Stanford, its coach and its star QB were now a staple of the banter on GameDay and SportsCenter. This was getting better and better.
October. Alas, poor Yorick, Stanford's tragedian Shakespeare moment would come, as many feared it would, amidst the howling tumult of Eugene, in the House That the Swoosh Built. Had 'em on the ropes there for a while, but it proved to be more of an Ali-esque rope-a-dope. The defending conference champ Ducks ran our heroes ragged in the second half, floating like ducks and stinging like killer bees. Ah, t'hell with it. It's how you respond to your setbacks in this world that counts, not how you woof after a triumph, right? Can't remember who said that. Maybe I just made it up.
How you respond. OK, you want a response? I'll give you one: how about a last-tick-of-the-clock three-pointer from Nate "Seal Your Fate" Whittaker? How cool would that be? Indeed, very cool on a balmy autumn night in your house, not unlike the one 41 years before, almost to the day, when the other shoe, the one worn by a Trojan, hit the ball that split the wrong uprights in L.A. Not this time, my friend. Not this team. An emotion-wringing, nail-biting win against USC was like being born again after being bill-beaten to death by ducks.
A bye week may have been great for the squad, but it caused non-trivial withdrawal symptoms among those of us now seriously addicted to this football thing. This winning thing. You're supposed to act like you've been there but, hell, we hadn't been there since "hanging chad" was popular vernacular. Long-suffering Cardinalmaniacs could be excused here, especially those of us who did some serious wandering in what seemed like endless wilderness just a few years before.
Enter Wazzoo on a rainy homecoming. Different weather, same result. Only fly in the guacamole: those 28 points put up by the Cougs that would not die. But it was a minor nit seeing that Stanford was now five-and-one heading north to Seattle for Halloweekend.
The TV dudes on the Versus Channel could hardly contain themselves in the face of the what they saw happening to the Cardinal's victim number six, Washington. And bagel number two hung on a Pac-10 foe. When you depart Mountlake with a 41-0 canine pelt on your belt, you can bark at the Huskies and no one will woof back. This was getting sweeter than cheap margarita mix.
It wasn't until post-game the following week, at home against Arizona, and the Cardinal's resounding, eye-popping 42-17 thrashing of the 'Cats, did it begin to really sink in. That it dawned on us that this team, this year, was on a trajectory unknown in recent memory. That this was a squad playing with--dare we say it-- enthusiasm unknown to...uh, well, unknown to the Stanford faithful for far too long.
Another week, another hurdle to hop. Down in Tempe, again, in a game that had all the trappings of "trap" and conjured up all the gloom of dreams dashed in the past, the squad claimed its place among the great teams: Those that find a way to win, refuse to lose, make the plays that have to be made when needed most. And now, on to Berserkley.
California, fresh off a sturdy golden stand against Oregon, looked remarkably outmanned and outclassed all day. Even before kick-off. Cal classlessness reached new lows during the coin toss when the Bear team (read: wannabe street mob) strutted onto the field in a choreographed taunt of the Stanford team. A menacing gesture of urban-machismo? Menace? Think Dennis the Menace. To paraphrase Cardinal spiritual advisor, cornerback Richard Sherman, the Bears didn't know what lay in store for them. Their haul for the day: two cheap touchdowns in garbage time. Some bounty. Oh, and minus one Ax.
At game-end, as the venerable trophy made its way to the Pasadena end of earthquake fault-straddling Memorial Stadium, Stanford partisans joyously streamed onto the field to exult with their team. With apologies to the old Don McLean lyric, it was the day the Bears died and the music of the LSJUMB lived on -- as the soundtrack to victory number ten. Even the heavens cooperated as the predicted heavy rainfall waited until well after the final gun. The rare lightning that lit up the Bay and struck the bridge towers? Celestial symbolism. The football gods wore red.
Thanksgiving Week. As we prepared for the curtain's descension on a vintage year, our BCS dreams seemed within reach. All it would take, of course, would be a major upset of Boise State by high-scoring Nevada. OK, done.
The final tailgates of 2010 were resplendent as ever, even on wet ground under gray and chilly skies. The festival atmosphere, made even more festive with Nevada bumping Boise out of the BCS picture, carried right into the stadium and grew more raucous in a triumphant season finale against bewildered and scoreless Oregon State. That would be three conference bagels. A school record 11th win carved a singular place for this team in the Stanford record books and the hearts of all Cardinalmaniacs who saw their mania rewarded in ways unimaginable a few months before.
For those of us who have followed the zig-zagging Indian/Cardinal football caravan throughout the coaching-and-admissions regimes across the decades, what stands out is what the wildly disparate personalities of three of the most successful men -- John Ralston, Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh -- share in common: each brought to Stanford a state-of-art offense influenced by the professional game. It's a rough-magic, trend-setting, thinking man's approach, especially on offense. It is, in short, Stanford Football. And, at least for the moment, it's back.
So what about 2011? My humble suggestion: Do as I'm trying to do. Dispense with the doubts, already, and take a deep, thankful breath for the history we've witnessed and seen written in 2010. We may not pass this way again, so to speak. The only thing about next year I'm concerned about is the Stanford game on January 1. No doubt about it. No matter where they tee it up.
Anyway, that's my deal.
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