Next Year Is Here
A guest "From the Cheap Seats" column by Mini(Wyo)MizzouCard
There's always next year. This phrase is often muttered at the end of a season, or in the case of college football, after a disappointing loss. While it is true that there is always next year (unless you happen follow the NBA), fans tend to underestimate their current season. However, fans of all stripes can get together and agree about one thing: for Stanford football this is that year.
2010 was a fabulous year on the Farm. Stanford surpassed all expectations and set a new school record, bringing home twelve W's. After a heartbreaking loss at Oregon, Stanford rebounded and destroyed everything in its path, including Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. This domination excited everyone, but left some wondering, "what if?" What if Chris Owusu doesn't get called for offensive pass interference? What if helmet-to-helmet gets called when Owusu gets knocked into the dinosaur age, fumbling the ball in the process? Would this have ultimately led to a victory that would have allowed the Cardinal to play for a national championship? None of these questions will be answered and many fans thought they had seen the peak of football on the Farm.
Who could blame them? For a time it looked as though Stanford would lose Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck, outspoken and irreplaceable coach Jim Harbaugh, and Owen Marecic, the grittiest player in college football, just to name a few. Harbaugh did in fact opt to head to the NFL, but his protégé, Luck, decided he would stay. Sports writers from sea to shining sea criticized and mocked Luck for his decision. Stanford fans praised him. Once again, what if's began to float around all of the most dedicated Stanford fans. But everyone was hesitant. There were a lot of holes to fill, a lot of questions to be answered.
Well, some of those questions have been answered in the first seven games of the year. Somehow the holes left from the outstanding offensive line last year have been filled. Luck has only been sacked twice this year. The terrific trio of tight ends, in addition to consistent play at the receiver position, has Luck in position to bring back the first Heisman to the Farm since Jim Plunkett did in 1970. But Jim Harbaugh is still gone, wasn't he supposed to take the blue-collar attitude away from the Farm and to the 49ers? David Shaw is a football genius and probably the right guy for the job, but once he's the head man Stanford will lose that physical edge it developed under Harbaugh, right? Absolutely not. Perhaps the most surprising and satisfying part of the 2011 season has been Shaw's personality in leading his troops--calm, poised, and passionate.
The recent success has brought with it some problems. The demand for student tickets actually outweighs the supply. While it hasn't gotten to the camping in line for a week demand, the Red Zone is no longer just a bunch of empty red seats. There are bandwagon jumpers who now claim to be Stanford fans. Bandwagon jumpers only "support" winners so perhaps the loyal few can welcome a new face or two. Fans have to worry: will there be a spot for us in the championship if we go undefeated?
Three years ago, I was in town for the UCLA game. After a fast start there was buzz, maybe this was the year. Maybe we would finally break through again. What were we dreaming of? Bowl eligibility. Everyone was desperately cheering on Toby as he carried the team all the way to the Sun Bowl. This year I returned to the Farm for the Washington game. There was buzz, a lot more buzz than that UCLA game. Once again, maybe this was the year, no, this is the year! For bowl eligibility? Well that was accomplished after destroying up-and-coming Washington State. The buzz now is about something bigger, much bigger. A return trip to the Rose Bowl? That would be nice, but everyone is dreaming of something more. David Shaw and his team have all of us salivating with hopes of a national championship game appearance.
It is uncharted territory for Stanford football fans. With the new capabilities of smart phones, every score you want is theoretically in your pocket. Did you ever think there would come a time where the Wisconsin at Michigan State score would matter for Stanford's path to the title game? It did, and if Stanford keeps winning, your second favorite team better be whoever is playing Oklahoma State. For the second year in a row College GameDay will air its show live from the same campus Stanford is playing on later that day. A win this weekend could bring the GameDay crew to the Farm in a couple of weeks. All of this proves one thing.
Stanford football matters again. While there are quite a few who have jumped on board following the success (compare the average attendance from 2007 to this year), the diehard fans have earned this. We have paid the price. We went through the doom days of players attending etiquette class rather than much-needed practice. We covered our eyes when the mastermind Walt Harris would punt on third and long. We all rejoiced when the 2006 team snuck out their only win of the year in, of all places, Washington. Now it's our turn at the top. We need to cherish it. Stanford isn't, and never will be, a football factory. Stanford won't be able to compete against the rest of the country every year. But this year, they can. This year, Stanford is favored by 21 over a ranked opponent and laps the spread, in front of a packed house no less. This year is special.
As a senior in high school, this could be my last year watching Stanford with my dad every weekend. As many of you know watching in our house requires active participation. Watching Stanford's (and our other teams') sporting events has been a mainstay throughout my youth. I have learned some new vocabulary throughout the years, but I have also learned some valuable lessons. It's one thing to root for a team that is expected to win every Saturday, it's been another to root for Stanford. Getting rude stares at the sports bars was nothing out of the ordinary. But who could blame us? Are you supposed to sit on your hands when your team blocks consecutive punts and ends the nation's longest home winning streak? Or quietly applaud when Chris Lewis throws a game winning touchdown on the final play of the game? Whoops, we didn't.
Although Stanford football hasn't always been easy to watch, I'm glad they are our team. It wouldn't be the same to cheer on LSU as they win week after week, year after year. Cheering for Stanford allows you to be the proud owner of a "Biggest Upset Ever." shirt. Remember, you have to be pretty bad to be 42-point dogs. But things are coming full circle this fall. When I venture off for college, maybe my rooting partisanship will be divided. Maybe there is no next year. If that's the case I am glad we have this year as our last.
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