Big Game: It's a big game

The Big Game looms. With a big bowl on the line. Skepticism to overcome. And some vague, troublesome uneasiness felt by the faithful. Great quarterback coming off a sub-standard (for him) game against a team a lot people thought Stanford would beat. Sloppy field and poor footing due to previous night's rain. Gripes about cleats.

The doubts. The pressure. The naysayers. Oh, and don't forget the missed field goal and extra point. Not to mention the obnoxious students and young alums in the visitor's section.

Turn on the TV. Even Howard, Frank and Dandy Don bring it up on MNF, so you can't forget it by watching Farrah Fawcett commercials or thinking about your old girlfriend with whom you plan to go to Century 21 to see The Last Picture Show.

Wait a minute. Howard, Frank and Dandy Don? Farrah Fawcett? Century 21? Have I been asleep, what year is this?

Nineteen seventy-one, actually. Forty years ago this week, almost to the day, Indian fans were staring into their stuffed eggs at the Dutch Goose, quaffing Anchor Steam or playing shuffleboard and listening to Blood, Sweat & Tears (while quaffing Anchor Steam) contemplating the stakes in the Big Game. This, in the wake of a demoralizing loss to (cue the Spartan Marching Band drumroll) San Jose State. Just a week after the win over UCLA that all but clinched a bid to the ‘72 Rose Bowl and had the football world (such as it was then) buzzing about Stanford's new grip on prominence. And now, suddenly, it all seemed so tenuous. So fleeting. Teetering on the edge of the abyss. Even the stirring victory at USC the prior month seemed so long ago. (The eerie parallels won't quit.)

A sense of urgency seized a coach and his charges. Practices were closed and intense. New pass plays installed. During the week, the storyline was that this was a Cal team destined to bring down the wobbling Redshirts. That a victory notched here would make the Bears' season. That it would throw the Bowl picture into disarray in the Pac-8. That San Jose State, of all teams, had exposed the now snake-bitten Indians just two weeks after they'd been beaten at home by Washington State.

Stanford's response to those of little faith, those prominent scribes in the local dailies and braying heads on local TV? It would come on a spectacular, 70-degree autumn afternoon in Palo Alto, another clear and promising Saturday. It would unfold in a game that would end the season. The season in which the LSJUMB first struck up "Yellow River" and "All Right Now" became the signature touchdown celebration song.

To shake off the demons and regain its mojo, the Tribe took the field that afternoon in their unbeaten road whites. A Big Game first. Mojo regained.

Led by quarterback Don Bunce, channeling Oakland Raider Daryle "The Mad Bomber" Lamonica, Stanford left no room for doubt about itself or where it belonged on New Year's Day as it cruised to a bruising 14-0 shutout over a respectable, well-coached Cal team bent on the upset. The next day's San Francisco Examiner explained it under the apt headline "Stanford Bowls Over Cal." Indeed.

And what, you may ask, does this have to do with the present day? Just this: What looms on Saturday is the biggest Big Game in at least 40 years. It is freighted with many of the same storylines as that Saturday afternoon a generation ago. Hanging in the balance this week? Just a BCS bowl and a little Hall of Fame room candy in the form of a second Heisman Trophy – you remember, the one that eluded Toby Gerhart two years ago – and a renewed sense of purpose and mission for this 2011 team, denied a higher destiny a week ago. Oh, and then there's retention of that Axe thing.

Stuff what occurred last week in the archives folks, filed under lessons learned. Despite the emotional trauma of 11-12-11, replete with the memories of the GameDay Traveling Medicine Show's first visit to the Farm, if you can't get excited about this Big Game, you don't own a pulse. It's the Big Game, after all, in one of those rare years when it's also a big game. Give the kids a heroes' welcome. Somewhere, Don Bunce will be smiling.

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