The fact that a team with a 1-11 record has, just five seasons later, become a nationally-recognized powerhouse with back-to-back BCS Bowl appearances astounds me. Even though Oklahoma State ended up with the three-point victory that we deserved, the Stanford Cardinal put in an extremely valiant effort and played aggressive, hard-nosed, old-school football that stands unrivaled in a college football environment dominated by fast-paced, flashy offenses.
The much-anticipated "Brandon Weeden vs. Andrew Luck" match-up proved what we Cardinal fans already knew: #12 is in another league. Luck racked up over 340 yards while completing all but four of his 31 attempts. But we weren't all about passing, like Oklahoma State was. Our power running game, with well-executed play action passes scattered throughout, took its toll on the exhausted Cowboys' defense. Stepfan Taylor started to make his case for next year's Heisman, and Jeremy Stewart showed for the second year in a row why he is our short-yardage man in the regular season and our big-play running back in BCS bowls. By being so balanced, Stanford kept Oklahoma State playing catch-up. We startled Cowboys coach Mike Gundy by scoring 14 points before his team even woke up. At the same time, we unnerved superstar wide receiver Justin Blackmon and the fabled OSU offense when they learned that it was harder to score on Stanford than on their Big 12 opponents.
So, even though we clearly outplayed OK State, why didn't we walk away with the Fiesta Bowl trophy? The stage was set for the climax of the quintessential Hollywood movie: in two and a half minutes, the best and smartest quarterback in the country marches his team steadily down the field in a brilliant drive culminating with an expertly-placed kick that wins the game for the protagonists. And while the end credits roll, the audience smiles happily at the montage of the star quarterback signing for the Colts, winning his first Super Bowl, and giving a heartwarming speech as he is inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
Despite this, the final seconds of the Fiesta Bowl did not play out like the final seconds of a sports drama, and from this I've learned a valuable lesson. Sports, like life, are unscripted. And, sometimes, you can only fully appreciate success once you have experienced failure. That's why, after years as the bottom-feeders of the Pac-10, Stanford fans across the globe celebrate our recent triumphs so passionately. And from our heartbreaking loss in the Fiesta Bowl (which, quite frankly, is much less a "failure" than the dismal years under coach Walt Harris), I take away a powerful moral, another valuable "life lesson" taught through the reality of sports.
P.S. I have a letter I wrote to Andrew Luck just before the Orange Bowl telling him why he should stay at Stanford for one more year. It seemed to work the last time I used it; should I pull it out again for one last try, or would that be… "pushing my Luck"?
About the Author: Justin Muchnick is a high-aspiring eighth-grade student-athlete at Harbor Day School in Corona Del Mar, California (and thus not currently classified as a "recruited athlete" from a compliance standpoint!). In addition to being an avid Stanford sports fan, he is extremely passionate about soccer, wrestling, reading, history, and The Simpsons. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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