No matter how you slice it, Stanford football has arrived. Though we've since assumed all the trappings of a football powerhouse – the three straight runner-up finishes in Heisman voting, the two straight BCS bowl berths and top-10 finishes, the top-ten 2012 recruiting class, or the eminent matriculation of top pro prospect of the last decade – it wasn't that long ago that Stanford football was an afterthought.
On December 19, 2006, new athletic director Bob Bowlsby hired Jim Harbaugh, a former star quarterback, but an unproven coach who had never worked at the FBS level. The rest, as they say, was history.
We are pleased present Stanford football's 40 most memorable moments, trends, games and personalities from the magical five-plus years that followed that December 2006 announcement.
No. 39: Polls and bowls
One of the worst things about dwelling in college football's gutter is that you're estranged from the sport. Sure, you can engage in the Pardon the Interruption-style debates that are the essence of sports fandom. But when you're more concerned about avoiding a 1-11 finish than concocting the 1-in-100 path to No. 2 in the BCS standings, these arguments are remote, intellectual exercises.
As the Harbaugh era progressed and turned into the Shaw era, however, Stanford has increasingly come to find itself in the thick of various beauty contests. These pageants go by many names, most prominent among them "Heisman", "BCS standings", "polls", and "All-American teams". And now that our guy, our team finds itself in the middle of these discussions, PTI and all the other punditry has become personal. As our boards have borne witness, true diehards have and will go to any length to analyze, rationalize, defend and, most of all, broadcast their team's point of view.
- Our Heisman contender is setting all sorts of school records, while Alabama's guy isn't even the best on his team!
- Come on Iowa State, just one more stop against Oklahoma State here!
- Should Stanford fans pull for LSU or Oregon this weekend?
- The opposing coach said what about our star quarterback?
- This voter must have Stanford so low because he's (pick one: local, out-of-state, national).
- It's almost not the voter's fault. Can't blame him when everyone on (pick one: TV, radio, the internet, newspapers, The View, other continents) is biased against us.
- And so on and so on
Consistency goes out the window: an Alabama/LSU rematch would be an awful national title game, but how cool would it be if we were to get another crack at Oregon? After all, if only these 13 plays had gone the other way, we would have been right in the thick of it.
I don't mean to belittle Stanford fans. One of the best aspects of sports is that it turns us all into kids again. We get to suspend reality and get 100% behind your team no matter what, facts be darned. (Alas, the same can be said of politics, but the consequences there are far graver.) Besides, for better and for worse, we're more rational than most fan bases.
Plus, of course, I'm as guilty off going off the mental deep end as anyone. You can bet I daydream of ways for all eight teams in front of us to lose so that we're playing TCU in the national title game. Just like basketball is going to win four straight in Staples, mark my words.
There's been a lot of (rightful) hand-wringing and hair-pulling over idiotic decision-making (cough, cough, Toby still got screwed), and when we get too nose deep into scoreboard watching, our fellow fans grudgingly pull us back, reminding us that our team can only control what it controls, and to enjoy the games in front of us, and not worry about some contest in Gainesville.
All of that is true, of course, but so too is the pithy saying that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Now that Stanford football has become big time, we've earned a rite of big-time college football. In one of the most overlooked happenings of the past five years, college football is no longer provincial for the Stanford fan. Like our recruiting, the game truly has gone national.
One of these days, Stanford Stadium is going to react to an out-of-town score like this, and it's going to make all the premature graying worthwhile. Even if it means having to pay attention to the Jay Mariotti's of this world.
40: Fake out - Luck stuns UW with a naked bootleg in 2010
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