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 graduation 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.
36. Going bowling
Loss to Oklahoma doesn't ruin first bowl game since 2001
Most Stanford diehards, at least of my generation, would make it out to El Paso, as they would Miami the next year. (Side note: Speaking of Miami, for everyone who says Stanford girls don't measure up, our alums of the fairer sex looked a lot better in their low-cut dresses at LIV than they ever did in my freshman-year intro seminars. Context, context, context.) While every fan's precise routines would differ, there was a lot of overlap. Many fans stayed at the team hotel, where they could hold court with Oliver Luck and other players' parents in the lobby. Many attended the various parades and events the city put on leading up to the game. Many hit one of the three bars in the city. Most with university ties showed up at the alumni tailgate the morning of the game and, of course, everyone then processed into the Sun Bowl to see the Sooners and the Cardinal tangle on a pleasant New Year's Eve afternoon.
********** ********** **********
It's said that a team going from worst to first will pass through four stages: losing big, losing close, winning close and then winning big. When Jim Harbaugh inherited the head coaching position in 2006, Stanford was stuck squarely at stage one. In the last two seasons, Stanford was going stage four on anyone not in the top 10 or named USC, but at the time of this 2009 Sun Bowl, the Card were at stage two or three against tougher opponents.
So it was a team in transition against a squad that, despite a disappointing year, was and remains one of the nation's most talented. Unsurprisingly then, Stanford was outgained 418 to 117 in the air and by 215 yards overall, yet somehow, the Cardinal kept it close throughout, as neither team led by more than a touchdown. In fact, Stanford led 24-17 at the half, but the Cardinal offense did little in the final 30 minutes, and the Sooners would cross back over the Red River with a 31-27 win.
Ultimately, perhaps better than any other contest of the five-year period we're examining, this game highlighted vividly both how far Stanford had come and how far Stanford had yet to go:
Wayne Lyons, Jordan Richards, Devon Carrington and Alex Carter had yet to hit the Farm, however, in time for the 2009 Sun Bowl, and that was enough to keep Stanford in the L column. A six-yard Broyles catch tied the game at 24-all in the early third, and DeMarco Murray punched it in from a yard out later in the period for the eventual game-winner. After gaining but one first down in the third quarter, Stanford found itself in great position in the early fourth. However, after recovering Broyles' muffed punt return and inducing a personal foul call on the subsequent drive, Stanford had to settle for a 21- yard Nate Whitaker field goal. The Cardinal wouldn't cross their 30 again, with the final straw a Tavita Pritchard misfire on a fourth and two with a minute left.
Still, it was Cardinal's first bowl game in eight years, and amidst the festivities in the El Paso desert, there would be no raining on Stanford's parade.
50-41. More memorable moments - Loukas, a lot of Luck, and a phantom clipping call
40. Fake out - Luck stuns UW with a naked bootleg in 2010
39. Polls and bowls - Stanford climbs into college football's beauty contests
38. Steamrolled - Card run for 446 yards in 2011 beatdown of Washington
37.Opening act - 2009 win over Oregon launches a November to remember
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!