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.
34. Look ma, no legs
Luck throws a 52-yard dart while in free fall
There's plenty of competition, but to me, this is Andrew Luck's single most impressive highlight. It's the night of November 13, 2010. We're in Tempe, where the Devils (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) are hosting the No. 6 Cardinal (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12). Stanford has it at its 18, two minutes until halftime in a 7-all game.
An Arizona State defensive end loops around right tackle and lunges at Luck. Sensing the pressure, Luck steps up in the pocket and slips out of the Devils' grasp, but the attempted sack has knocked Luck off balance. He'll stagger forward a step or two and fall to the ground, landing on his knees.
One minor detail: while in free fall at the 10 yard line, Luck launches downfield to Doug Baldwin, who is running a deep post with a step on his man. The throw travels 52 yards in the air, and Baldwin goes down to scoop it up at the Devils' 38 for a 44-yard gain. Link.
It was sweet vindication for Stanford fans, staff, players and perhaps Luck himself, as the quarterback had heard questions about his arm strength (and would continue to do so). Ironically, there's one Stanford alum whose arm strength is the gold standard for NFL quarterbacks, and I don't know if this is sacrilegious, but Luck's throw against the Devils was as impressive a show of arm strength as any I've seen John Elway – heck, any quarterback – make.
Luck would finish the season with 32 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 70 percent accuracy and 3,338 yards passing. He'd also finish second in Heisman voting, thanks in no small part to superlative throws like this one.
What time has gradually obscured, however, is that the throw itself mattered. Stanford would hang on for a 17-13 victory, their narrowest victory of the season save for the 37-35 thriller over USC. Without the win in Tempe, the Cardinal wouldn't have earned a BCS berth and the chance to beat Virginia Tech into a pulp at the Orange Bowl. While Stanford couldn't convert on Luck's pass, ending the drive with a missed field goal as the half expired, had Luck been sacked, Stanford would have faced a third and 19 from its 10. Arizona State would have had been in strong position to force a punt and take over with good field position, 1:30 left in the half and two timeouts. An ASU score there, and the BCS berth may never have happened.
We praise successful athletes for their hard work. Rightfully so, and I'm sure Andrew Luck has worked harder than the vast majority of his peers to get where he is. However, "hard-working" can also be a backhanded compliment implying physical limitations. Nothing could be further from the truth in this case, and lest anyone forget that Andrew Luck is a physical freak, I humbly submit to you this play.
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
36. Going bowling - Loss to Oklahoma doesn't ruin first bowl game since 2001
35. "Shut up and play football" - After pregame jawing, Cal finds itself in a 45-0 hole in 2010
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