No. 20: Rumor mill

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and as Jim Harbaugh built Stanford from an also-ran into a national powerhouse, college and pro teams across the country sought to emulate that success. Flattery came in the form of job offers, multimillion dollar salary pitches and no shortage of inquiries and proffered interviews to Mr. Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind.

We continue our ambitious offseason series, counting down the top 40 moments of the Harbaugh/ Shaw era.

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.

20. Rumor mill
Report: Harbaugh to take every NFL job

Harbaugh to the Montreal Allouettes! Okay, maybe not, but if any NFL team had an opening, Jim Harbaugh was going to take it, per national media and that team's fans. (Oh, and Michigan. Jim was definitely going there too. And, of course, that national football powerhouse that is Kanas.)

The non-stop Harbaugh watch started in earnest as the 2009 season progressed and Stanford racked up some impressive wins en route to an eight-win season, and the rumors only grew from there. The blind squirrels did eventually find their nut, as Harbaugh would take the San Francisco 49ers' job following the 2010 season, but in the meanwhile, the watch annoyed Stanford fans, and rightfully so.

The attention was an implicit endorsement of the great coaching job Harbaugh was doing at Stanford, but so too was it an insult to Stanford's program and on-field talent: this Harbaugh guy must be a miracle worker if he can win on the Farm. Plus, who would want to stay at Stanford? It's not like you can win there long term, right? Besides, Ann Arbor in February and Lawrence, Kansas year-round are way more enjoyable than the Peninsula.

On the one hand, the rumors arguably hurt recruiting, and they certainly distracted from Stanford's stellar on-field product. On the other hand, there's the Paris Hilton/Kim Kardashian corollary, which is that any publicity is good publicity. (Barring that, "accidentally" leak a porn video.) Anyhow, between Harbaugh, Andrew Luck and, to a lesser extent, Toby Gerhart, Stanford has been home to some of the biggest names in football these last few years this side of Tim Tebow. We'll never know for sure, but the non-stop television exposure, especially in an era where personalities, not on-field product, so dominate coverage, has likely done a lot to raise the program's profile, and perhaps the greater University's.

In the winter of 2011, Harbaugh would the move 40 (non-rush hour) minutes north to assume the head coaching position at San Francisco. There, he would most unexpectedly win his division, make a playoff run and come as close as anyone to knocking off the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants – all in his first year as coach, with a perpetually enigmatic quarterback.

Much as he had at Stanford, Harbaugh challenged his team in San Francisco with his earnest "45 going on six" personality. "Who has it better than us?" he asked them. When the Niners went halfway from worst to first in their 2011 campaign, the answer of "no one" seemed pretty convincing. Even if that response was an exaggeration, there is certainly one man who San Francisco had it better than. That's Pete Carroll, who after suffering indignation after indignation on Figeuroa at Harbaugh's hands, now must play "The Comeback Kid" in an intradivisional matchup twice every year. (Already, Carroll's 0-2.)

The flirtation between Jim Harbaugh and the rest of organized football was part good and part bad for us Stanford fans, but it was undoubtedly the first thing the nation thought of when they thought about our program. Though we may be reluctant to admit it, we spent no shortage of time thinking about our coach's long-term whereabouts either, and thus we recognize the rumor mill at the halfway point of our countdown of the 40 most memorable moments of the last five years of Stanford football.

50-41. More memorable moments - Loukas, 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 UW
37. Opening act - 2009 win over Ducks launches a November to remember
36. Going bowling - Loss to Sooners doesn't ruin first bowl game since 2001
35. "Shut up and play football" - Cal jaws pregame, falls behind 45-0 in 2010
34. Look ma, no legs - Luck throws a 52- yard dart while in free fall
33. Sit down - Burfict's head leads to go- ahead TD, Wilkerson's ices W at ASU
32. Injury bug - Despite multiple injuries, 2011 Card manage to rally
31. Whale watching - Stanford starts recruiting at an elite level
30. Suck for Luck - The media machine anoints the next football savior
29. Outta my way - Luck bounces off Cattouse for a 50-yard run
28. 0 for 3 - Card post three shutouts in 2010 campaign
27. Laying the wood - Luck lays out Wright
26. Concussed - Owusu is knocked out of four games
25. Jumping ahead - A 21-3 lead vanishes in Autzen in 2010
24. So close, yet so far - Luck's worst game costs Card 2009 Big Game
23. Run, Toby, run - Gerhart takes over against the Irish
22. Xs and Os… and Ys and Zs - Stanford toys with defensive coordinators
21. "The perfect football player" - Marecic makes purists weep

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