No. 15: Return of the Red Zone

The new Stanford Stadium felt like a graveyard when it opened in 2006. The Harbaugh revolution brought the Red Zone back to life quickly, though.

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.

15. Return of the Red Zone
Stanford's student section returns

Flash back to to 2006. That was the year that the new Stanford Stadium was supposed to experience its glamorous unveiling.

It didn't quite work out that way. The Cardinal finished a dismal 1-11, the student Red Zone struggled to attract more than a few hundred fans per contest, and the stadium as a whole felt like one of those cavernous professional venues hosting a high school championship game. (Side note: why do they do they even try to do that outside of Texas, anyway?)

Ultimately, though, the fans did come - although it did take the faithful a few years to fully catch on to Jim Harbaugh's powerhouse. The students figured out how to fill up the Red Zone quickly, though some still struggle with the concept of not making noise on third down when the home team has the ball. By this past season, the Red Zone had changed sidelines, three new sections had been added to it, and an average of 4,961 students per game were cramming into the southwest corner of Stanford Stadium when school was in session.

The watershed moment came during 2011's titanic clash against Oregon, where 5,100 of the young faithful jammed in. Their cumulative roar made the place sound like a jet engine when Stanford took the field. Their singing of "Seven Nation Army" immediately before kickoff matched the intensity of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in its heyday. On November 12, 2011, Stanford Stadium gave me chills. Who would have thought it could do that back in the mostly-empty venue just five years earlier?

Stanford Athletics intends to keep the three extra Red Zone sections open moving forward. For it to stay that way, David Shaw's football team must uphold its end of the bargain by continued winning. And of course, some silence from their fans on offensive third downs won't hurt the Cardinal's chances.

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
20. Rumor Mill - Report: Harbaugh to take every NFL job
19. "What's Your Deal?" - Stanford hands USC worst home beatdown ever
18. Continuity Unknown to Mankind - David Shaw named Harbaugh's successor
17. Whitaker Beats USC - Cardinal hand the Trojans another soul-crusher
16. We've Got the Axe - Stanford wins first Big Game in six years

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