7. Enthusiasm unknown to mankind

I took a deep breath before every time I sat down with former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh for our weekly KZSU pregame interview. Except for those spaced-out, glazed eyeballs that looked straight through me, I just never knew what I was going to get from him.

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.

7. Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind
Harbaugh's infectious passion rekindles the Stanford football fire

I took a deep breath before every time I sat down with former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh for our weekly KZSU pregame interview. Except for those spaced-out, glazed eyeballs that looked straight through me (not at me), I just never knew what I was going to get from him.

Some weeks, we'd have a casual football talk regarding the upcoming game. Other times, he'd find a way to splice four marvelous yet absurdly over-the-top Owen Marecic analogies into our chat. And then there were those times that the he'd suspect me of being some kind of spy for the opposition.

"Coach, what is Erik Lorig's status for this weekend?" I could ask.
 
"Why, so you can go tell Arizona State?" Harbaugh would snap back.

Standard behavior. The man was consumed by the game of football. Anywhere, anytime he was near it, he flipped his switch into mad scientist mode. Any possible legal competitive advantage was pursued. Whether it be by keeping players awake with water guns on a cross-country flight to counteract jet lag or by bringing in a military general to make a pregame speech analogizing football to war, Harbaugh left no stone unturned.

His dizzying passion for the game was evident in those piercing eyes. A blank stare simultaneously combined with a fiery one - impossible, right? Harbaugh pulled the look off. His rabid obsession with success became known as "enthusiasm unknown to mankind." For the Cardinal program, that soon became success unknown to mankind.

Around football activities, I only saw Harbaugh truly loosen up once. That was at San Francisco's Gordon Biersch restaurant the Monday following his team's 55-21 whipping of USC in 2009. As he was enjoying a meal with the highlights playing on a bar TV, Harbaugh chuckled while SportsCenter debated his decision to go for two up 48-21 in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps the story of how he met his wife, Sarah, provides insight into Harbaugh's super-driven personality. After he got her number in the parking lot of a Las Vegas restaurant, she was hesitant to accept his date invitation. But, Harbaugh pressed forward with unbridled enthusiasm, calling dozens of times until Sarah finally answered and accepted the invite. Not succeeding was not an option.

Harbaugh's energy might be unusual, but it's infectious. He called out Pete Carroll and mighty USC in its prime before he even coached a game. He fell onto his back in front of national TV cameras to express his displeasure with officials. A lot of it seemed theatrical, but it really wasn't. It was just Jim Harbaugh. He brought a foreign level of passion to the Farm that has since found its way to NFL postgame handshakes, one of which upset a certain Detroit Lions coach last year.

Enthusiasm unknown to mankind restored belief in Stanford football. It sold the program in the living rooms of top recruits nationwide. It caused blue-chip players like Andrew Luck to commit to the Farm even after the team had finished a season 1-11. It turned the Cardinal into an elite program, one that flummoxed the opposition with endless formation shifts and an impeccable attention to detail that sought to create every small matchup advantage possible.

The passion was genuine; it came directly from Harbaugh's football soul. As a result, it didn't take long for an abundance of winning on the Farm to become very real, too.

Previous
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 'SC worst home beatdown ever
18. Continuity Unknown to Mankind - 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
15. Return of the Red Zone - Cardinal students populate the stadium in force
14. Blown Away - Stanford takes VT to the woodshed in Orange Bowl
13. Streaking - Stanford wins 10 straight games by 25+ points
12. Dance With Girl Who Brung Ya - Card settle for FG attempt, loses Fiesta Bowl
11. College Gameday to The Farm - Campus welcomes ESPN
10. Thanks, John - Card build new stadium, enter arms race
9. The Stanford-USC rivalry - Stanford takes four of five in thrilling fashion 8. Andrew Luck returns - QB shocks nation with decision

David Lombardi, a TV and radio (95.7 The Game SF) personality in the Bay Area, is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years. You can check out several of his Stanford calls and other writing at www.davidlombardisports.com.


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