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.
6. Dreams Deferred
Oregon 53, Stanford 30: The day a nightmare became reality
So, the stressful 2011 Stanford season progressed. It reached a temporary heartrending climax at USC, in which the Cardinal's dreams survived a triple-overtime stay on life support in an epic 56-48 victory. Still, despite the undefeated run that was slowly becoming stuff of legend, the true test loomed. Oregon stood in between Stanford and a trip to the national championship game on November 12.
In the days leading up to the game, I awoke in a cold sweat more than once. The prospect of a gut-wrenching, dream-crushing loss was frightening. The fact that the Ducks had already ruined Stanford's national title hopes the season before made the situation that much more unnerving.
The fear was that the Ducks would simply blur right by the Cardinal again, in similar fashion to their runaway 52-31 victory a year before. I'd try to calm myself by repeating that Andrew Luck and the physical Farm Boys' machine would control the tempo of the game and not allow that carnage to happen a second time, but the unease would still not go away.
When the actual game kicked off, fears began being realized - and they were even worse than the ones I had unsuccessfully braced for. Rumor has it that Stanford intentionally watered down its stadium grass leading up to the contest to slow down Oregon's jet-speed attack. If that's true, two words suffice: bad idea. Within minutes, it was Cardinal defenders who were the ones eating dirt because of the slick surface. The defense collapsed monumentally while LaMichael James and DeAnthony Thomas sped untouched into the end zone, sometimes more than 15 yards away from a potential tackler.
I'll keep the summary short.
The Ducks took the early lead. Then, Stanford's jittery offense sputtered. The problem was compounded when David Shaw made a critical tactical error by settling for a missed field goal on fourth and short trailing by 13 in the third quarter. From that point forward, it became ugly: the Cardinal quit before the final gun in the 53-30 plastering. The result, eerily reminiscent of the prior year's score, was doubly deflating in Luck's final season.
November 12, 2011 will be remembered as the unhappy day that Stanford's national title dreams died in nightmarish fashion. It's also the last negative Cardinal memory on our top 40 countdown. You'll enjoy the positive vibes coming from the remaining six. We promise.
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
7. Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind - Harbaugh reignites program's fire
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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