2. Character and cruelty

In an era that saw spread offenses proliferate across college football, Stanford football turned decidedly old school. Jim Harbaugh grew up with this style of play thanks to his Big Ten Michigan roots, and best articulated this new identity when he said Stanford would play with "character and cruelty."

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.

2. Character and cruelty
Football purists find nirvana in Stanford's smash-mouth style

In an era that saw spread offenses proliferate across college football, Stanford football turned decidedly old school. Jim Harbaugh grew up with this style of play thanks to his Big Ten Michigan roots, and best articulated this new identity when he said Stanford would play with "character and cruelty."

The Cardinal lined up in a 1950s-style heavy-set lineup that employed up to eight linemen simultaneously. The formation was bigger than the jumbo set; on the radio play-by-play, I referred to it as the "diesel package." It has since been referred to by the football staff as "hulk." Everyone knew the bread and butter, power, was coming. It didn't matter. The offensive line down-blocked, fullback Owen Marecic secured the hole with reckless abandon, right guard David DeCastro pulled to take the next guy (or two) out of the play, and ballcarrier Toby Gerhart proceeded to run over remaining linebackers and defensive backs.

Then, he stood back up, and did the same thing, again, and again, and again.

Gerhart and his successor Stepfan Taylor deserve much of the credit for the success of Stanford's smash-mouth style, but the effort was made possible by the work of the "Tunnel Workers' Union" up front. In honor of his blue-collar father, Chris Marinelli bestowed the moniker upon the Cardinal's 2009 offensive line. Back then, Andrew Phillips, DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, Alex Fletcher, Chase Beeler, James McGillicuddy, and Marinelli himself comprised the beef that moved and bruised defenses out of the way.

Like so many of Harbaugh's implementations, Stanford football's devotion to winning with "character and cruelty" was infectious. The stereotype of a smaller, finesse-oriented team – one that had almost always been associated with football on the Farm – went by the wayside. The Cardinal were now big, mean, hungry, and NFL-ready in the trenches.

In that 2009 season that truly marked Stanford's arrival on the national scene, a week after Gerhart dismantled Oregon to the tune of 223 yards and three touchdowns, the Cardinal suddenly became the bullies of the conference. In a spectacular demolition followed by the Pete Carroll "What's Your Deal" whining session, Stanford took USC to the woodshed. The 55 points that lit up the scoreboard were the most scored by an opposing team at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. During the game's punctuating touchdown drive, Stanford ran exclusively power down the football field. The Trojans knew that the Cardinal would run up the middle on every single play, but they were physically unable to stop it. Even the end zone did not give USC mercy; Harbaugh lined the boys back up after the score and went for two.

This was the new age of Stanford football. Brawns, intelligence, and toughness all wrapped up into one. Those who said all three couldn't be enjoyed simultaneously were wrong when "character and cruelty" was unveiled to back-to-back BCS-level success.

- Daniel Novinson contributed to this report.

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
7. Enthusiasm unknown to mankind - Harbaugh reignites program's fire
6. Dreams deferred - Oregon 53, Stanford 30
5. Dream on - Stanford 56, USC 48 (3OT)
4. The class of 2008 - Harbaugh's first stockpile becomes legendary
3. Heisman hopefuls - Gerhart, Luck up for college football's most prestigious award

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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