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 have been pleased to present Stanford football's 40 most
memorable moments, trends, games and personalities from the
magical five-plus years that followed that December 2006
announcement. Here is David Lombardi's account of moment No. 1.
for Daniel Novinson's take on this legendary Saturday evening.
No. 1: 24-23, A Hollywood Heartbreak
At half past three o'clock Saturday, October 7, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum basked in the glory of a magnificent Southern California afternoon. At that moment, the world of USC football basked in perfection.
With the gleaming Los Angeles skyline, the imposing San Gabriel
Mountains and the famous "Hollywood" sign providing a poetic
backdrop on a gorgeous weekend afternoon for the arrival of over
85,000 Trojan faithful, beaming head coach Pete Carroll enjoyed a
relaxed catch with one of his assistants in the stadium's west end
zone just minutes before kickoff. Carroll's movie star-like flair
– the persona that had meshed so perfectly with the L.A. lifestyle
and built the decade's dominant college football dynasty – was on
full display as the coach soaked in the sunshine and his supremely
confident team's entrance onto the field.
Carroll and the Trojans had nothing to worry about. The huge
crowd that was filing into their iconic Coliseum was just as
relaxed as their self-assured coach. The well-oiled machine that
Carroll had built at Troy was firing on all cylinders. Visiting recruits lined the USC sideline, anticipating
another tour de force against an overmatched opponent.
Stanford was a 41-point underdog. No college football team had
overcome a point spread that large and won. The Cardinal were coming off a dismal 1-11 season. They had been plastered 41-3 by Arizona State at home the week before. The only hope in the
Farm Boys' camp before kickoff seemed to come from coach Jim
Harbaugh's then-fiancé Sarah Feuerborn, who sheepishly
uttered "I think we can pull it off," in the Coliseum VIP parking
lot before kickoff. I'll admit it: at the time, her optimism drew
a chuckle out of me.
The task was more impossible than David killing Goliath.
Reporters in the press box were debating whether or not the
Trojans would put up 60 points on the Cardinal. Personally, I just
hoped a decimated Stanford lineup would avoid further injury.
After all, a skinny sophomore named Tavita Pritchard was being
thrown to the wolves for his first career start because the
experienced option, senior T.C. Ostrander, had suffered a seizure
in the days leading up the game.
And so the mismatch started. The advantage immediately went to
USC. A Taylor Mays obliteration of Evan Moore over the middle
comes to mind, along with gigantic tight end Fred Davis barreling
over Stanford's defense, frail in comparison.
But as shadows began creeping onto the Coliseum field midway
through the second quarter, USC could not separate from Stanford.
The Trojan faithful grew impatient. They weren't getting their
money's worth in offensive fireworks. It was supposed to be at
least 28-0; it was only 9-zip, home team. A pivotal Stanford
fourth down goal line stand at the end of the first half led the
previously festive gathering to boo their own boys into the locker
The sun continued to drop over the Pacific beaches to the west as
shadows consumed the legendary Coliseum field. The picturesque
Southern California afternoon was over, and as the second half
dragged on, the mood among the 85,000 in the stadium dimmed with
the daylight. First came an Austin Yancy pick-six. Then, another
Cardinal touchdown. Somehow, someway, Harbaugh's boys were hanging
around at dusk. The stadium grew tenser as the clock kept ticking.
On the home sideline, meanwhile, Carroll grew paler.
With USC clinging to a late 23-17 lead as the sun took its last
peak over the western horizon, Trojan quarterback John David Booty
and receiver Patrick Turner made the game's pivotal mistake, with
Turner tipping and Stanford defensive back Wopamo Osaisai
intercepting Booty's third-down pass.
Nighttime had conquered the sky, and a feeling of shock and
helplessness gripped the huge Coliseum crowd. Less than three
minutes remained. The Cardinal had the ball in USC territory
trailing by six. Pritchard was keeping his team alive while
bleeding the clock under the raging Olympic torch. Even a fourth
and 20 could not restore order; the youngster's tight seam pass to
Richard Sherman picked up... 20 yards and one inch.
Something unfathomable was happening. USC's national championship
hopes were imploding as brilliantly as the earlier Southern
California sunset. Still, the Trojans had another chance to end
the absurdity. Less than a minute remained. Again, Stanford's back
was pressed to the mat: fourth and goal from the 10. Loud funeral
bells blared over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum speakers in
anticipation of Stanford's loss.
That's when the most shocking piece of a surreal saga fell into
place. In the same exact 23-17 Coliseum situation that Cal's future Super Bowl champion Aaron Rodgers had failed back in 2004, the unheralded first-timer Tavita Pritchard succeeded. Mark Bradford, the Los Angeles native whose father had
passed away just days earlier, soared to the rescue. He hauled in
Pritchard's floating fade in the back corner of the end zone.
Both feet down. Derek Belch point after good. Stanford 24, USC
It felt as if a gigantic, invisible vacuum had sucked out every
ounce of the nervous, electric Coliseum air. Roaring noise one
second; complete silence the next. Exhilaration overtook the
Stanford sideline; horror consumed the rest of the stadium.
USC choked its last drive away under heavy Cardinal blitz pressure. A Bo McNally interception drove the final nail into USC's coffin.
As for those pre-fourth down funeral bells originally intended for
Stanford's fall? I guess they were actually intended to signal the
Trojans' demise. The greatest upset ever left permanent cracks in
Troy's armor, and Stanford returned to finish the Carroll
dynasty's derailing with a 55-21 beatdown on the same field two
Poet John Donne's work was relevant: "Never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
An hour after the game, I walked through the stadium tunnel and
out to the midfield logo of an empty, dark Coliseum to experience
the surreal feeling of freshly faded glory. The massive stadium
enveloped me, quiet and deserted. The electricity of shock,
though, still buzzed through the quiet October air.
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
2. Character and Cruelty - Harbaugh's brings new mentality of dominance
1. Biggest Upset Ever - Daniel Novinson's take on Stanford 24, USC 23 (2007)
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 is KZSU's former lead football
broadcaster. You can check out several of his Stanford calls and
other writing at www.davidlombardisports.com
and follow him on Twitter @davidmlombardi.
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