[Editorial comments added later, with the benefit of hindsight, will be in brackets.]
The Friggin Rose Bowl
This is the Rose Bowl, for criminy's sake. And Stanford is not only in it. Stanford is favored. How often does that happen? Twice a century or so? Much as you hope it is the start of a trend, when you are playing the back nine of life, you take no chances. Yeah, you will be paying American Express for the rest of your life out of your teacher's salary. But you go. You don't even tell your Bootleg buddies you are going, because they know your history and you don't want to spoil it for them.
You even find a marathon to run the day before, despite Mrs. WyoMizzouCard's fear that it will make you very tired and, therefore, emotional. The poor lady has had to scrape your sorry rear end off the pavement after many a trip to see Stanford in the post-season, so you cannot blame her. You struggle to finish (back nine of life and all), but you do. It does make you tired and, therefore, a bit mellow. That leads to not as much yelling at officials as usual, but still plenty of cheering for the good guys.
Don't Know How the Game Will Turn Out, But This Is a First
I don't have the exact count at my fingertips, but I think Mini and I have taken about twenty of these trips to post-season Stanford games, in all sorts of sports. Every single time, the majority of the crowd was rooting for the other team, and decidedly so. Not today. The Stanford folks are most definitely in the majority. Cool!
Mini and I would never admit it to each other because we definitely do not want to jinx anything (beyond what our very presence might do), especially after all the pain of all these trips, but I have the feeling that both of us think this might just be the time we finally get one. Just before the game, I ask him for a prediction. "Stanford dominates the first half, but only leads by three" is his call. If he is right, we are in trouble, as a team that dominates the field but not the scoreboard in the first half almost always loses big in the second half. [Post-game edit: Dead on, at least on the score. Not sure we "dominated" the first half, though we definitely dominated the first quarter. Also, it should be noted, on the walk to the stadium Mini said the only thing he knew for sure was that, if Stanford somehow won, it would be by six points or less. But that was because he knows a hard luck better who took Stanford and gave up 6.5, so I am not sure that one counts for Mini.]
Never Take the Ball First
There is most definitely a split of opinion at The Bootleg, but I am firmly in the "I want the ball in the second half, when the game is decided" camp. Especially in a bowl game. Emotions are high at the start of a bowl game, and emotion favors defense. The month layoff hurts the offense, which relies on timing, more than the defense. Never take the ball first in a bowl game! [Okay, I blew that one. But at least I am honest enough to include it here, so you know I am not a fraud.]
Nobody Sitting in Our Section on the First Drive
Another thing I thought I would never experience: Watching while standing, in a Stanford fan section, with not a soul sitting and nobody complaining, during the entirety of Stanford's first possession. It was a thing of beauty. [And it was way too good to last. After that score, about half a dozen Stanford fans in our section made it their life's work to get everyone seated. I know we diehard Stanford fans need to be tolerant of the newcomers to the game and to Stanford football if we want to become a true national football powerhouse, but, geez, people, get a clue. Do not make noise by "cheering" when we are on offense, at the line of scrimmage. Do not ask "What does BCS stand for?" At least not in a loud enough voice for others to hear. Do not cheer when you see the offsides signal when we are on defense, thinking it is a penalty on the offense. Learn the difference between hands on the hips and rotating hands. And please, I beg you, do not say, after Wisconsin scores to finish out the half, "At least it is not going to be a blowout. For a while, it looked like that." Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea how much I would have loved a blowout by Stanford? But, having said all that, welcome to the fold, newbies. Just be willing to learn. Watch those Wisconsin fans. Fewer of them than we had, by far, but they sure knew when to make noise.]
Touchdowns on the first two possessions, with an inconsequential Wisconsin possession between them? Now this is the kind of Rose Bowl a Stanford fan can love.
Just Because You're Paranoid, That Does Not Mean They Are Not Out to Get You
That is what a sign in my dad's office said when I was a kid. He had a point. In this otherwise wonderful year, how many times have the on-field officials made close goal line calls against Stanford? Off the top of my head: Two (or three, depending on how you count) against USB. Twice in the Pac-10 Championship Game against UCLA. And now this, in the Rose Bowl? Every single one of those calls went against Stanford on the field. [We won't even mention the Ertz touchdown against Oregon, as that was technically not a goal-line call.] And that might be hands to the face (I did not see it, so how do I know?), but how many times did Saint Te'o do that on the goal line, without a call? And how many times a game does one of our guys get rocked like that hit in the USB game that got them into overtime? [I guess we got a bit of that karma back in the second half. Okay, enough complaining. Stanford is in the Rose Bowl. Focus.] After that "touchdown" was reversed, what a play by the Stanford defense!
Déjà Vu, All Over Again
Really Big Play
I marked it down as the first really big play of the day. After Wisconsin scored, Stanford had the ball third and five at the Wisconsin 31, with 6:28 to go. It was such a big play that I did not even complain about the timeout, even though I always scream at forced timeouts before the end of the half. We really need a score, to answer Wisconsin's score and start to put them away. An overthrow. [That became a recurring theme in the game. Was this the game when we paid the price for riding a freshman quarterback? But, tough as he had it throwing the ball, his legs really saved us, so we have no basis for complaint. Kevin Hogan, we love ya!] Nice kick by Jordan, but this felt like a victory for the Badgers. [Good game by Jordan Williamson, by the way. And a great game by Daniel Zychlinski. He really boomed the ball on his punts.]
Do Not Punt
Fourth and three from the Wisconsin 45. Do not punt! Why do football coaches punt in this situation? You only gain 25 yards or so. [Turned out to be 35.] In modern football, that can be made up in a play or two. Why not take a chance at keeping the ball?!?! [I was wrong on the earlier coaching decision criticism, but I was right on this one. They scored and got the halftime momentum.]
Halftime System Check
When you "run" marathons (if you can call what I do "running," even though it is a lot more like "waddling"), you get into the habit of doing the occasional system check. Offense is hibernating. Could wake up, especially if the passes start to come down. Could keep sleeping. If the passes do not come down, are we good enough to run when everybody knows we are going to run? That seems like the biggest difference between last season and this season. Our offensive line is going to round into a very good unit with a bit of time, but they are not quite where the line was last year, imposing its will even when everyone knew what was coming. The defense was okay in the first half, but they gave up a lot to Ball. The déjà vu feeling of Ball/Dayne getting stronger and stronger as the game goes on is tough to shake. And Wisconsin gets the ball first in the second half. Mini's prediction: We will do a better job of stopping Ball in the second half, but that is going to open something up, so Wisconsin is going to hit for a couple of 60 yarders. [He was dead on, again, about the first half of that. And it did open something up, but it was the slot back runs. They hurt us, but they did not go for 60.] His dad was feeling mostly dread. At the beginning of the game, my heart of hearts told me we were going to win, even though I would never admit that publicly. Now I could no longer conjure up that feeling. The late first half score gave all the momentum to Wisconsin. But we still had the lead, and there is always hope in that. Déjà vu, though, made that feel less hopeful, too, as it seems like we had the lead at halftime thirteen years ago, too, though the memory fades (back nine of life, see above).
To save space, I won't bother you with the many "offense really needs to score here, because we are putting a lot of pressure on the defense" scribbles on my game notes sheet. You just cannot say enough about the Stanford defense in the third quarter. Over and over, Wisconsin had a good gain on first or second down, often on runs by the slot man, though their passing game was also working better than it should have all game, too (though often in the form of their quarterback breaking containment and scrambling for good yardage). Over and over, our defense shut them down on those third and short plays. Fans love offense, but we fans should always remember the epic play of the Stanford defense in the third quarter (and beyond) of the 2013 Rose Bowl. What a gutty performance. Once Wisconsin got about to midfield, our guys let them get no further. And the punt near the end of the third quarter on fourth and one was the price Wisconsin played for bringing an old-school coach out of mothballs. Thank you, Barry.
Dusk at the Rose Bowl
For about half a century, I have been watching the Rose Bowl, though usually (with only two exceptions) on television. It has always seemed that dusk is almost a character in the story. There comes a time in the Rose Bowl when a team has the ball, with the game in its hands, darkness having fallen over the field. The setting, for me, is one of the most iconic in sports.
And this year it was our team. Struggle though he did with many, though thankfully not all, of his passes, Kevin Hogan is a winner, and he got some key damage done with his feet. He drove his team—our team—down the field. But the lead was three. Stanford really needed the touchdown. Is there any lead in sports tougher on a fan's nerves than a six point lead in football at the end of the game? [Yes, six is better than three, because a field goal does not tie the game. But the other team knows that, so it sells out to get a touchdown, and the touchdown and conversion beats you. So six, oddly, seems more precarious than three.]
As that drive progressed, it was hard to not think our time had finally come. Even after setbacks, Stanford continued to move. Try as I might to fight the feeling, I thought we might score. On a purely personal note, I thought maybe, just maybe, Mini and I would finally leave a stadium happy after a post-season game.
Alas, maybe it was. The key pass sailed high, again. We had to settle for three. Well done, Jordan.
But there it was. A six-point lead, 20 to 14, with 4:26 to go. The time could not have been worse. Wisconsin could still run the ball, at least some of the time.
Now their team had the ball in the darkness of the Rose Bowl. This was starting to have a really bad feel to it. And they started moving down the field, about five yards a pop. As Mini pointed out, this was the worst of all possible drives. If they would have just blitzed down the field in one fell swoop, we would have had a chance to answer back. Instead, they had moved forward at the worst possible pace. Now they had the ball at about midfield, with just over two minutes to play. It looked every bit like they would score with essentially no time left on the clock.
At this point, it was hard to feel (especially if you are paranoid, see above, and if your heart had broken for your beloved Stanford teams so many times) like anything good was going to happen. Stanford had outplayed Wisconsin. Not by a huge margin, admittedly. But this was not a Stanford team that was going to pummel a good team, like the 2011 Stanford team did. This team was built on heart and toughness, with enough talent to compete and win, to be sure, but not enough to dominate. And they had outplayed Wisconsin.
But it was starting to feel like Wisconsin was getting all the breaks. They shank a punt and it bounces for over fifty yards. And how many times did Stanford tip the ball at the line of scrimmage, only to see Wisconsin complete the pass anyway? A lot of times.
But not this time! Did we just intercept the ball? The official is signaling for "stop the clock"! Mini, I think we got the ball!
Again, what can you say about the Stanford defense? They shut down a strong Wisconsin running game and survived the surprisingly resilient Wisconsin passing game. Finally they got to the Wisconsin quarterback on a pass play, without giving him an escape route, and finally it paid off.
Did we just win the game? Time for some quick calculations. Didn't they have to take a timeout earlier in the half? Check the scoreboard. They did. Only two timeouts left. But that is enough for them to get the ball back, unless Stanford can get a first down.
So now it is time for us to run the ball when everybody knows we are going to run it. Are we good enough to do that, this year? First down gave us a bit of pause. Second down was fabulous (even though we did not opt for Mini's suggestion of a run-only bootleg, after a fake to Stepfan, which would have been a great second-down call).
So here it is. Third and short. Everyone in the stadium knows what is coming next. (Well, not quite everyone. Our "what does BCS stand for?" section mate is probably clueless at this point. But pretty much everyone else knows what is coming next.)
Next to me is the kid who has been waiting for a moment like this for almost literally his whole life. He and I used to watch Stanford games (mostly on television) together all the time. But this is a rare treat now, with him in college (and, I might add, with the Pac 12 Network nowhere to be found on our television sets). These trips together are going to be increasingly rare events.
Never once have we finished one of these trips happy. But never have we been this close, either. One simple running play. C'mon Stepfan! C'mon, offensive line!
And there it is. Not the 80-yard pass play or the buzzer-beating three pointer or the bases-clearing homer that you picture in your dreams Just a simple power running play, for five yards. But guess what just happened?
Stanford just won the Rose Bowl. The Friggin Rose Bowl. STANFORD won the Rose Bowl.
And we were there to see it. And so, we are sure (though we dared not tell anyone we were there, so we are not absolutely sure) were Bobbkkkk. And Lars. And Emeritus. And all those Terries. And Cliff Speed, who had endured losses with us before, in Omaha. [He is the one Bootie who knew we were there, actually.] And oh so many more.
We all saw Stanford win the Rose Bowl.
No, it was not a national championship. Thus, Mini and I still can still search for our holy grail. But it is the next best thing. The Rose Bowl.
Thank you, Stepfan Taylor. Thank you, offensive line. Thank you, Kevin Hogan (and Josh Nunes). Thank you, Usua Amanam. Thank you, everyone on the Stanford defense. Thank you, Jordan Williamson and Daniel Zychlinski. Thank you, especially, seniors, for being part of the group that turned Stanford football around. Thank you, David Shaw. I just saw something I thought I might never see, and you did that for all of us.
So we got that celebratory hug. And we fought back the tears, the way I figured we would. At least the old guy did.
What Is the Procedure Now?
The old man is not sure what is supposed to happen now. We have actually gotten quite good—well, let's make that "competent"—at watching of the other team celebrate, slowly and quietly gathering up our stuff for the long walk back to the car, followed by the long drive (and sometimes flight) home, also mostly in silence. But what are we supposed to do now? Sing and dance with the band, sure, but then what?
And where is Mini? I am not really worried, as he is now an adult, but he has gone somewhere. When I finally spot him, I realize that he is collecting up other people's trash. Specifically, he is gathering up the fold up Stanford signs and commemorative cups others have thrown away.
This might seem strange to you, but it makes sense to me once I realized what he was doing. His old man is far too cheap (and the stuff far too ugly) to pay ridiculously high prices for official Rose Bowl souvenirs. But there are signs and cups around, if you are willing to hunt for them.
Mini's cup and sign harvest is his way of saying, "This one, we are going to remember." I join the quest. It takes me back to my first job, as a janitor at a junior college. Stadiums are rather gruesome places after games. But there are treasures to be had, if you keep looking.
We end up with a full set of the finest (plastic) glassware you will ever see. Eighteen cups, even after Mini gives one to a janitor who says, as we are cleaning them in the bathroom, "I was hoping to get one of those."
If you drive through Laramie, Wyoming, anytime soon, stop by. We will toast our Stanford team with those stunningly beautiful "Rose Bowl 2013" cups. Actually, it does not have to be very soon. Something tells me we will have those cups decades from now. And it does not even have to be Laramie. I have a feeling a certain dorm room in Dickinson, North Dakota, will feature the same cups. So stop in there for a toast to our boys if you find yourself heading down I-94.
Reality will set in tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will be back in my hometown, which will probably be freezing. [Actually, that was optimistic. It was six below when we rolled into town.] Tomorrow, I will have to work until midnight, so I can head on the road again for a dreaded work trip. [That was optimistic, too. It was actually past 5:00 a.m., with a 7:00 a.m. wakeup to allow me to get on the road.] Tomorrow, I will have to start to figure out a way to keep the American Express wolf at the door. [Sent them a check. But much works remains to be done there.] Tomorrow, I will have to start working off those fifteen pounds I gained over the holidays. [No progress there yet.] Tomorrow, I have to say goodbye to my Stanford rooting buddy. [That one was hard. Does it ever get easier?]
But that is tomorrow. This is today. And do you know what happened today?
Stanford won the Rose Bowl.
Just imagine that.
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