Season’s End Can Mean Mixed Feelings

When Stanford Football’s season ends, Troy is usually filled with mixed feelings. How does this season compare?

My wife and I hung out at the Stanford tailgate before the game Tuesday night. There were people everywhere. There was food everywhere, too. Everyone was having a great time—is that Jim Plunkett over there?—and getting ready for the game. If you weren't there, you should have been. It was off the hook.

But for me, the topper was featured on several of the television screens at the Great America Pavilion: a replay of the fourth quarter of Stanford’s decisive win over Virginia Tech in the 2011 Orange Bowl.

It was nice to watch the Cardinal move in for the kill against the overmatched Hokies. It was also fun to see yours truly, standing behind and to the left of Andrew Luck during his postgame interview with Michele Tafoya. The wife got a kick out of that.

Watching those images took me back to that night in South Florida. It also reminded me of my own personal images from the field after the game. John Elway in the house. Toby Gerhart fired up. Interviewing a proud Bob Bowlsby and an excited Richard Sherman. David Shaw taking it all in with his family. Condoleezza Rice leading the cheers. Our band playing. Our fans staying and cheering and never wanting any of it to end.

That wasn’t a postgame ceremony. That was a party. It was a celebration. Even better, it was also a coronation of Stanford Football as a legitimate national power.

That night was cloud nine. Usually though, the end of the Stanford Football season usually leaves me with very mixed emotions. This year was no different. As I walked onto the Levi’s Stadium field after Stanford’s 45-21 dismissal of Maryland at the Foster Farms Bowl, I had two overriding feelings. One of those feelings was the sadness that comes with the close of another season of Cardinal Football.

But the main thing I was feeling on that field? Cold. I mean, that was brutal. If you braved that entire game outdoors, give yourself a gold star.

As nice as the postgame scene was Tuesday night, it will never compare with the postgame sights and sounds from that Orange Bowl four years ago. It’s an unfair comparison, I realize, but still. I will never forget that scene. Ever. And unless and until Stanford makes a national championship game and wins it, I don’t know if that moment and those emotions will be topped.

That includes the 2013 Rose Bowl. Look, for Stanford fans, winning the Rose Bowl is still the pinnacle. There is nothing like it. It is the exact event Stanford Football fans dream of, and it actually happened two years ago.

But I was on the field for that postgame ceremony. I watched David Shaw hoist the Rose Bowl trophy just a few feet in front of me. I stood behind the players during the alma mater. I saw a proud Willie Shaw, quietly bursting with the joy of watching his son make the most of the chance that he never got.

And yet, somehow, I found it all strangely anticlimactic.

Now, it is entirely possible that, due to my original flight out of Pittsburgh getting delayed due to snow, missing my original connecting flight to Los Angeles, having to spend the night at the Las Vegas airport, getting about 30 minutes of quality sleep, and not getting in to LAX until 7 a.m. the morning of the game, I was too exhausted to feel much of anything by game’s end.

When it comes to this season, I suspect many other Stanford fans are also coming away from it with mixed feelings. Perfectly understandable, because the 2014 season will not be remembered without an accompanying share of what-ifs.

What if Stanford had accomplished something—anything--in the red zone against U$C? What if the defense had been able to force more turnovers? What if the Stanford offense we saw the final three games had shown up more consistently in the first ten games? What if David Shaw hadn’t trotted out the punt team at some stunningly conservative times?

This was a frustrating season. I think we can all agree on that. But if an 8-win season is your worst-case scenario, something tells me that your program is in good shape.

There are question marks for Stanford Football as the 2015 calendar year begins. But there is no question that everyone wants the chance to have the best feelings possible after next season is done. I can’t wait.

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