Stanford’s Super Legacy Continues

You may not like the teams playing in Super Bowl XLIX, but you have to like another year of seeing former Stanford players in that other big game.

Thirty years ago on Tuesday, Stanford Stadium was the center of the football world. Heck, it was the center of the entire universe. On January 20, 1985, Super Bowl XIX was played on The Farm.

That game should ring a bell for Bay Area sports fans. Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers won a second Super Bowl title, completely defusing Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins in a 38-16 win.

It was a super day for the 49ers and a successful event overall, but there were hiccups. The biggest complaint about Stanford Stadium? Not enough restrooms for the 84,000-plus who packed it. Then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozell’s biggest complaint about Stanford Stadium? While he was walking into the place to watch the game, someone picked his pocket.

The Super Bowl has not returned to the Bay Area since. And when it does 53 ½ weeks from now, it won’t be coming back to Stanford Stadium. Although it has been 30 years since The Farm hosted the Super Bowl, Stanford’s contributions to the biggest sporting event this country has to offer have been steady and significant.

Of the 48 Super Bowls played to date, a former Stanford player has been on the roster for 35 of them. Next Sunday will make 36 of 49 (or should that be XXXVI of XLIX?). On that day, the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots—two teams that apparently no one likes—will square off for all of this year’s marbles in this year’s NFL Game of the Century.

(by the way, quick tangent here: it’s amazing to me how intense the dislike is for these two teams. This isn’t a Super Bowl, it’s a hater’s ball. The Seahawks are too boastful and boisterous. The Patriots cheat. Based on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, you know what it looks like America is rooting for on Super Sunday? Injuries.)

No matter who wins, whether it’s the team you hate or the team you really hate, a former Stanford player will earn a Super Bowl ring this year. Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin form the Stanford contingent from the Seahawks. Meanwhile, former Card lineman Cameron Fleming will try to protect Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Fleming will become the 37th different former Stanford player to make a Super Bowl roster. As you’d expect, that list is pretty distinguished, from Lester Archambeau (Atlanta Falcons, XXXIII) to John Wilbur (Washington, VII).

Stanford quarterbacks have won four Super Bowls. That’s more wins than any other Pac-12 school’s former quarterbacks have produced. It took a bit longer for Elway to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy than he would have liked, but he got two wins in Supes XXXII and XXXIII. Jim Plunkett was the first former Stanford quarterback to start a Super Bowl (XV), the first to win (XV), and the first to win twice (XVIII).

For comparison’s sake, UCLA is the only other Pac-12 school that can boast multiple Super Bowl wins, thanks to Troy Aikman (and no thanks to Billy Kilmer). The only other Pac-12 quarterback Super Bowl winner? Washington State’s Mark Rypien, who was the MVP of Super Bowl XXVI.

And since we’re in a comparing mood, let’s look at what cal QBs have done in the Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before that? Yikes. Until Rodgers, NFL teams that had a former cal QB on their roster had gone a combined 0-9 in the Super Bowl.

Until then, cal's Super Bowl quarterback legacy was one of complete failure, based on the outcomes for Joe Kapp (started IV; 0-1), Craig Morton (started V and XII; 0-2), Vince Ferragamo (started XIV; 0-1), and Gale Gilbert (on the roster for XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, and XXIX with Buffalo and San Diego; 0-5).

Rodgers stopped that trend and finally became the first Weenie to even be on a Super Bowl winner, much less start for one. For a while last Sunday, it looked as if Rodgers would get a chance to make it two in a row for former cal QBs, but, well…you know.

Some of the did-you-knows in the “Stanford in the Super Bowl” category even surprised me. It’s no surprise that John Elway’s five Super Bowls lead all former Cardinal players. I never would have guessed the person who is second on the list: Darrien Gordon, the former cornerback. He went to four Super Bowls; two with the Denver Broncos, and one each with the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders.

Also, the streak of consecutive Super Bowls featuring a Stanford player on a participating team’s roster reached twelve straight, between XVIII and XXIX. That includes Milt McColl, who brought his 49er teammates with him for Stanford’s Super Sunday thirty years ago.

Here’s the cool thing: the Stanford-to-the-Super-Bowl pipeline may just be restarting again. After all, how can you not like Andrew Luck’s chances of getting there sometime?

Still, Luck and his Indianapolis Colts learned the hard way this week that it is insanely difficult to make it to a Super Bowl. Another player who learned that lesson played an integral part in that game at Stanford Stadium thirty years ago. Who could possibly have guessed after that game that Super Bowl XIX would be Dan Marino’s only chance to win the big trophy?

Marino’s Super Bowl legacy will always be unfulfilled. But Stanford’s Super Bowl legacy continues to thrive. Whether you are rooting for the Seahawks, the Patriots, or actively hating them both, you can rest assured that a Cardinal will help raise the trophy at the end.

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