Victory earned, lesson learned

The moral to the author’s visit to this year’s Pac-12 title game: Put yourself out there. You might experience something historic.


At some point, between Ronald Jones slicing through the Stanford defense for a touchdown and USC's band again polluting the world with noise, this year’s Pac-12 championship game taught me what a fan earns by attending a game in person.

Vulnerability. 

When the going gets tough, you have no choice but to absorb it. When your team’s fortunes sour, you can’t hide with the remote. You can’t distract yourself by joining your wife to read your 2-year-old son a bedtime story (how we coped with this year’s Oregon game).  

The first Stanford game I’d seen live in over three years reminded me how the price of a game ticket brings with it a helpless feeling. A nauseous, powerless feeling, a reminder of so many disappointing Saturdays spent sulking on metal bleachers at the old stadium. 

“This is just like all those other USC games,” I said out loud to my equally distraught parents, each sitting on either side of me, as Stanford’s 13-0 lead was now a 20-16 USC advantage. “They blew it.” The only thing missing was Rodney Peete, charging onto the Levi’s Stadium turf on the back of Traveler himself.

But this night was different. We know that now, as we prepare for the Card’s third Rose Bowl in four years. There will never be another victory like Stanford’s 41-22 triumph over USC in Santa Clara. What a reward for those who wore their hearts on their Stanford gear.

The victory bridged two eras. Alijah Holder and Bryce Love joined Christian McCaffrey – all high schoolers during Stanford’s most recent Pasadena trip years ago – in putting to rest any doubts of Stanford’s staying power. #PartyInTheBackfield gave way to an epic party in our backyard. 
At the expense of its all-time oppressor, Stanford became the all-time leader in Pac-12 football titles. 

Remember the night for how fortunes turned Stanford’s way so quickly. Every time it appeared the Trojans would rule, fate smiled on the Cardinal. Something happened to remind Stanford fans that our team – after so many years of subjugation – rules USC.

“With these stakes, against that team, against that band, against those uniforms, they did it,” said my dad, with over 60 years of Stanford fandom behind that statement. “They really did it.”

The Cardinal seemed on the verge of collapse when Jones found the end zone. Suddenly, McCaffrey’s 67-yard reception on third down, coupled with Hogan’s ensuing pirouette past the goal-line, had Stanford ahead to stay.  

The same fists I clinched in frustration were soon high-fiving strangers. Later, we waved adios to the Trojan fans bolting for the exits like Marcus Allen sprinting through the open field.

Speaking of Allen, how about that pregame USC love fest at midfield? Allen, Ronnie Lott, Joey Browner, Dennis Smith and Ron Yary –not a single loss to Stanford during their college days among them – appeared together before joyous cheers from the Trojan faithful around me. Never has a coin toss felt like such a bad omen.


But suddenly, there appeared a trio of Cardinal all-time greats: John Elway, Jim Plunkett and Kenny Margerum, arms locked and marching forward to meet their ceremonial foes. Stanford won the toss.

Throughout the night, Juju Smith-Schuster jarred and brawled with Cardinal defenders after the whistle, begging for personal fouls. The postgame scene saw him morph into the picture sportsmanship in praise of McCaffrey, “praying he wins the Heisman.”

Dennis Sheehan chose Stanford over USC before starting in two Rose Bowls at center. “You’ll never get one of these if you pick Stanford” Trojan assistant coach Marv Goux told him, pointing at his Pac-8 championship ring. Now, Stanford – McCaffrey, specifically – had Trojan standouts bowing down in awe.

“What doesn’t he do?” Su’a Cravens said.

Like so many here who made the trip down 101, this was personal on so many levels.  This was my mission to Santa Clara. My wife (we began dating in 2007 and started attending games together that year) was the ultimate team player, staying behind at home in Diamond Springs with our son while I watched the game and spent the night at my parents’ house in Los Altos.

This was one of those games to savor. To enjoy forever. To pass down to that next age bracket of Cardinal fan (young Jake DeVaughn is the fourth-generation). Like the game itself, the experience wasn’t entirely a joyous one.

Any doubts that USC fans would flood the surroundings were put to rest immediately. The stadium parking lot was a sea of cardinal and gold. Our walk to the Stanford alumni tailgate ground to an immediate halt as we – like a car stuck at a railroad crossing --  waited for the entire USC band to march past us.

But having sidestepped the helmets and swords, we found an oasis. Before I knew it, I was neck-deep in fellow Cardinal fans. We posed for pictures. We laughed and swapped stories. We drank really expensive beer and talked up our team’s chances. We were just starting to push our collective vulnerabilities to the table, taking in a night unlike any other.










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At some point, between Ronald Jones slicing through the Stanford defense for a touchdown and USC's band again polluting the world with noise, this year’s Pac-12 championship game taught me what a fan earns by attending a game in person.

Vulnerability. 

When the going gets tough, you have no choice but to absorb it. When your team’s fortunes sour, you can’t hide with the remote. You can’t distract yourself by joining your wife to read your 2-year-old son a bedtime story (how we coped with this year’s Oregon game).  

The first Stanford game I’d seen live in over three years reminded me how the price of a game ticket brings with it a helpless feeling. A nauseous, powerless feeling, a reminder of so many disappointing Saturdays spent sulking on metal bleachers at the old stadium. 

“This is just like all those other USC games,” I said out loud to my equally distraught parents, each sitting on either side of me, as Stanford’s 13-0 lead was now a 20-16 USC advantage. “They blew it.” The only thing missing was Rodney Peete, charging onto the Levi’s Stadium turf on the back of Traveler himself.

But this night was different. We know that now, as we prepare for the Card’s third Rose Bowl in four years. There will never be another victory like Stanford’s 41-22 triumph over USC in Santa Clara. What a reward for those who wore their hearts on their Stanford gear.

The victory bridged two eras. Alijah Holder and Bryce Love joined Christian McCaffrey – all high schoolers during Stanford’s most recent Pasadena trip years ago – in putting to rest any doubts of Stanford’s staying power. #PartyInTheBackfield gave way to an epic party in our backyard. 
At the expense of its all-time oppressor, Stanford became the all-time leader in Pac-12 football titles. 

Remember the night for how fortunes turned Stanford’s way so quickly. Every time it appeared the Trojans would rule, fate smiled on the Cardinal. Something happened to remind Stanford fans that our team – after so many years of subjugation – rules USC.

“With these stakes, against that team, against that band, against those uniforms, they did it,” said my dad, with over 60 years of Stanford fandom behind that statement. “They really did it.”

The Cardinal seemed on the verge of collapse when Jones found the end zone. Suddenly, McCaffrey’s 67-yard reception on third down, coupled with Hogan’s ensuing pirouette past the goal-line, had Stanford ahead to stay.  

The same fists I clinched in frustration were soon high-fiving strangers. Later, we waved adios to the Trojan fans bolting for the exits like Marcus Allen sprinting through the open field.

Speaking of Allen, how about that pregame USC love fest at midfield? Allen, Ronnie Lott, Joey Browner, Dennis Smith and Ron Yary –not a single loss to Stanford during their college days among them – appeared together before joyous cheers from the Trojan faithful around me. Never has a coin toss felt like such a bad omen.


But suddenly, there appeared a trio of Cardinal all-time greats: John Elway, Jim Plunkett and Kenny Margerum, arms locked and marching forward to meet their ceremonial foes. Stanford won the toss.

Throughout the night, Juju Smith-Schuster jarred and brawled with Cardinal defenders after the whistle, begging for personal fouls. The postgame scene saw him morph into the picture sportsmanship in praise of McCaffrey, “praying he wins the Heisman.”

Dennis Sheehan chose Stanford over USC before starting in two Rose Bowls at center. “You’ll never get one of these if you pick Stanford” Trojan assistant coach Marv Goux told him, pointing at his Pac-8 championship ring. Now, Stanford – McCaffrey, specifically – had Trojan standouts bowing down in awe.

“What doesn’t he do?” Su’a Cravens said.

Like so many here who made the trip down 101, this was personal on so many levels.  This was my mission to Santa Clara. My wife (we began dating in 2007 and started attending games together that year) was the ultimate team player, staying behind at home in Diamond Springs with our son while I watched the game and spent the night at my parents’ house in Los Altos.

This was one of those games to savor. To enjoy forever. To pass down to that next age bracket of Cardinal fan (young Jake DeVaughn is the fourth-generation). Like the game itself, the experience wasn’t entirely a joyous one.

Any doubts that USC fans would flood the surroundings were put to rest immediately. The stadium parking lot was a sea of cardinal and gold. Our walk to the Stanford alumni tailgate ground to an immediate halt as we – like a car stuck at a railroad crossing --  waited for the entire USC band to march past us.

But having sidestepped the helmets and swords, we found an oasis. Before I knew it, I was neck-deep in fellow Cardinal fans. We posed for pictures. We laughed and swapped stories. We drank really expensive beer and talked up our team’s chances. We were just starting to push our collective vulnerabilities to the table, taking in a night unlike any other.



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