Athletic Superiority: Before the game starts, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves just how good life indeed is as a Stanford fan. In my effort to gauge the strength of teams, I like to play a game of “would you trade theirs for ours?” I try to do this purely on the basis of athletic ability, as I would almost never trade a Stanford student athlete for someone from another team on the basis of the whole person. But take a look at Stanford’s roster, as opposed to Iowa’s roster. Is there anybody from their team who is athletically superior to the guys on our team? On the basis of athletic talent, I think you would take Desmond King. But only as a defensive back. I am not trading our return guy for him. Maybe their best offensive lineman for our weakest offensive lineman. Maybe. I just am not that good about the details of our lines.
But that is it, from my perspective. And let’s not forget, this is the No. 5 team in the country, which (as Iowa fans like to remind us) was a couple of feet from being in the playoffs. Think about that for a moment. We are, at least in my opinion, athletically superior by a noticeable margin to the No. 5 team in the country. That includes being faster. Faster?!? At Stanford?
That does not mean that we will win, of course. But I like our chances. This is heady territory for we Stanford fans who have spent most of our Cardinal rooting lives hoping we can out-scheme and out-effort the best teams in the country, because we are used to being in a deficit from a pure athleticism perspective.
Keys to the Game: In my view, there are three keys to this game. First, as always, our strong but thin defensive line needs to avoid injury. Second, we need the Direct TV Kevin Hogan, not the cable television Kevin Hogan who we have seen on occasion. I like our chances on that score, as we haven’t seen that other guy since the day that shall not be spoken of at the beginning of the season. Hogan has been amazing, though somewhat unsung nationally, this year. Third, I think Bryce Love has to have a big day, because Iowa is going to key on stopping Christian McCaffrey, which should set up counterpunching opportunities for Bryce. Mini disagrees with me on number three. He is convinced that Christian is going to have a huge day. [Post-game edit: I guess you know which member of our family to trust for predictions.]
Mustard and Ketchup: To use my brother-in-law’s terminology, the stands look like mustard (Iowa fans) and ketchup (Stanford fans). I put it at roughly 60% mustard and 40% ketchup. Admittedly, there is more mustard in the ketchup sections than ketchup in the mustard sections. [A plea to those with Stanford connections: Please do not use those connections to purchase tickets for those loyal to the opponent. Let them fend for themselves, so there are tickets left for all Stanford supporters who want to attend.] But this is not as Iowa-dominated a crowd as I had feared. Mini and I have been to many a post-season Stanford sporting event. Except for those rare events at the Farm like baseball or softball regionals, Stanford fans are always in the minority. Always. We are from a small Division I school with lots of folks who do not care about sports, so this is a given. But we are pretty well represented at the Rose Bowl.
Half Way to (Almost) Perfection: While I could bore you with my precise observations during the first half, there is little point to that. In summary, Christian McCaffrey, Kevin Hogan, Quenton Meeks, Michael Rector, and their buddies were unreal, against a team that allegedly had a strong defense. It took a picky holding call (which had some basis, to be sure, but was still rather picky) to keep Christian from a receiving, return, and rushing touchdown all in one half. Also, as Mini pointed out at the time, until Hogan’s touchdown run, Christian was responsible for all of our offense other than Barry Sanders’ one yard.
I will only say this, in summary: I watched Derrick Henry the night before on television, and I have seen him on other occasions. He is the rough equivalent of Christian in two endeavors: running between the tackles and pass protection. [You can debate which one you want to send between the tackles. Some will take Henry because of his brute strength, which is considerable. But I think Christian does more when there is no visible hole than Henry does. Roughly, though, it is a wash between the tackles.] Both are pretty good blockers when picking up blitzers. But Christian does so much more for his team, including running outside, receiving, and returning. I won’t even mention passing. I realize that I am biased, but I seriously believe Christian was the best player in college football this year by a noticeable margin. Again, I go back to this test: Who would you trade Christian for? No way would I trade Christian for anybody else.
Halftime: Iowa’s fans, who were basically silent the entire first half except when they wanted a late hit call they did not deserve on a sideline tackle, finally got into the game at halftime, loudly booing our band. Frankly, I did not notice anything that bad about LSJUMB’s program, which seemed to have as many good natured jabs at Stanford (with references to “the Farm” and aversion to genetically altered corn) as at Iowa. But I cannot see what the formations are from our seats, so maybe I am missing something. My diagnosis is that Iowans came a long way to be heard. They are probably frustrated at the game, but too polite to boo their team, so they have decided to boo our band instead. That is their right, of course, and our band often brings out that reaction. But unless I missed something, either in the pregame performance that I basically ignored while doing some last-minute reading, or in the formations the band was in, I don’t see anything that bad about what LSJUMB did. The “Farm” link seemed more cute than mean-spirited. [Post-game edit: For what little they might be worth, here are my thoughts about getting folks to love us, including by taming down our band. During my first few years of attending Stanford games away from The Farm, I thought otherwise neutral folks would root for Stanford because, as the recent Sports Illustrated column pointed out, we do things the right way in college sports. But after attending many post-season Stanford sporting events away from the Farm, I can report that lots of folks seem to hate us, because they think we are spoiled. When we remind them, as we do in our ads, that our grads have started lots of important companies and done lots of other fine things, that adds to the idea that there is no reason to vote for a Stanford kid for the Heisman Trophy, because he probably already has had everything go his way in life. They also think we are a school for the rich, which is especially amusing for those of us who are not. Also, there is the “my kid (or my neighbor’s kid, my cousin, etc.) did not get in” syndrome, which I can understand because I basically have those feelings about Harvard, even to this day.
I have never been to an NCAA basketball tournament game, men’s or women’s, when the vast majority of the neutrals in the crowd did not root for the other team, even when it was the UConn women, which everybody should hate. During the days when Stanford was a regular at the College World Series, Mini and I saw many Nebraskans root for schools like Miami when they played Stanford. Those were the days when Miami was wrecking Nebraska football seasons, but the Nebraskans were rooting for Miami against Stanford. As a final data point, next time you are in a store that sells hats or other college team paraphernalia outside the Bay Area, look for Stanford stuff. You won’t find it. You will find Duke stuff, UCLA stuff, Michigan stuff, even Boise State and Oregon State stuff, for heaven’s sake. But you won’t find much, if any, Stanford stuff at many stores outside the Bay Area. Believe me, I have looked.
In my opinion, for what little it might be worth, we need to get over the idea that we would just be loved if we were more lovable. It’s not going to happen. With the possible exception of the band, which does rub some the wrong way though others are amused by it, we are already pretty loveable. Stanford fans, in my experience (and often to my chagrin), are far less prone to getting on the officials or the opposing teams’ players than the fans of other schools, but that gets us no love. Like Tara VanDerveer said a few years back, Stanford sports teams need to worry less about being nice and more about being feared. No need to be rude, but it is a fool’s errand, in my opinion, for Stanford to make decisions motivated by a desire to make the fans of other teams like us. After years of dealing with the fans of other schools, who always outnumber Stanford fans away from The Farm and who often treat our student-athletes very roughly, I no longer care what they think.]
Second Half: The rules require a second half, so one was indeed played. It was a bit anticlimactic, but in a way this Stanford fan, who has endured several beatdowns of assorted Stanford teams in the postseason over the years, could thoroughly enjoy. Also, as Mega pointed out at the start of the half, it was the last half of football where we will ever see a number seven playing for Stanford. As someone who was at Stanford during the Elway years and thoroughly enjoyed the Gerhart years and the careers of several other distinguished number sevens (including that of the current occupant of that jersey), I confess that I will rather miss it. [Post-game edit: It is fitting that, thanks to our current number seven, Aziz Shittu, the number earned Rose Bowl (Defensive) Player of the Game honors in its last Stanford appearance.]
The Confetti Standard: When Alex Robinson covered up the snap that sailed over his head in punt formation in the middle of the third quarter, fans in or near the Iowa band released blasts of yellow confetti. From that point forward, they showed that their confetti-releasing bar was quite low, as they let the stuff fly on a fourth-down conversion and pretty much anything else that was remotely positive for Iowa. That means that these folks, who brought enough confetti to eventually litter a corner of the Rose Bowl field with it, had to wait for well over two hours after the start of the Rose Bowl to finally observe something that justified them doing what they had come to do—release the confetti. That is as good an indicator as any of how thoroughly Stanford dominated the Rose Bowl.
I almost felt sorry for them, as Mini and I have been in their shoes many times. But Iowa did enough against our punt team and our defensive reserves to give them things to cheer and discharge confetti about in the second half. The good news for all is that Iowa did enough that the Rose Bowl folks won’t have to switch back to chariot races. [An admittedly strained and rather painful Stanford historical reference, for the benefit of our fearless leader Emeritus.]
Curtain Call: As the game winds down, my one remaining wish for what has been a wonderful (though, of course, not perfect) Stanford football season is that Kevin Hogan get a curtain call, where he is pulled mid-series so we can give him a standing ovation. Instead, he throws a pass into the end zone that is deflected straight into the air for an interception. Not that it is all that important, but let’s not let it end that way.
Happily, it does not, as he hits the ever reliable McCaffrey for a nice gain on the next possession. Even better, he then hits Michael Rector on a streak pattern that reminds me of the one that came right at our seats in Boulder. That is the way to end it!
Something Very Special: During my first trip to the Rose Bowl, I heard the words “Ron Dayne” so often that I was afraid I would keep hearing them the rest of my life. [Come to think of it, I still can.] I am certain that Iowa fans will be hearing “Christian McCaffrey, the ball carrier” in their sleep for a while after this game. From the ketchup section, let’s make sure we realize what we just witnessed.
Our guy just had one of the most amazing seasons—arguably the most amazing season—in college football history. One never knows what the future holds, with changes in the offensive line and at quarterback, the possibility of injury, defenses designed to stop him, and all sorts of other variables. Of course, we all hope for the best for next year, but one never knows. Amid our legitimate frustration about the Heisman voting, let’s not lose sight of that reality. We were mighty fortunate to see what he—and his teammates—did this season.
Thanks, guys. It was a hell of a ride.
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