Originally published August 2003 (vol. 2, no. 1) in The Bootleg Magazine. "Dissed... Again" by Jim Rutter
The 2002 Stanford Football season was not "one for the record books" (at least not in a good way), much less "one for the ages." It definitely won't be added to our archive of fondest fall memories. I sincerely doubt I will ever watch any of the games again on tape. It was like that lazy-eyed psycho girlfriend in high school, something you just want to put behind you. On to the issue at hand…
25 years ago, one would be lucky to get a secondhand copy of Street & Smith's. I think I picked up my first Football Round-Up in 1974 when it had Stanford All-Americans Pat Donovan and Roger Stillwell on the cover. Today, it seems like there are more pundit-packed, prognostic pigskin publications and web-site surveys than there are former Soviet republics! They are glossy and thick, but not always worth buying for as much as $7.95 a piece (that '74 Round-Up set me back $1.25). Preseason college football magazines have a sometimes well-deserved reputation for being lazy, ignorant, and incomplete, often basing their "expert analysis" on a program's past reputation, highly-publicized players, the number of returning starters and supposed strength of schedule alone. Colorful cover shots and headlines are typically driven by marketing as publishers try to grab as much green as possible. While the preseason rags are still guilty of the occasional screw-up, oversight or omission, keen competition has caused them to get a lot better in recent years. Often geared toward professional and recreational gamblers, the amount of statistical information supplied can be staggering. While the magazines can't possibly know all of the latest developments, insider information, or potential secret weapons that a school's hardest-core fans may be privy to, the reality is that the general consensus of the magazines is more often than not, pretty close to the mark. Thankfully, they are not always on the money. There are exceptions, but they tend to be anomalies. For every damn-the-odds miracle season (like Stanford's in 1999 when we were slated to finish 8th in the conference), there are probably 10 or 20 that pretty closely perform to expectations.
That said, it should come as no shocking surprise that the soon-to-be-seen 2003 edition of the Stanford Cardinal is getting less love than a freshman fatty in FloMo. Just about everyone has us dismally dwelling near the cellar at 8th or 9th in the Pac-10. Athlon Sports isn't even willing to concede our beloved Cardinal a single game as a likely "W." Ouch! Our own parent affiliate's joint venture partner wouldn't even throw us a miserable bone and make us a clear home favorite against Sparta State! Actually, the "Fightin' (408)-ers" may field a fairly decent team, so I had better hold my tongue. Overall, Lindy's, Phil Steele's, Street & Smith's and Athlon have been the most accurate forecasters of college football fates over the last five years. This year, like last, they do not paint the prettiest of pictures. If you remove all emotion, school loyalty, and parental pride from your mind, you might make plans for spending New Year's Day with the family. There is at least a distinct possibility that Stanford could struggle through a "rebuilding year." It would be a stretch (even for "The UnAuthorized Authority") to predict, with confidence, consistent winning football from such a young team, one with plenty of question marks, starting to play late and facing the second-toughest schedule in the country. We may put a far superior product on the field and still struggle to win four, five or six. Note: Of all the teams we skip on the schedule this year, it is just our good fortune to have it be last place-predicted Arizona!
Unsatisfactory Summary of 2003
|Street & Smith's||#8||N/A|
|The Bootleg Magazine||#4||#31|
Individually, few of our players are getting much in the way of preseason props. A 2-9 season and the early departure of two of your best-known names will do that to you. OT Kirk Chambers, WR Luke Powell, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, LB Michael Craven, and TEs Brett Pierce and Alex Smith and have gotten a mention here and there, but in general, we have failed to place anyone prominently on preseason All-American teams. Hell, we barely cracked the all-conference teams. So what! Sure, honors are nice for the players and parents, but we are far more concerned about the sum than the parts. Besides, everyone knows that postseason honors are far more important (and relevant) than the preseason picks. "They" don't always know who the playmakers are going to be; "they" can't always capture the intangibles. How many nose tackles in the league would you be willing to trade straight-up, right now for our sophomore stud and emerging leader Babatunde Oshinowo? U$C's Mike Patterson? Oregon's Haloti Ngata? Yet, he doesn't get a mention, four preseason teams deep. My point exactly.
The roadmap to success in 2003 could be clearer, but there is no need to sit around and bemoan the challenges we need to overcome. It isn't just a well-worn cliché, a perceived lack of respect ("gettin' dissed") can motivate a proud group of young men to overachieve and prove the pigskin pundits wrong. Players, just tack it up on the wall, work a little harder, practice a little more. Fans, at least you can yell a little louder. We would love to tell you that the Cardinal will come of age and shock the world with a 9-2 regular season and a berth in the BCS. We'd love to assure you that Buddy Teevens will be named "Coach of the Year", season tickets sales will skyrocket, a wealthy stealth alum will fund a brand new super-stadium, we'll sign the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation, and that junior high kids in South Central Los Angeles, Eastern Pennsylvania, Plano, Texas, and Dade County, Florida will start sporting Cardinal & White and studying hard for the SAT. Not that it can't happen, but can we agree that it is at least "unlikely" to happen?
One thing is for certain, no one really knows what will truly transpire. You can only be right in retrospect. Hindsight is 20/20, etc. That's why each and every season is fresh, fun, and exciting! It's why the players put on the pads, it's why we write this magazine, it's why we sit through successive Saturday scorchers hoping for heaven even if everyone else expects hell. Exceeding low expectations can create the most memorable of seasons. Overcoming anticipated adversity with character and grit is one of the most inspirational themes in the human experience. As much as college football has become big business, it is still essentially a character-building experience for our student-athletes. Two or three players a year may parlay their experience into a spot on an NFL roster. Realistically, the rest are playing for pride, the thrill of competition, and an education. Year in, year out, Stanford Football fields the most outstanding group of well-rounded, high-achieving young men found anywhere in the country. I think that alone is grounds for NEVER ruling out a big year. Bet against the Cardinal and you will often lose. [Disclaimer: That last comment was solely for our readership's enjoyment. The Bootleg does not encourage or condone high-stakes gambling on NCAA sporting events.] OK, off the soapbox.
In 2003, we have a lot of reasons to care, for the Cardinal cupboard is far from bare. The talent is so strong, we can prove them all wrong. With the lone exception of 1999, our recruiting classes in the past five years have all been "Top 25." Our spirited young defense will likely have to lead the way, reaping the benefit of last year's baptism by fire. New Offensive Coordinator David Kelly is going to have to be both creative and unpredictable. We need to put points on the board! We need to get some sacks! The ball has to bounce our way! New Nigerian names have to emerge! The crowd has to get into the game! Death to Oski! BRING BACK THE INDIAN! (Sorry, got carried away.) Look, if all else fails, at least we are getting a sweet new state-of-the-art scoreboard (thanks to a benevolent Bootleg subscriber). So, we've got that going for us… which is nice. Let's prove that all those Nasty Know-Nothing NaysayersÔ are nuts. Go Cardinal!
If you want exhaustive detail, go down to your local smoke shop (Mac's in Palo Alto for example) and buy the magazines. But since most of you Red-Hot Rooter-Readers™ have real jobs, we have tried to save you some time and trouble by giving you a short (if not sweet) overview of the prevailing pessimistic perspective (see above).
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