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November doesn't have much, besides Thanksgiving, to endear itself to Americans. The weather starts to worsen, work piles up, the flu starts spreading, and department stores advertise for Christmas well before they should. There are few things as disconcerting as trying to get a Snickers bar on November 4th and only being able to buy red- and green-colored ones with the likeness of Santa Claus imprinted onto the top.
And then there is Cal, which is a nuisance all year round.
Cal, that institution which last year snapped Stanford's seven-contest Big Game win streak like a feeble twig, shellacking the Stanford football team by the lopsided tally of 30-7. Cal, that school which yearly upbraids Stanford's ragtag band with a stoic and measured performance of jazz and marching classics. Cal, neighbors of the Farm from up the Bay who battle the Cardinal in all sorts of competitions, but none with as much import as the Big Game.
But, quite frankly, enough has been said about why Stanford students dislike the Bears. In an age of tolerance and political correctness, the time has come for a quick list of reasons why Stanford football is deserving of admiration, especially the 2003 edition. As the Card head into their most important game of the year to win back the Axe and keep their bowl hopes alive, we present the five reasons why everyone should love 2003 Stanford football:
Stanford's senior quarterback has handled the somewhat subdued (but still present) controversy surrounding his status in a calm and professional manner all year. Never blaming other people, but only emphasizing his desire to get better and show the country what he can do on the field when he is at his best, Lewis waited patiently on the Stanford sideline as Trent Edwards started early-season games against BYU, Washington, USC, and Washington State. Upon his reinstatement in the first string, Lewis overcame a scoreless hurdle at Oregon to lead Stanford to two straight wins against UCLA and Arizona State, keeping the Card's bowl hopes alive and, despite last week's showing against Oregon State, giving Stanford fans reason to believe that the Axe can be reclaimed this year.
Lewis deserves praise for the dutiful way he has fought through his up-and-down career here at Stanford, battling injuries and the doubts of fans and overwhelming expectations. With a win over the Bears on Saturday, C-Lew will help to vindicate the billing he received when he first came to the Farm as the top high school quarterback in the land. Plus, who can forget his late-game heroics against both Texas and USC in the same year (2000)? Memories of the fade pass he threw at the conclusion of that SC game should give any Cardinalmaniac™ the chills.
Anyone who thanks his wife and daughter on the JumboTron at Stanford Stadium deserves to be applauded. Heck, most Stanford dudes are happy if they can GET a woman to be a wife, let alone to bear one of his children. And thanking them on a JumboTrons, that's just completely out of the question.
Seriously, though, Chambers has anchored an offensive line which has experienced a lot of flux in recent seasons, with Kwame Harris leaving Stanford early to play for the San Francisco 49ers on the professional circuit, and with the season-ending injury to center Brian Head. Chambers has been solid on nearly every snap for the 43 straight games he has started for Stanford, and has held the offensive line unit together remarkably well in a season when they have been much-maligned.
Plus, anyone who saw Kirk at Safeway (as this particular author may or may not have early last week) with his baby girl knows that he is the embodiment of a good dad. Advice to potential suitors to Ms. Chambers - don't anger her 6'7", 310-pound daddy. You might find yourself the victim of a Mormon Mauling. Let's hope some Cal guys experience it first.
The Fight of the Freshmen
Stanford has 94 players. 47 of the them are freshmen. Yikes. And yet, this year's crop of youngsters has performed remarkably well this year considering their age - guys like Mark Bradford (25 catches for 387 yards), Evan Moore (8 catches for 150 yards), and redshirt offensive lineman Ismail Simpson have risen to the considerable challenge that comes with the territory of playing Division 1-A football so early out of high school.
These guys, and many of their peers, have made an immediate impact on Stanford's program, and also give all Cardinalmaniacs™ reason to look to a bright future for Stanford football. These frosh who have spent a lot of time on the field this year will be seasoned better than a porterhouse at Ruth's Chris come 2005 and 2006, and oh will it be fun to watch.
The Draw Play
What? What is this doing here? The draw up the middle where J.R. Lemon or Kenneth Tolon line up parallel to the quarterback and take the quick handoff to rush up the middle for -1 yard on seemingly every first down has actually become a bit like an old pal by now.
That is, if all your old pals overfill your garbage can, pee all over your toilet seat, and break your house's windows with errant shots off their driver which they were "just practicing with" in your backyard. In an article extolling the virtues of the Stanford football team, it is a testament to the predictability and ineffectiveness of this play that it is mentioned at all. Strike it from the playbook, Buddy. No need to give your team absolutely zero chance of gaining anything on first down every time the defense makes a great stop and gets the ball back to the offense.
Don't waste your time scouring the roster looking for Tom Williams's name. It isn't there unless you're looking at rosters from 1989-1992, when this fiery dude played linebacker for Bill Walsh, Dennis Green, and Jack Elway. Williams, now the linebackers coach for the Card, is by far the most entertaining man on the Stanford sideline game in and game out. While most teams' defensive coaches stay glued to their headsets and show little emotion during play, Williams is most definitely the Stanford defense's biggest cheerleader. He chest-bumps players after they make big plays. He gets in his guys' faces on the sideline when the offense is out on the field, exhorting them to play harder and with more intensity. Anytime a ball thrown by a Stanford opponent could be even remotely interpreted as having touched the ground, Williams races up the sideline, vehemently signaling that the pass was incomplete.
His arms get even more of a workout when Williams does his trademark windmill celebration. After a big series when the Stanford D has stopped the other team from driving for a score, Williams gets so riled up that he just starts flailing his arms over his head like a windmill on andro. Seriously, probably half the reason most Stanford players wear their helmets while on the sideline is to guard against being clubbed on the head during one of Williams' zealous celebrations.
So here's the plan for Saturday. Stanford will reclaim that icon of football superiority in the Bay Area from Berkeley, where it has been unfairly and wrongly imprisoned for a year. Stanford's students will rush the field, gloriously reveling in the return of their football program to Peninsula dominance, and secure in the fact that the Cardinal has built the nucleus for a competitive and solid Pac-10 team in the coming years. Buddy Teevens will be devising ways to foil his predecessor when that green sweater-wearing turncoat returns to Stanford on the 29th. And if all goes perfectly, Oski will wander cluelessly over to the Stanford side of that venerable house of football known as Stanford Stadium, where Tom Williams will be waving his arms around like a maniac. Oski will get whomped on the head and crumple like a wet tissue, Williams will chest-bump Michael Craven, and the celebration will continue, for all will be right in the football world once more.
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