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Everyone loves bowl games. The players like the chance to play on a national scale. The fans like the chance to go someplace different for the holidays and cheer their team on. The coaches like the 15 extra practices. The administrators like the payout and the publicity.
Even though there are better places to spend New Year's Eve than El Paso, no one in Stanfordland was complaining in 1996 when the Sun Bowl was Stanford's reward for pulling itself up by its bootstraps and yanking a winning season away from the jaws of loserdom. And just about everyone who went on that trip had a great time, especially on game day, when the Card destroyed Michigan State, 38-0.
Going to the Liberty Bowl wasn't quite as successful, but it was still nice to be there (even if we were forced to go to Memphis after getting dissed by the Aloha Bowl). The Rose Bowl experience speaks for itself; I still get goose bumps when I think back to that day. I didn't get to go to the Seattle Bowl, but, game-time aside, everyone I talked to seemed to enjoy their experience in the Emerald City.
For a fleeting moment, after Stanford used all phases of its game to whip the Arizona State Sun Devils, we all started thinking about bowl possibilities for this season. Despite a tough October, the postseason, even though it was still a fairly remote possibility, actually crept into our minds.
Well, after the Card's wipeout in Corvallis and last week's tough loss to cal, Stanford's bowl hopes were officially extinguished. Done. Kaput. With their sixth loss of the year, the Cardinal will not finish on the plus-side in the win column and will not be heading off to some exotic land to play a postseason game.
OK, so San Jose and the Silicon Valley Classic isn't that exotic, but play along with me here.
So, under the circumstances, I am considering this weekend's season finale against Notre Dame as Stanford's 2003 bowl game.
Think about it. The Card will be playing against a recognized opponent with nationwide appeal. They'll be playing on national TV. There will be some national interest in the game's major subplot (one that doesn't need any further explanation here). Stanford gets a nice chunk of change from ABC. Sounds like a bowl game to me!
And that's how I'm approaching this game. Not from the reward standpoint, because it's tough to grab rewards from a losing season. But certainly everything that surrounds this game makes this weekend's contest bigger than most.
It's been a rollercoaster of a season. The gutty win at BYU that put Stanford at 2-0. The brutal beatings at U$C, Oregon, and Oregon State. The hard-fought victory over UCLA. The impressive win over Arizona State. The horror of watching the other shoe drop and a Big Game slipping away. That's a lot for any team to experience during the course of ten games, much less a young team that, for the most part, has played young all season.
This is the end of the journey, the last Walk for the seniors, the final time we all convene to watch Cardinal football for the year. It's the best chance for Stanford to put this year's obstacles behind them for many reasons, most notably because of the national stage and because who is patrolling the opposite sideline.
You've heard me say this before, mostly because it's one of my favorite sports clichés, but I'll say it again: it's not how you start, it's how you finish that counts. Even though the 2000 season finished up at 5-6, it also culminated with a couple of big wins and some momentum that carried into the next season. This season has the chance to finish up in a similar fashion.
The Card still have a long way to go to get where we all think they can go, but a big win this weekend just might close that distance as we all look to a successful 2004 season.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
I've always been a Geoff McArthur fan. But I certainly didn't think he'd blow up like he did this season. To understate things slightly, McArthur is good. If it all works out, he'll make an NFL team very happy someday…
On the other side, one of the sights I'll always take with me from last week's Big Game came from Stanford's postgame locker room, where fellow native Oklahoman T.J. Rushing sat by himself, eyes as red as his jersey. But he didn't duck away when we media folk circled around him for his postgame thoughts…
There are plenty of moments I will always remember from the Chris Lewis era: the comebacks against Texas in 2000 and Oregon in 2001, the brilliant first half against UCLA in 2001. But, along with those moments, I also will remember last week's failed third-down scramble…
Everyone has been asking me why Stanford went for two points with no time on the clock and no chance for victory. I'd like to think Stanford went for two because they couldn't go for 13…
Shameless self-promotion time… once again this season, I'll be a part of Stanford basketball pregame shows, heard locally here on KNEW 910 AM in San Francisco. These shows will precede most Stanford men's basketball games, and will be a bit more interview-driven than the old ones on 1050, with one or two feature-style chats with Stanford hoops players and other members of the Cardinal sports family. It's great to be back on board with Stanford's radio product, and I'm looking forward to being a part of it for a long time to come!
Gambling, drugs, and unethical activities. Is this the Washington athletic department or is this an episode of "Playmakers"?
Quote of the week, courtesy of Oregon guard Nick Steitz, who commented on the Ducks' bowl situation before their win over the Beavers: "Everybody thought we were headed for the Egypt Bowl or something." Hmmmm. Well, it's not quite Egypt, but El Paso is a little on the dusty side…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… who says you can't travel cheaply during the holidays? By the time this gets posted, I'll probably be on a Delta flight to Dallas. My dad is meeting me at the circle of hell known as the DFW Airport, and from there we'll make the five-hour drive to Monroe, Louisiana and spend Thanksgiving there with countless family members. On Friday, I'm flying back to Oakland from Monroe. Total cost of Oakland-to-Dallas and Monroe-to-Oakland plane ticket: $296. And if that's not cheap enough, it went down to $225 a few days after I booked the flight. Delta Airlines rocks…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… have a safe and happy Thanksgiving weekend! See you on Saturday, and I may chip in with a final Clardy's Corner next week!
Arizona @ Arizona State. Normally it's called the Territorial Cup, but this year it's the Disappointment Bowl. The Sun Devils are probably the Pac-10's biggest bust this year, while the Wildcats have known nothing but disappointment the past few seasons. Even though the Sun Devils are a better team, I don't see things getting any better for A-State on Friday. I like Arizona by 9.
Last week (straight up): 2-2, (ATS): 0-3.
This year (straight up): 24-14, (ATS): 10-23-2.
Got a thought on this column or on Stanford sports? E-mail me at email@example.com! The ones I like best will end up in next week's E-Mailbag…
Troy Clardy is a reporter for the Stanford Cardinal Farm Report, which airs Saturday mornings at 8:30 on Fox Sports Bay Area.
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