From the Cheap Seats

The national media has painted this game as an underdog against the #1-ranked defending national champions. But for Stanford fans, the rankings aren't necessary to get up for this game. Every year the battle against USC means something, and MizzouCard is here to articulate the emotions most of us are harboring this week. It's more than a football game, and we want it pretty badly...

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A Voice in the Wilderness

As a Stanford sports fan and, as if that was not bad enough, a dedicated Bootie, I fully realize that what I will say below borders on heresy. I further realize that, by saying what I intend to say, I risk being accused, perhaps correctly, of: (a) being a fool (to which I plead guilty); (b) being responsible for some sort of weird curse or jinx that hurts our beloved team; and (c) being unable to recognize the obvious reality that everything is going to hell in a hand basket.

Therefore, if I am indeed going to say what I intend to say, protocol requires that I go through a native Bootie cleansing ritual. Let's get that out of the way first. Today I will call it "what this (column) is not."

FIRST, this is not based on any inside information. I have no such information. Though I wish I were better informed about our team, I am just a nut who will spend Saturday evening (it will be evening here) like I spend every other evening when "the Stanford game," and that pretty much means any type of Stanford game, is on the tube—alternatively sitting, squirming, singing and dancing to All Right Now (though not very well), pacing the floor, screaming at the officials who have once again wronged my beloved Cardinal (in a desperate attempt to affect the officiating from about 2,000 miles away), shouting for joy, etc. The one thing I will not be doing is the thing that I am otherwise best at—eating. My stomach will be far too nervous for that.

My place here is not to provide facts. Mike Eubanks, Troy Clardy, Chris Jaenike, Joe Ritzo, and many others have that covered. All I can provide is the semi-maniacal (okay—maniacal) views of somebody who really cares about this stuff and thereby occasionally reflects the views of some of the others who really care. Though I have no way of knowing, other than the anecdotal and quite unscientific "evidence" from repeated reviews of the boards here, something tells me that I am not the only Bootie who feels the way I do right now. Perhaps, though, that simply is proof that misery loves company.

SECOND, this is not even logical. If you are looking for logic, look elsewhere. Near as I can tell, logic dictates only one conclusion: We are about to get our butts whupped. This is the No. 1 team in all the land. As others have pointed out here, we are a team that has only beaten one of the worst teams in the land and another that handled the football like it was coated in anthrax. Those applying logic would have to conclude that there is no hope.

But there is more to life, and sports, than logic. This, after all, is about emotion, too. Undoubtedly, that explains what I am eventually going to say here. Because, you see, I hate these people. It is a hate that is based in part on experience. I came to The Farm in the fall of 1980. From that point forward, the one thing I wanted to see more than any other in sports was Stanford beat you know who in football. You know who beat us all four years I was in or near Stanford. Then, when I moved back to the prairie and all I could do (in the pre-internet, pre-Bootleg days) was wait for the Sunday paper to deliver the news, the news was always the same. They won the next year, the next year, the next year, the next year, the next year, and even the year after that. That's right. It took over a decade of caring about this match-up for me to finally see our guys win.

Anybody who inflicts that much pain on me is worthy of my feelings about them, but it goes even deeper than that. I have always felt that this was an unsavory bunch. I will spare you my diatribes about how they play the game. Suffice it to say that, if Pete Carroll really believes that our guys played dirty last year and if he is right (there might be a first time for everything, I guess), the dirty play account is still way out of whack. Coach, you have absolutely got to be kidding me. Gimme a break.

In the MizzouCard household, this stuff is Good vs. Evil. Some of you think I am kidding when I say that, in our family, nobody is allowed to even write or say those nasty three initials (or the longer title of the institution). I am not. That is considered swearing, and it is not allowed. It is always "_._._." (pronounced "uhm, uhm, uhm" and even my work colleagues now know what it means and why it is pronounced that way). In fact, I will be the first to admit that my feelings about _._._. are not rational. [So any _._._. fans who have found this piece can stop reading right now. No need to tell me I am irrational. I just admitted that.]

So this comes from the heart, not the head. But why be a sports "fan," which is short for "fanatic," if you do not occasionally let your heart overrule your head?

THIRD, this is not bragging. Those who frequent The Bootleg know that it is different from the "we are going to beat you to a pulp" slop that shows up on most fan web sites. What I am about to say is not any sort of in your face taunt to _._._. or its fans (who, by the way, are supposed to have stopped reading by now). This is not directed to them. It is written for my fellow Stanford fans.

And to you wonderful folks, I offer this advance apology. I am sorry for what I am about to do, because I realize that it is considered a sure fire jinx.

FOURTH, this is not from a very dependable source. As noted above, this is coming from my heart, not my head.

My heart is sometimes a very reliable predictor of Stanford sports fortunes. Unfortunately, it is only a good predictor when it tells me that doom lies ahead. When I woke up a certain Saturday morning a few months ago, I told my wife "we are going down to Alabama today." I was so sure of it that I took it upon myself to be miserable all day. It got bad enough that my beloved Mrs. MizzouCard finally suggested that perhaps I might, in the interest of family harmony (we were on a road trip), wait until the actual game to get so depressed. Even when we were up at halftime, I was sure that doom was around the corner. There simply was no doubt. I wanted to be wrong, but I was not.

Sadly, this predictor does not work in the opposite direction. The last time that I felt really good about the fact that Stanford was going to win was in the (first) regional baseball game against Long Beach State. Why is my heart always right when I do not want it to be, but not when I do want it to be?

FIFTH, this is not even a prediction. I do not claim to know the outcome of the game. It is just a report of a feeling of how we will perform. In the end, that is what matters to me anyway. Winning is not everything (too many things out of our team's control, including such things as luck and the aforementioned officiating, can affect winning or losing), but trying to and having a shot is.

All that having been said, here is the (now relatively obvious) thing I came here to say: Something—my heart, I guess—tells me that we have a pretty decent chance this week.

As suggested by much of the foregoing, I report this with great reluctance. I would prefer to spare myself the extra pain of not just watching the good guys falter, but watching them falter after expecting great things.

When it comes to predicting future Stanford sports events, I am almost always firmly in the "let's keep our expectations low so we cannot be disappointed" crowd. As a result, for most of the last week, I have been trying to squelch this voice that tells me that we are going to play well, and perhaps win, this weekend.

But, try as I might, I cannot shut up that little voice. So here I am, admitting this publicly, so all (Stanford fans only, though—those _._._. folks quit reading a while ago) can ridicule me for my foolishness, both now and after the game.

As I have noted, this is obviously irrational and, therefore, delusional. Those hearing little voices, after all, are by definitional delusional! My obviously weak little mind, which has lost this week-long battle with my heart, was educated at Stanford, though. [No wise cracks from you _._._. fans. You were supposed to stop reading this several paragraphs ago. Besides, Stanford is a great institution, but not a perfect one. Even at Stanford, the admissions folks make occasional mistakes.]

So here is the admittedly thin substitute for "logic" that this particular Stanford-educated mind has formulated. Put another way, this is what that little voice has been telling me as I have been trying to shut it up.

FIRST, almost every year, this game means more to us than to them. One thing that can contribute to an upset, especially in the emotion-driven world of college athletics, is an unbalanced view of the importance of a game. In pretty much every sport other than football (with occasional exceptions like the old rugby games against Kal and perhaps most wrestling matches), in the Pac-10 and in the west generally, we are the ones wearing the target. Take, for example, basketball—men's or women's. Many a western team can make its season by upsetting the mighty Cardinal. This is why the "until the last game" run through the men's basketball season last year was so amazing. We took several teams' best shots. But note that Wazzu, a considerably weaker team than ours, almost got us. UDub, a somewhat weaker team, did.

Though I hate to say it, in football the game with _._._. is much more important to us than it is to them. A win over us does not do them much good. A win over them makes our year. Year in and year out, we should play with more emotion in this game than they do.

SECOND, this year in particular, this game means more to us than it does to them. I realize that the _._._. folks are trying to get themselves all riled up about the alleged dirty play by Stanford referred to earlier. I also realize that, for _._._., all games have extra meaning in those comparatively rare years when they are, shall we say "between" NCAA probations and therefore eligible for post-season play. [Just could not resist that one, in case any of the _._._. folks were still reading. We told them to stop, so I am no longer responsible for any hurt feelings. Admittedly, though, the feelings of _._._. fans are pretty low on the list of things I care about.]

But the next game on their schedule means a lot more to them than the game with us. That team, Kal, not only beat them last year. It also kept them from winning the national championship alone. They do have a bye week before they deal with Da Bears, but you cannot tell me that this week's game is even remotely comparable in importance to them.

If they read the papers (or should I say "if someone reads the papers to them"?—quiet down, _._._. fans—we told you to quit reading a long time ago), they will note that many are predicting possible trouble for them when they take on Kal. Nobody is predicting any problems for them this week. That is music to my ears.

THIRD, it looks like they are trying to convince themselves to try to take us seriously.

In the old days, perhaps some athletes and coaches admitted to disrespecting an upcoming opponent. Now that never happens, so one must read between the lines.

So read between the lines. Looks to me like we have a coach who is trying to convince his troops to take this week's opponent seriously, after they throttled us last year. Coaches talk that way every week, even when they do not really mean it, and players can figure out from the tone of voice whether they really mean it. Even though I am prepared to blame them for almost anything, you cannot blame them for not taking us seriously.

FOURTH (in the "enough about them, already" category), we really need this. As others (i.e., the admirably industrious people who are willing to actually look this stuff up), we have apparently not beaten a single team that ended its season with a winning record in over two years. Our coach is on the hot seat—to the extent that we have a hot seat. Our guys desperately want a big win, and nothing would be bigger than this. [By the way, do not discount the value of desperation. It is what led the lovely Mrs. MizzouCard to actually go out with me on our first date. Although that is another story for another day, obviously I am now a big fan of the motivating power of desperation.]

Also, after repeating the warning that this is the uninformed, emotion-affected view of this Stanford sports nut, allow me another point about us: Our guys might not be as talented as the other team. In fact, in this match up, I expect that it will always be the case that _._._. has more talent than we have. [If the only issue is which team has more raw athletic talent, we may as well forfeit every game against _._._. from now until the foreseeable future.] But our guys are pretty darn good. As many astute Booties have pointed out, we have some real talent on our sideline. By Stanford standards, which are admittedly quite different than others like _._._., we even have pretty fair depth of that talent. As an example, how often does Stanford have enough talent to keep a guy like Michael Craven out of the first string?

To date, I do not have a feel for this Stanford team. It is, in some ways, the first "Teevens era" team. They just might be pretty good. I think they have that potential, athletically.

FINALLY, if there is any justice in the world, we should win. In the first place, we need a break around here. Since the aforementioned basketball game, we have been taking quite a few lumps. We are due.

In the same vein, this is GOOD vs. EVIL. As cynical as I am in my advanced age, there is still a part of me that believes that good should triumph, at least every once in a while.

Okay, admittedly that last point is pretty silly. Not in identifying who is "GOOD" and who is "EVIL," of course. [Are you _._._. folks still reading? If you insist upon demonstrating that you are so bad at following instructions, we are going to quit hiring you to complete menial tasks for us.] But it has nothing to do with the outcome of the game. So I will withdraw that one.

But there are still quite a few elements that, mixed up together with the correct catalyst, just might lead to an upset. Of course, we almost certainly cannot hope for that result without some luck, because they are better than us. [On second thought, reinsert that last point about GOOD vs. EVIL, with the hope that it gets us some good fortune.]

Again, I emphasize that this is not a prediction of victory. Sadly, even my heart and its little voice are not that bold. All of these factors could not be enough. Most of them are available almost every time a team is a three touchdown plus underdog to another team. Usually that underdog loses.

But, much as I try, I still cannot shut up that little voice. Perhaps it is just the voice of hope. If so, perhaps it is at least a good sign that this usually confirmed pessimist cannot quite squelch the voice of hope.

Though my head tried to convince me not to write this, I did so against my better judgment, such as it is, largely due to the probably rather silly notion that it might help a few of you, my Stanford sports nuts, "Keep hope alive," as Jesse Jackson would say. Even though it can lead to pain, we have to have hope.

If, instead, this missive only leads to increased pain, I apologize in advance. [But only to Stanford fans. Like it or not, you other folks now must stop reading, because, at long last, I am done.]

Go get 'em, Cardinal!

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