RIP, Old Granddame (the view from section BB)
Stanford lost again Saturday night, the final loss in the final (knock on wood) year of a four-year bowl schneid and, much more notably, the final defeat in the 85-year history of the enormo-dome known as Stanford Stadium. Sixth-ranked Notre Dame won 38-31, executing the sort of last minute coupe de grace which has become numbingly familiar to Stanford fans. The Irish, like undefeated, overrated UCLA before them, passed themselves silly knowing the Cardinal defense stood zero chance. For the Stanford faithful it was like watching midgets playing tetherball.
Union rules be damned, phase one of the demolition commenced promptly after the final whistle, John Arrillaga's earth movers lumbering in from stage left and rudely breaking up the midfield promise keepers meeting (here's a suggestion for those would-be Knute Rocknes on the Stanford squad: halftime). An odd mood came over the crowd; fans, some of them dressed like Bill Walsh, began ripping away turf, signs, timbers, benches, and any part of the old barn that could be removed without a Sawzall. As the looting threatened to disintegrate into Third World-style anarchy, Arrillaga's Army struck pay dirt at the 50 and a "new era" in Stanford Football dawned.
The new Stanford Stadium will be a state-of-the-art college football facility, not to mention Olympic Committeee bait. In keeping with Silicon Valley culture, the reconstruction will represent nothing less than a full-blown paradigm shift. Hybridized Bermuda grass will give way to the kinder, gentler artificial turf that's all the rage in places like Pullman and Pinole (fast forward 30 years: the old new Stanford Stadium is about to be demolished to make room for a world class velodrome, and after Stanford defeats UC Davis in the final Big Game, nostalgic billionaires from East Palo Alto storm down from preferred seats to scoop souvenir plastic grass and rubber pellets into doggy bags from the concourse-level Cheesecake Factory). But the turf is the least of the makeover. The running track will disappear; the cleft in the south end zone will close; and the seats will crowd the field. Sure, the new stadium will be too small to hold crowds the size of that seen Saturday night (get used to it Palo Alto - in two years time, half of Terre Haute will be roaming the downtown streets, drunk and demanding to know why they won't show the game at Spago or Zibibbo). But more importantly, we're told, it will be much, much louder.
Yes, louder. The athletic department Pooh-Bahs aren't stupid and they aren't deaf. Week after week, opposing fans come into their house and take it over. For years, the Cardinal's home field advantage has been next to nonexistent, but since the spoilsports in the admissions department aren't willing to offer scholarships to the more enthusiastic supporters of, say, West Ham United or Luton FC, the only option is downsizing. The motto for the new stadium might be "build it and they will cheer." The model most often mentioned is the University of Oregon's Autzen Stadium.
Build it and they will cheer. It seems a ridiculous, unnecessary solution. After all, not so long ago, Stanford Stadium could be rightly called a House of Thrills. The Cardinal née Indians featured nationally renowned passing offenses and played powerhouses like USC, Oklahoma, Washington, and Texas to the wire, sometimes even winning. Stanford fans cheered, sometimes deliriously. But I know what you're saying: dear Bay Area sophisticate, cheering at Stanford Football games was so yesterday.
And going to Stanford Football games, it seems, is also so yesterday. It isn't worth dwelling on the reasons why Stanford attendance has dwindled. No amount of pie-in-the-sky social engineering or earnest hand-wringing will eliminate the realities of life on the Peninsula, The fact that many families need to found two or even three start-up companies to pay the mortgage and cover the preschool tuition. The fact that grooming the next Brandi Chastain or Landon Donovan means giving up all of your Saturday, every Saturday. No, just build it and they will cheer.
A funny thing happened late in Saturday night's game. Stanford was trailing 30-24 with less than two minutes remaining. T.C. Ostrander had just connected on a miraculous 76-yard pass to Mark Bradford, and the Cardinal had the ball on the four-yard line, poised to knock the Irish out of the BCS. The student section sat dumfounded, looking to the Tree for cues. All of a sudden, shockingly, a cheer erupted in the old yard. A Stanford cheer. GO, the shady side bellowed. STANFORD, the student side replied in kind. Again, GO . . . STANFORD! Nobody will ever know for certain who started that cheer, but since it came from the shady side, I'm betting it was a group of old-timers who'd watched Plunkett, Brodie, and maybe even Frankie Albert run around on that emerald green rectangle of grass. A group of old-timers who, emphysema and arthritic hips be damned, weren't going to let the old place die without one last proper football cheer. One last reminder of how it used to sound, how it's supposed to sound. GO . . . STANFORD, the cheer resounded three or four more times. Never mind Ostrander's subsequent touchdown pass to Matt Traverso or the inevitable defensive meltdown that followed. For a moment everything was right again at Stanford Stadium.
John Jasberg first attended Stanford football games during the 1970 Rose Bowl season. He lives in San Francisco and can be emailed at email@example.com.
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