Last week, ESPN Classic played an edited version of the 1995 match-up between Stanford and U$C. You might remember that game. A glorious 16-0 Stanford lead. A sweet fake reverse and bomb from Mark Butterfield to Mark Harris. A comeback by the Trojans. A gutty go-ahead drive by the Card. A dropped two-point conversion by Brian Manning. A touchdown catch by Keyshawn Johnson with seconds to go to put U$C ahead for good. And that damn band playing well into the smoggy South Central afternoon.
Even though most of Stanford's early brilliance was edited out of this re-run, everything else was there. It was the first time I'd had a chance to watch the TV broadcast of that game. Not that I really needed to watch it, because I remember that game much more vividly than most. After all, that was the game that taught me to hate U$C.
Still, it was jarring to see some of those images again. A Stanford quarterback who had confidence in himself and his receivers. A devastating and versatile Stanford running game. An effective Stanford pass rush. A smoothly efficient Stanford offensive line.
Quite frankly, I had forgotten what all of those things looked like! It was certainly great to see those things once again. Sadly, as of right now, there is no reason to think that the Stanford team we'll see take the field against U$C on November 4, 2006, will be anywhere near the Stanford team we saw take the field against U$C on November 4, 1995.
What's interesting is that Trojan fans also probably wouldn't mind taking a trip in the wayback machine. Even before they watched their team drop one in stunning fashion up in Corvallis, Trojan fans were hoping to see their squad revert to their old form.
Even though U$C was 6-0, everyone was wondering what was wrong, and why they weren't dominating teams like they had been in 2004 and 2005. Consequently, this year's Trojans don't seem to have that special mystique, that aura of awe that those teams did. This year's Trojans don't seem to be as beloved as those teams are.
To put it another way (and excuse me while I go into "Bill Simmons" mode here), if the 2006 U$C Trojans were a movie, they'd be The Godfather: Part III.
Think about it. Godfather III, by itself, is a good movie. Unfortunately, it has the burden of always being compared with Godfathers I & II. Godfather I is one of the most beloved movies of all-time, and rightfully so. Godfather II is deeper, more intricate, more subtle, and in my view, the superior film.
Godfather III? A good movie, but it's not even close to the first two editions. The bar was set so high by the first two movies, it would have been nearly impossible to even reach that height a third time, much less surpass it. And it didn't.
The exact same thing is at work with the U$C Trojans. The 2004 and 2005 squads will be remembered as two of the greatest college football teams of all time. The 2006 squad? A good team, to be sure, but not even close. The 2006 Trojans have their shining points, most notably the John David Booty-to-Steve Smith connection (wasn't that incredible to watch again last week?). Godfather III has its good points too; I mean, it just doesn't get much better than Al Pacino as Michael Corleone.
And, like Godfather III, the Trojans have a fatal flaw that threatens to submarine the whole thing. U$C makes a lot of little mistakes that tend to keep their opponents in ballgames. Godfather III featured Sofia Coppola in a starring role.
(Heck, you could even apply this metaphor to the original Star Wars trilogy, even down to the fatal flaws. Return of the Jedi had Ewoks. U$C just lost to the Ewoks — errr, I mean, the Beavers.)
But even though neither U$C nor Stanford are quite what they used to be, it still doesn't change the fact that it's still Stanford vs. U$C. Few things give me more pleasure than watching Stanford Football beat U$C. Come to think of it, few things would give me more pleasure right now than Stanford Football beating anyone right now.
And few things get me more fired up than U$C week. So much so that, by the time this gets posted, I'll be on a plane heading back to the Bay Area to be a part of it all. I'm looking forward to venturing beyond the Eucalyptus Curtain on gameday, seeing old friends, marveling at the new stadium, booing their damn band, and watching out team run out of the tunnel. I can't wait until Saturday, the day we get to hate U$C.
As Cardinalmaniacs™, it's about all we have left to look forward to this year!
(Quick tangent before we move on… if you're not planning on going to the game this weekend, you really only have two options: either show up anyway, or eat the tickets and stay home. Selling your tickets to any U$C fan is not an option. I would much rather you not even show up at all and have your seat go empty than to have it filled by people who root for that school. If you don't want to go because you're upset about 0-8, the teams are grossly mismatched on paper, you're mad at the Admissions Office, or whatever, that's fine. But I'll be damned if I see or hear of any Stanford fans giving or selling their tickets to anyone who claims allegiance to That Think Tank on Figueroa. Now, back to the Corner…)
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
In the immediate aftermath of that game in Corvallis, I had a chance to speak briefly with the jubilant Oregon State quarterback Matt Moore. I told him to take it easy on Stanford on November 18. Matt's response: "I can't make any promises!"
Washington is in big, big trouble. Not only did they lose in overtime again, but quarterback Carl Bonnell got knocked out with a concussion. Backup Johnny Durocher had some good moments, but overall he struggled. A month ago, the Huskies were a sure thing for a bowl bid… not anymore!
Stat of the Week… Alex Brink's passing line in the first half against UCLA: 17-of-21 for 275 yards. Overall, Brink finished 28-of-38 for 405 yards and three scores. Not bad for a kid whose job was in jeopardy a few weeks ago…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… if you saw the closing moments of the Tennessee-South Carolina game last week, you saw the worst one-minute drill ever. Down 31-24 with 1:06 to go, the Gamecocks started a drive at their own 10-yard line. On first down, quarterback Syvelle Newton completed a pass over the middle, but his receiver only picked up nine yards, so the clock kept running. Newton was forced to spike the ball to stop the clock. On third-and-one, Newton's pass was deflected and caught by Justin Sorensen. Two problems here: Sorensen plays right tackle for the Gamecocks, and he lost two yards. And on fourth-and-three, with the clock running, Newton's desperation deep ball was picked off by the Vols. Worst one-minute drill of all time…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… don't look now, but Michael Vick just might be (finally) making the leap…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… so let me get this straight: Ben Roethlisberger gets knocked unconscious and suffers another concussion last week, and the Steelers hold off deciding whether Ben should play against the Raiders until they see how he would respond to the plane flight to Oakland. Huh? Last time I checked, playing in a professional football game is far more stressful on the body and the brain than a 4 ½-hour plane ride. If there's some concern over whether you'll survive a plane flight, maybe you shouldn't be playing a football game…
CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
A light Inbox, but a good e-mail. In last week's Corner, I wrote:
"I still can't believe Tyrone Willingham is in an actual, real-live commercial. For frozen pizza, no less."
To which, Angela from parts unknown responds: "On the other hand, given his demeanor, what better product than frozen pizza?"
Good one, Angela. Give yourself a gold star on that one.
I smelled upset last week in Corvallis… I just didn't have the guts to pick OSU straight up! Oh well…
Washington @ Oregon. October was rough on the Huskies. November will not get off to a better start. Unless Tyrone somehow rallies the troops again, this won't take long. I like Oregon by 19.
Arizona State @ Oregon State. If I'm Oregon State, I'm still a little worried about my defense, as the Trojans moved right through them like two bowls of Raisin Bran. The Beavers will need to continue their turnover touch… and I think they will. I like Oregon State by 10.
UCLA @ cal. A trip to Raspberry Ravine is not what the doctor ordered for the struggling Bruins. I think UCLA might be able to hang with the Bears for a bit, but they'd better hope that their secondary's shoddy performance last week was a fluke. Bears break it open in the second half. I like cal by 21.
Last week: 1-2 (straight-up), 2-1 (ATS).
This year: 14-7 (straight-up), 13-8 (ATS).
Got a thought on this column, on Stanford sports, or anything else in general? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and the best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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