All of the pieces are in place for a gridiron renaissance, a rags-to-Rockne story of historic proportions. The $100 million venue. The audacious—Our House. Our Team. Our Dream.—marketing slogan. The battle-tested athletic director who exchanges Christmas cards with Hayden Fry. And over there on the practice field with the players, the one doing push-ups without moving his hair, is the piece de resistance. It's Coach Jim Harbaugh, a son of sorts of Palo Alto who went on to the NFL and became Captain Comeback. Oh, and that Captain Comeback part, it's the most important piece. Because if ever there was a college football team in a need of a comeback, it's the 2007 Stanford Cardinal.
So what if for the umpteenth straight year, the go-to adjective for the Stanford roster is "character-filled" rather than "fast" or "big?" Change is in the air. In spring practice, Captain Comeback overhauled the playbook and the attitude and the Cardinal believed. In fall camp, it's been more of the same. The ducks are all in a row; the tea leaves augur well. Put on your Cardinal red slippers and close your eyes, tap your heels together three times and repeat the marketing slogan: Our House. Our Team. Our Dream. Our House. Our Team. Our . . .
. . . It's a sunny September 1 in Palo Alto. Harbaugh's Heroes are sprinting onto the field at new Stanford Stadium, parting the Paly High cheerleaders and breaking the butcher paper. They're huddling around Captain Comeback as he woofs like a Trench Dog on biker speed, pogoing anxiously in anticipation of that first hit. Up in the stands, the shady side is napping and the sunny side's so quiet you can hear the squirting of sun block. But the Cardinal players don't notice as they repeat their mantra in unison: Our House. Our Team. Our Dream. Our House. Our Team. Our Dream. And then suddenly an awesome sound erupts from a corner - no an entire end - of the stadium . . . U . . . and on the Stanford sideline, the old nagging doubts begin to surface . . . C . . . Isn't this, um, supposed to be our house? . . . L . . . And over there in the neck tattoos and powder blue, good grief, it's the UCLA Bruins . . . A . . . Wait a minute, maybe that really is exfoliating gel in coach's shower stall . . . U-C-L-A fight, fight, fight! . . . And with exactly 15 minutes left in the first quarter, the spell will be broken and the game will be lost. Welcome to the most pathetic excuse for a home field advantage in major college football fandom. Welcome to Casa de Schneid.
Casa de Schneid. As in oh-and-five and counting. Do the math, people. Chelsea FC, a freaking soccer team from London, can make a better claim to owning Our House (2-1 over Club America on a late header, in case you missed it) than we can. And Chelsea wears blue. Which is fitting, because if the good ship Cardinal doesn't get righted soon, come December a certain other team in blue, a team hailing from the corner of Bancroft Way and the Hayward Fault, will be making the exact same ownership claim and they won't be shy about it. Our dream? Sounds like a nightmare to me. Unless we take action and we take it fast.
I know what you're thinking, people: "Those no-good purveyors of peace and quiet, those lowdown ennui merchants, who gave them the right to subvert our home field advantage. Just tell me who to instant message and they're going to pay. A few lousy nanoseconds and they'll wish they were doing hard time in Professor Zimbardo's basement."
Well, hold onto those teak credenzas and steady yourselves. There's no "they" there. There's no us against them. This isn't like Cal, or Microsoft or even those callous souls who bulldozed the Old Pro's last week. No, as Hank Stram himself might have said, "We have matriculated with the enemy and the enemy is us." That's right, us. You, me and the rest of Sweater Vest Nation. We were godawful last year. We were a mockery wrapped by embarrassment and doused in failure. And what's more, we were worse than the football team. At least the players went up to Seattle and came back with a victory. At least the players took Cal to the wire in Berkeley; we couldn't make Strawberry Canyon echo with a single decent Stanford cheer (and no, Mensa-boy, a peppy chorus of "rejects . . . rejects" doesn't count as a Stanford cheer).
This is college football, people. Not Kobe vs. Shaq on Christmas Day or the Mr. Pibb box at Super Bowl XL-whatever. College football is special because of the passion in the stands, because the fans can provide the difference between winning and losing. And what exactly did Stanford fans do for our team last year? We made them worse. Poppycock, you say? Look at the facts. In 2006, the Vichy Cardinal reserved their sorriest capitulations for new Stanford Stadium. Quick kicks, self-induced safeties, centering the ball inside the five with time for two passes to the end zone - it all happened at home. And why was that? Because the team was playing not to lose. And who could blame them when week after week, the visiting fans took over Our House and gave us a crash course in Acoustics 101. Navy, Wazzu, Zona, SC and the Beavers—they out-cheered us, out-booed us, out-hooted us and basically did everything expected of the home burghers short of giving out directions to the local Applebee's. And what were we doing up in the stands? I don't remember, frankly; maybe exchanging sobering stories from Friendster's downturn or perhaps weighing the pros and cons of hiring a Salvadoran nanny. FRIENDSTER AND SALVADORAN NANNIES, PEOPLE. We flat out sucked.
But there's a silver lining in this cloud of suckage: in college football, you're only as bad as your last game. And in a short few days, the UCLA game will be our last game. On September 1, Harbaugh's Heroes will sprint onto the field and break the butcher paper. They'll huddle around Captain Comeback as he woofs like a Trench Dog on biker speed. They might not be the fastest or strongest team on the field that day, but they'll be ready to play. And the rest, dear Stanford fanatics, will be entirely up to us.
As an undersized SCVAL defensive back, John Jasberg played a pivotal role in one of Jim Harbaugh's Paly touchdown passes. He can be emailed at: email@example.com.
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