It took me aback a little bit. I mean, here Stanford was, about to undergo their ninth loss in nine games, with people already beginning to talk about them in all-time bad historical terms. Here Stanford was, about to enter into a terribly mismatched battle against one of the best, if not the best (man, it turns my stomach to type that!) college football programs in the country.
Yet some Card-eyed optimists had the courage—or the naïveté—to walk into the stadium that day and declare that "WE BELIEVE IN STANFORD FOOTBALL." It was kind of like hearing a grown man say that he still believes in the Easter Bunny.
So, late last Saturday night I popped in a tape of the Cardinal's 45-17 loss to UCLA, and I saw a few things I didn't quite know what to make of. Although I liked new offensive coordinator David Shaw's playcalling, I wondered why Stanford got away from the misdirection running plays and bootleg passing plays that worked earlier in the game. I let out a confused chuckle after watching Stanford University's latest promotional ad (putting a toy rabbit in a microwave? Huh?).
But what really got me was when FSN's camera did a crowd shot and captured the return of the sign. Only this time, it wasn't merely a sign. It was a banner that stretched across a section of the stadium. There it was, for the nation to see. "WE BELIEVE IN STANFORD FOOTBALL."
I started asking myself, what about Stanford Football are people believing in? Why do people still believe in this product on the field when things since 2002 have been disappointing at best, and disastrous at worst?
Northern California sports fans have had some recent experience in "believing." After all, it seemed like everyone in the Bay Area this past spring was walking around town in those yellow Warriors t-shirts that proudly declared: "We Believe."
Believe in what? That Golden State could knock off the big, bad Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs? That they could do it again vs. Utah? That they could go all the way? That they finally had a product worth watching every night? That Jessica Alba needs to be sitting courtside for every game?
"We Believe" has to be more than a slogan. Each individual who grabbed one of those shirts made the conscious decision that, yes, they believed in something about the Warriors. And that "something" they believed in made it cool to be associated with that product.
So why did those folks come to Stanford Stadium last week with that "WE BELIEVE IN STANFORD FOOTBALL" banner? Why did any non-UCLA fan come spend a hot Saturday afternoon behind the Eucalyptus Curtain? Why did Bootleg co-founder Jim Rutter become a one-man tour de force putting together the Cardinal Boot Camp fan fest before the season? Why do I still cover this product and do everything I can for this product even though I now live 3,000 miles and three time zones away? Heck, why are you reading this Corner? (that's probably a question you ask yourself every week anyway, but just bear with me here…)
Maybe we believe because Jim Harbaugh believes. Yes, there's the "enthusiasm unknown to mankind." But he's already laid it all on the line publicly for the Cardinal, telling anyone who will listen that college football needs an academic powerhouse like Stanford to be consistently competitive. I don't think you say something like that if you genuinely don't believe in it.
Maybe we believe because, deep down, we know he's right. Stanford is one of a handful of schools where the brightest of the bright can compete on college football's biggest stages. Many people see a win for Stanford Football as a win for the spirit of what a student-athlete really should be.
Maybe we believe because the players seem to believe in what the coaches are selling, and vice versa. That certainly was not the case last year, which made it so tough to believe in that team by the time the U$C game rolled around. After all, if the coaches and players did not believe, why should we?
Maybe we believe because of the cool new stadium. It can't hurt!
Maybe we believe because we've seen what happens when Stanford is a winner. We remember how exciting and how good that feels. We've seen players like Plunkett, Elway, and Walters; we've seen Bill Walsh patrol our sidelines. And even though we don't need our football team to define how we perceive ourselves as a university (unlike a certain Pac-10 school in Southern California that I can think of), few things bring the Stanford community closer together than a winning team.
Those could be reasons why we believe. Or, it's possible that those aren't reasons at all. Do you believe? Why do you believe? And maybe the larger question: How do we get more people to believe?
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
When I walked back into the office on Sunday morning, everyone in Bristol was talking about Appalachian State beating Michigan. And when they weren't talking about that, they were talking about how much speed that Cal offense has. Wow. If Cal played in the SEC, they'd do very well…
Hypothetical situation: you're ahead 3-0, 8:10 left in the first quarter. You moved the ball well on your first offensive possession. On your second drive, you face 3rd-&-13. But instead of trusting your offense and trying to maintain that rhythm, you quick kick it. What? Why? What was Syracuse thinking? I could care less about the Orangemen and I almost fell off my couch when I saw that…
Wasn't as impressed with Oregon State's quarterbacks. Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao both looked raw, and OSU's offense lost some sync when Mike Riley switched from Canfield to Moevao at the start of the second quarter. But as long as those guys figure out how to hand the ball off to Yvenson Bernard, they'll do just fine, thank you…
Nice of U$C to treat that game against Idaho like a scrimmage after taking a 21-0 lead. As good as that team is, they might get bored against the wrong team one day, and it might come back to hurt them…
Oregon should have a good year as long as they don't put their defense on the field or have Dennis Dixon try to throw the ball. I was very disappointed in those two departments. Everyone in Eugene should thank Patrick Chung for picking off a Houston pass in the end zone late in the third quarter and blocking a punt on the Cougars' next drive, because those two plays saved Oregon's bacon…
Stat of the Week, courtesy my buddy Jeremy: In his 42nd season as a head coach, Joe Paterno has lost 121 games. In his 42nd season as a head coach, Bobby Bowden has lost 113 games. Entering his 18th season as a head coach, Buddy Teevens has lost 115 games. Wow…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... listening to the postgame sound bites after Appalachian State's incredible win over Michigan, it sure sounded to me like the Mountaineers were more prepared for that game than were the Wolverines. App State head coach Jerry Moore told everyone how hard his kids worked on special teams all throughout fall drills, and how he knew that area would be the key to the game. Meanwhile, Michigan players admitted they weren't ready for how fast the Mountaineers' skill players were…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but…those kids and that coach at Appalachian State will never have to buy their own meals in Boone, North Carolina ever again.
Also not a Pac-10 thought, but...Quote of the Week from the great Beano Cook: "Michigan is like the Germany of college football. They always find a way to lose!"
Got a thought on this column, on Stanford sports, or anything else in general? Have a different set of expectations for Stanford Football this year? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or at email@example.com. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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