"From the Cheap Seats": A Very Good Day

You knew it was coming! It has been nearly three years and 21 assorted TheBootleg.com columns since "MizzouCard" last wrote specifically about Stanford Football, but after such a monumental victory over "the team whose name shall not be mentioned," our ever-expressive "MizzouCard" couldn't help himself, firing off an emotional epistle in the wake of one of the biggest upsets since Thermopylae!

There is a story, now somewhat dated, that golf fans used to tell. In this story, God is inventing Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, and advising them as to their lots in life. "To you, Mr. Nicklaus, I am giving enormous talent, along with an amazing will to win. You will win often." Then he turns to Mr. Palmer and says, "But they will love you, Arnold."

The moral of the story is that nobody gets everything in life. Each life has both advantages and disadvantages.

Picture being there at the invention, if you will, of a Stanford sports fan. Some of us, in a sense, have been there, as we see our kids inherit our love for the Cardinal. If you were being honest, you would tell that little soon-to-be Stanford sports fan: "Here is the deal. Our teams do not dominate. Indeed, you may never be able to walk out of the last game of a season, throw your index finger in the air, and shout 'We're number one.'" Maybe, but probably not. Our teams will usually have less talent than their opponents. Often, they will lose."

"Many of your Stanford friends will see you as the enemy because you love sports. Many of your other friends will wonder why anybody could care that much about Stanford sports. Indeed, unlike those who root for other schools, there will be precious few like you. Happily, you will have a place to find those other crazy Stanford fans: The Bootleg. But being a Stanford sports fan will often be a lonely existence. It is not for the faint of heart, for those who want quick rewards, or for those who need constant success."

If he/she is thinking, your little Stanford sports fan-to-be would turn to you and say, "So what's in it for me?" It is a legitimate question.

"What do you get for being a Stanford sports fan?" you would say, followed by a long pause. "Some glorious moments." Isn't that it? "Not all that many. And sometimes with a lot of time passing between those moments. But some ridiculously wonderful moments."

That's the deal, right? John Elway & company beating Washington in 1982. Stanford down 5-2 in the bottom of the 10th in a 1987 College World Series elimination game, with LSU's Ben McDonald on the hill, and Paul Carey hitting a game-winning grand slam. Art Lee capping a furious comeback against Rhode Island in the Elite Eight with a steal, followed by "AND HE WAS FOULED!" Nick Robinson stealing the ball against Arizona, launching it skyward, with you thinking, as it arched down, "You know, maybe, just maybe . . . ." They don't come that often, my friends, but they are mighty special when they do.

Burn the score into your memory: Stanford 24, _._._. (of all people!) 23. May each of you ride that wave as long as possible in the coming weeks. Every one of you has earned it.

Assorted Thoughts: 

» Stanford players really deserve this. Every sport is tough to play when you lose more than you win, but football is especially tough because losing usually involves a physical pounding as well. Lots of kids have hung tough for Stanford through some very thin times. How wonderful that they will now be associated with perhaps the greatest upset in the history of their sport. That is particularly true of the seniors, who have adjusted to three different coaching staffs in their time on The Farm.

» Tough kids from El Lay. The two key fourth-down catches in the game-winning drive came from kids from pretty tough neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Those key catches came in one of the roughest L.A. neighborhoods of all: the red zone guarded by the _._._. defense. Those two kids had to work hard to become academically admissible to Stanford. Thank goodness someone in Admissions had the foresight to see that the two of them would enrich the Stanford community, on and off the field.

» Gotta love that coach. Did anybody see Jim Harbaugh immediately after the game? The sideline television reporter shoved a microphone in his face. Harbaugh told him to talk to the kids, but the sideline reporter insisted. (His bosses undoubtedly told him to interview the winning coach. That is the job of the sideline reporter after all.) So what does Harbaugh do next? He sprints away from the poor guy, thereby leaving him with no choice but to interview unlikely hero Tavita Pritchard.

Later, when he did allow himself to be interviewed, Harbaugh, as is his custom, gushed. He gushed about the gleam in Pritchard's eye in practice, the spring in his step. He gushed about the clutch plays on the game-winning drive. He gushed about the whole team. On ESPN, he took a question about offense and made sure he used it to gush about his defense. When he was asked about "his" great play call on the touchdown, he gushed about the key adjustment made by Offensive Coordinator David Shaw.

Although there have been a few times when he has made me scratch my head, I am now completely sold on our new head coach. One of the best qualities of a leader is a willingness to deflect praise sent his way toward those who work under him.

» Will lightning strike again? We do not know if Tavita Pritchard will ever again do what he did in the Coliseum Saturday night. We sure hope so, but he might never even get the chance. No matter what the future holds, what we do know is this: The kid got thrown to the lions in his first college start - indeed, his first real action whatsoever. And he led his team to a win over a 41-point favorite. For that, he deserves a spot among the legends of Stanford sports, and perhaps even among the legends of college football. Way to go, kid.

» Speaking of Stanford legends. Reserve a spot in your Cardinal heart for another guy, too. Clinton Snyder is amazing. Somebody look up "gamer" in the dictionary. That guy's picture has to be there.

» Déjà vu. Like Troy Clardy, I did not think this was possible. By the way, Troy, I am sorry that I was so busy last week that I did not have time for an "any column with that much hatred for _._._. is great in my book" post. I owe you one, especially after some apparently suggested that _._._. hatred is out of date. Some things NEVER go out of style.

But I will admit to one fleeting thought during the week before this game - a sense of déjà vu for that week before the 1982 Washington game. IIRC, Washington had been ranked #1 in both polls all year, until being dropped to no. 2 in one of the polls (but not the other) the week before the game at Stanford. When I saw that happen to _._._. this week, the thought of that UDub game did creep into my head for a moment. But I quickly banished any silly thought of a repeat.

» How a couple of diehard Stanford fans "watched" the second half. Sadly, even some die hard Stanford fans did not watch the entire game. In my defense, I was not alone. I think Pritchard said his dad was at a wedding. I hope he snuck a television into the reception.

When you are stuck half a continent away from The Farm, you do all sorts of things to watch or listen to Stanford games. Unfortunately, every once in a while, the local team's games conflict with Stanford games. Sometimes you skip the local game, but sometimes you go. When the locals are playing Nebraska and you don't think Stanford has a chance, you go to see the locals.

"MiniMizzouCard" and I had to leave the Stanford telecast (after making sure it was being recorded) with about five minutes to go in the second quarter, to walk a couple of miles to see Mizzou take on Nebraska. Mini's brother, "MegaMizzouCard", volunteered to stay home to monitor both games with his mom. Well, his mom and his girlfriend, which explains the "volunteering."

As Mini and I walked to the game, I told him how proud I was of the Stanford effort. "Of course," I predicted, "we are going to get killed in the second half. I just hope the score stays sort of close, so people realize we played those bums tough for a half."

When we got to the stadium, we start watching the scoreboard. The "Top 25" scoreboard showed 9-0, with a bit of time left in the second quarter. Not bad. I thought we would be down 16-0 at half. [Turns out there was some basis for that concern.]

Then the 9-0 score went to "halftime." Not bad. After a bunch of repeats of that score, there was a score with a lot of time left in the third quarter showing, "Stanford 7, _._._. 9." We cheered that one, of course. Then Mini said, "Must have been a 'pick six', because uhm uhm uhm got the ball first in the second half."

What a proud parenting moment that was for me. First of all, he followed the family policy of never stating that name of that place, or even its initials, because we try not to swear in our family. But he also was able to just look at a score that changed once every twenty minutes or so and tell, as it turns out, exactly how Stanford scored. Some kids waste their youth, but Mini has used his wisely!

We kept watching that scoreboard, sad when _._._. went up nine again, twice, but not surprised. Somewhere along the line, we started to have that 'maybe, just maybe" feeling. But I wanted to save Mini the disappointment and to give him the chance to enjoy the achievement of Stanford staying with such a good team. [Or was it me I was worried about?] I kept saying, "It is never going to happen. It is just great that we hung with them for so long."

The score stayed 23-17 for a long time. I mean a l-o-n-g time. Finally, I turned to Mini and said, "That's it, Buddy. If Stanford was driving downfield, ["Mega"] would have called us by now. It's' over. We lost. But we put a scare into 'em."

I was withholding one piece of information from Mini. I had tried to call home before the Mizzou game started, but could not get through on my cellphone because there were so many people in the stadium using their cellphones. A jammed cell tower is the sort of desperate hope to which one clings when watching scoreboards. But I did not want to get Mini's hopes up, so I did not share that tidbit of information with him. Instead, I just said that Mega "would have called us by now." But I did take my cell phone out of my pocket, made sure it was on "vibrate," and put it on the bleacher bench. Just in case.

Thirty seconds later - I kid you not - my cellphone buzzed. Mini grabbed it an answered it. I heard only Mini's end of the conversation with his brother. It went roughly like this:

"Seriously? Bradford?"

"How much time is left?"

"One forty-nine, or just forty-nine?"

All of that sounded mighty hopeful. Then it turned to: "No!!! I hate replay. They are going to take it away from us."

What happened next was right out of a cellphone commercial. The connection went dead. For the next twenty minutes, nothing.

So we went back to scoreboard-watching. Eventually the score was updated: "Stanford 24, _._._. 23. 4th. :49." As Mini instantly pointed out, "Dad, that means we kicked the point, so they did not overturn it." After a blast of euphoria, we reminded ourselves that we would never hold them on defense. So we waited. And waited. And waited. The score never changed.

Finally, during a break between plays, the stadium announcer, who never announces non-Big 12 scores, said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a final score from the Pac-10." Then we knew.

It is nothing an alleged grown man should admit, but most of you know what a sap I am anyway, so I will admit it: I was so damn happy I cried.

» Who did they play? Later in the Mizzou game, the elderly lady who sits by us asked me a question. When I saw "elderly" here, I mean it in the full sense of the word, but I don't want to be impolite. This amazing lady somehow finds her way into the stadium every week to cheer on her Tigers. I am pretty sure she can hardly see or hear anything, because she is always asking us to update her on the score, the down and distance, the time of the game, etc. But, God bless her, she shows up and cheers like the dickens. I am guessing that she shows up so she can soak up the energy of the stadium. Nothing wrong with that - that is a big part of why I show up, too.

So she asks, "Is there another game you are watching?" I told her I was a Stanford alum and that Stanford just pulled off an amazing upset. "Who did they play?" she asked.

This presented a big dilemma for me. Given that the person who was asking the question could hardly hear and we were in a rather noisy stadium, I supposed I could have relaxed my usual policy and just used those nasty three initials. But my son was watching and listening, and I don't want him to think his dad is a hypocrite, so I said, "It is a school that I hate so much that I refuse to even say its name. But I can tell you this: It is in L.A, and it is not UCLA." She thought about it for a moment or two, then smiled and said, "I got it."

» A REALLY good day. One final note for MiniMizzouCard and MegaMizzouCard, the only ones who fully understand this. First Stanford beats the Evil Empire. Then Mizzou dominates Nebraska. (Beating them was within the realm of possibility. Dominating them was outside the possible.} As if that was not enough, when Mini surfs the net as we are watching Stanford highlights until 1:30 a.m. (go ahead - report me to child protective services for letting my kids stay up that late), he finds a report that Dickinson State beat National American in volleyball.

Any one of those three events would have made for a really good, almost unimaginable, day. We got all three on the same day. As the French say about those really tough hills in the Tour de France, a day like that is "beyond categorization."


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