I'm a Libra, which means that I'm all for peace and love and harmony. But it also means I love a good argument. And if I want to start a lively debate with a sports fan, there's one surefire way to do it: I accuse them of being a bandwagon fan.
Funny things, bandwagons. The very concept insults most fans, for when you say someone is on a certain team's bandwagon, you're questioning their loyalty. You're questioning the depth of their support of their favorite team, which, if that person is a real fan, is supposed to be undying. There is supposedly no honor in being a fair-weather fan.
And of course, the more successful the team, the bigger the bandwagon. After all, it's easy to be a front-runner, but it's hard to latch on to a team that is suffering.
I think you can tell a lot about a person just by asking what team they root for. When I find out someone is a Buffalo Bills fan, I usually feel sorry for them after all the Super Bowl nightmares they went through (and as a Bronco fan myself, I can empathize). When I meet a Yankee fan, I try to change the subject quickly lest I get buried in a Yankees-are-the-greatest-thing-since-sliced-bread diatribe. When I meet a Red Sox fan, I usually introduce that person to the Yankee fan and watch the fun. When I meet a Raider fan, I check for my wallet and back away very, very slowly.
For a local case study on bandwagons, hang around Pac Bell Park next week. After observing that scene, then head to my current city of residence: Oakland, California, USA. Ask any random person on the street and chances are they'll tell you without blinking that they're a "die-hard" Raider fan, silver and back, commitment to excellence, the autumn wind, just win blah blah blah blah blah. Then ask that same person why Raider games don't sell out when anyone other than the 49ers or the Broncos are in town and you'll probably get either a blank stare or a nasty comment as your response.
You can also ask yourself these questions: how many Chicago Bulls fans do you know that actually went to a few games at Chicago Stadium before 1984? Where were all the Yankee fans in the 1980s? How many real live Cincinnati Bengal fans do you know?
I grew up in the suburbs of Oklahoma City, and I went to the same high school as former Stanford catcher A.J. Hinch (it's all about Bomber Pride!). A couple of months ago I went back there to visit, and all that was on everyone's minds was Oklahoma football. That whole town seemed to be painted in crimson and cream. Every man, woman, and child seemed to be humming "Boomer Sooner." Every car seemed to be sporting an OU license plate frame, bumper sticker, window sticker, or all three. It was like 1985 all over again, without the parachute pants.
Contrast that to when I visited the Sooner State back in the fall of 1998. This was during the John Blake Era, which is kinda like recalling Saturday Night Live during the Joe Piscopo Era. Oh sure, there was a little OU representation, but it was nowhere near the maniacal state that the Sooner fans are living in right now. Granted, winning a national championship will do that for you, but the Boomer Sooner bandwagon has gone from near-dormant to full-force in the space of just under four years.
Some bandwagons are obviously less stable. Remember the week after cal beat Michigan State? Was it me or did it seem like Bear backers who had been forced into hibernation by that team's woefully embarrassing performances were suddenly coming out of the woodwork all over the city? "Big C" stood clear and bold. Jeff Tedford was the toast of Telegraph. I ran into cal hoops play-by-play guy Roxy Bernstein at Candlestick Park (or whatever the hell that stadium is called now) the next day; I hadn't seen him that happy since the Bears won the NIT.
Then the next Saturday Air Force did the Bears in and it was back to normal in Berkeley.
Fans aren't the only ones who pile on bandwagons. The media has perfected the Bandwagon Leap like Bob Fosbury mastered the high jump. Our Southern California friends can correct me if I'm wrong on this, but did anyone in the media give one rip about the Anaheim Angels back in May or June? Somehow I don't think so.
It's the truth: the majority of Americans are on one bandwagon or another. And why not? Americans love to win. Americans love to be associated with winners. America is all about winning. It's what this country was built on. Did we get to rule the planet because we lost to the British, the Germans, and the Japanese? Don't think so.
Which brings me to the current state of affairs in the Cardinal Nation. Since that terrible Tempe afternoon a few weeks ago, it seems the Stanford football bandwagon has screeched to a halt, with many heading for the exits in a panic. It's been pretty rough. I took the negative calls on my postgame show in South Bend. I've been checking the BootBoards everyday. Some are already calling for an end to Buddyball, which I think is unfair, detrimental, and an absolutely nonsensical thing to ask for after just five games.
I look at it like this: bandwagons and fan support are like the economy. When times are good, everyone and their grandma wants a piece of the action. But eventually, and it happens to everyone, times get a bit too good. Then things inevitably start going badly, and as soon as it does, the weakest are the first to go. It's Darwinism as applied to sports fans. Only the strong sports fans survive.
It's never an easy process, and I hope that the rest of this season won't end up becoming a six-week-long weed-out process for the Stanford bandwagon, because that means the team isn't doing so well. But I've definitely been getting that sense. And while I can't blame some fans for their overall concern, some of the things I've heard and read about this program lately are downright shocking.
To paraphrase the quote from the classic television series "The Wonder Years," you're either part of the problem or you're part of the solution. Knee-jerk reactions like "get rid of the coach" that are unaccompanied by reasonable solutions to Stanford's current state of affairs on the field can only be seen as problematic. Statements like that indicate to me the type of folks that are being weeded off the Stanford bandwagon.
And that's perfectly fine with me. That's more room for the rest of us. See you back on the bandwagon after Stanford waxes the Wildcats this weekend.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
A quick peek at last week's Pac-10 scoreboard reveals a one-point game, a two-point game, two four-point games…and a 25-point game. In a weekend like that and in a conference like this, you don't want to be the team on the wrong end of the 25-point game…
I'm not an offensive coordinator, but I sometimes play one on the radio and the internet. That said, the Stanford offense seems to do their best work when they're being aggressive, being creative, and dictating the tempo. I think we've seen glimpses of it, most recently on that first-quarter drive against Notre Dame that featured the trick running play to Nick Sebes, followed immediately by the touchdown toss to The Big Nickel. The more aggressive and creative the playcalling, the more this team seems to respond. Whether this means more motion and shifting, more reverses and misdirection plays, more screens, or more option passes, I don't know. But I do know that the offense can't function to its potential when it's as predictable as a chick flick…
I will say this: I still think Stanford can and will pull off a major road win before the end of the season…
How far did that Oregon State-Arizona State contest set back the game of football? Ten years? Twenty? That depleted Beaver offensive line has been giving up more sacks than Safeway. Good God. Let's just move on…
If you have to make a list of heartbreaking ways to lose a ballgame, giving up an 80-yard touchdown pass with two minutes to go has to be right up there. We'll see if Arizona has enough emotional fuel to recover from that setback at Washington…
Our quote of the week is brought to us courtesy of Duck LB David Moretti: "We knew they didn't have a very strong field-goal kicker. If we kept them around the 40, we knew we were safe." That's after UCLA's Chris Griffith shanked a game-winner against the Ducks for the second year in a row…
It could be worse for Bob Toledo. He could have been Bobby Bowden last Saturday…
Not bad. In fact, it's my best weekend yet! And it could have been better. If the Bruins had made that field goal I would have nailed that game right on the head and have been perfect for the weekend straight-up. I do still find it troubling that I've already got five straight-up losses on the season (I have finished 29-11 in back-to-back seasons).
Remember, I'm not one of those shills with an 800 number that you hear on the radio claiming to have inside information that even the coaches don't have, so take my picks with a grain of salt…
Arizona @ Stanford. This is a measuring-stick game for the Cardinal, although it's not the type of measuring-stick game you want to be involved in. While the Stanford offense finds itself, the defense will have to hold down QB Jason Johnson and WRs Bobby Wade and Andrae Thurman. Who wins this one? I dunno. My heart says Stanford. Fortunately my brain says Stanford too, and my brain usually wins these battles. This won't be pretty, but I like Stanford by 5.
UCLA @ cal. Arguably the most intriguing Pac-10 game of the week. What does Jeff Tedford and the cal offense have up its sleeve this week? Which Cory Paus will show up this week? Is tiny UCLA RB Tyler Ebell for real? Does UCLA have an answer for jitterbug Joe Igber? Who knows? We might not find out all the answers until late in the game. I like cal by 3.
Washington @ U$C. blah So the Huskies are having problems running the ball. That's not a good position to be in, especially when going up against the Pac-10's best defense. $C superstar Troy Polamalu is gimpy with an ankle sprain, so that could help. The Huskies pass the ball better than any team in the conference, but the Trojans defend the pass better than any team in the conference, even with their weak corners. This means the onus falls on the porous Husky pass defense. Carson Palmer will dink and dunk UW, but if he has success going up top as well, the Huskies could be in for a long day. I like U$C by 8.
Arizona State @ Oregon. Jason Fife may have finally had a breakthrough game last week (14-of-18 passing for 202 yards). Onterrio Smith continues to pound Pac-10 defenses. The game's at Autzen. That's good enough for me. I like Oregon by 10.
Last week (straight up): 4-1, (against the spread): 4-1.
This year (straight up): 7-5, (against the spread): 8-4.
It's been a bit light the past couple of weeks…keep the e-mails coming! The best ones end up here…
David from parts unknown writes…"Troy, the sad reality in watching last Saturday's game is that the first half is probably the most competitive we will be against ND for some time to come. Even a magazine about Lake Michigan featured Tyrone discussing football and spirituality. Given my perception that an increasing percentage of quality African American student athletes are attending Catholic high schools, ND should get more than their share of top prospects. Thank goodness ND is not geographically located in either Florida or California or even the South where the climate is clearly preferable. I would be curious about your thoughts."
I'm not so sure about your misgivings, David. Does Tyrone have a bigger plate to work with now than he did at Stanford? I don't think there's any question about that. Notre Dame is Notre Dame. There's no reason why, given their resources and all the things they bring to the table, they shouldn't be playing in late December or January 1 every year. Plus, most recruits who sign with the Irish don't go to Notre Dame because South Bend is a happening town. They go to be a part of Notre Dame football. So what if it snows there in January? They play on national TV almost every week and the fan support is tremendous no matter where they go. Don't know if you've had a chance to check out gameday in South Bend, but what I saw was mind-blowing. I think Stanford's tailgate scene is comparable to that, but nothing else about the two gameday experiences is. If Notre Dame isn't competitive and dropping 3-8 seasons on people, that's their fault and that's their problem.
That said, I don't think there's any reason why Stanford can't be competitive long-term. Competitive on the same level as Notre Dame? Well, not every year, but I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility to ask to be in BCS contention every once in a while. Yes, with admissions being what it is it's a bit tougher to get that mean, tough, nasty 300-pound kid every year but college football has evolved to the point that you don't necessarily need to go get a mean, tough, nasty 300-pound kid every year. See what's happening in Nebraska? Watched Big 10 football lately? It's not three yards and a cloud of dust anymore!
Long-term we'll be fine. I said before the season that Stanford will be VERY good in 2003, and I still stand by that, as I pointed out earlier in this column. And if Notre Dame is a better team on paper than we are, so be it. That just makes it all the better when we beat them! Recruits don't win games...coaches and players do.
Got a thought on Stanford sports? Have any random Pac-10 thoughts of your own? Wanna have your thoughts end up in next week's column? E-mail me!
Troy Clardy hosts Stanford football postgame call-in shows, as well as Stanford football road pregame shows, Stanford basketball pregame shows, the Buddy Teevens Show, the Mike Montgomery Show, and the Stanford Profile on Stanford radio network flagship station KTCT ("The Ticket 1050") in San Francisco. The Stanford Profile airs every Thursday evening at 7:00p and the Buddy Teevens Show airs every Friday morning at 7:20a on KTCT.