Big Game Quick Takes

After some days of reflection on Saturday's Big Win, Daniel Novinson offers some quick takes on the effects of the game on the Stanford Football program. We've got the Axe! We've got the Axe!

1. A senior moment: Thank you, thank you, thank you, footballers, especially the seniors. My agony on the sidelines is nothing compared to theirs on the practice field every day, but I've suffered through my career here, too, O-fer-Cal, and so Saturday's victory is that much sweeter.

I remember when we beat USC and an anonymous senior wrote a note on my freshman star's door – "Thank you SO much. As a senior, you have no idea how much this means to me." Even after that win though, I still thought the announcers on TV were simply waxing poetic about how seniors were natural leaders or cared that much more about the game, but my years here have proven me wrong (and hardly for the first time). Hugging and dancing with my fellow '08ers on that field postgame, then seeing my freshman residents and thinking (rather jealously) how bright their next three years of spectatordom look – it was simply a special moment. This season does matter that much more, and I'll bet all my fellow students and young alums understand.

2. Adversity overcome: I know that the players on the field understood. Dave Flemming made a great point on his postgame wrap – look who made the key plays down the stretch. We had an injured, benched quarterback throwing to two injured receivers. One lost his father months ago. The other's never been quite able to regain his NFL-level speed and dropped a game-tying ball the week prior. And on defense, the cornerback with two game-icing interceptions had a game-winning pick taken away from him two seasons ago, has also struggled with injuries and coaching switches on The Farm, and, I think, got burned for a touchdown in the first quarter of this very game. I'm sure it hasn't been as pretty as Nick Sanchez, Evan Moore, Mark Bradford or T.C. Ostrander expected at Stanford, but perhaps it's been more meaningful. They each battled significant adversity and only after they all conquered it could they leave as champions. This is the type of sendoff Trent Edwards deserved.

The story writes itself at a literal level, but let's take it a step further. Those seniors' career trajectories are perfect microcosms for Stanford's season (early success then a real struggle recently before Saturday) and, to a large extent, Stanford's program. And sure, I know many of those guys have professional aspirations still up in the air, and while the program is headed in the right direction, its arrival there is still far from a foregone conclusion, but you couldn't help but feel darn good about Stanford's chances Saturday.

3. Looking ahead: There are about 200 people on this board more qualified to talk about this than me, but I know recruiting's on an uptick, with a class in the 25-40 range likely. Channeling my inner Peter King, I think I know Allen Smith is an NFL-level talent, but would assume he was coming back anyway, not wanting to leave after an injury-ridden season. I wonder how this win affects recruiting. I know Stanford's pool overlaps more with Cal's than anyone's, and I know there were a ton of recruits, official and unofficial, at the Big Game.

4. Let's end on an upbeat note: We might look back five years from now, booking our hotels for El Paso or Phoenix or Vegas or Pasadena (we can dream, right?), and realize this was the game that saved the program. The USC win was obviously amazing, but few remember it now with all that's happened in the world of college football over the past two months. And, in a way, it was almost too amazing, folks needed another W to believe the first wasn't a fluke.

So, both because it's the season-finale and because it confirms the potential we displayed in Los Angeles, this win sets the tone until next September 1. Plus, it should have a significant shelf life on the West Coast with USC "only" in the Rose Bowl and Cal in the Weed-Eater Classic. I think we see the fruits of our labor on LOI day in February, I think we see players work a little harder through all those months of spring and summer practice, and if you accept both of those, I think we have to have a better season next year.

It's the exact inverse of what Longwinded (and longwinded) posters suggested – that a football program's success is cyclical. I certainly believe they're right, and agreed with the unfortunate conclusion of their analyses, but instead of making the rounds on a death spiral, we somehow eked out two wins no one in their right minds would have seen this season, and that changes the calculus completely. Their momentum, coupled with our staff's recruiting and coaching efforts, should allow us to never be in that position for the foreseeable future. I certainly hope so, because as far as needing to beat 40-point favorites to save the program – once is enough!

Go Stanford and let's hope basketball ends on a similarly high note.


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