This is unfortunate because in recent years the football match between Californias two mightiest private universities had undergone a transformation and inspired Stanford fans to get excited when USC clanked into town. It recalled a much earlier time: a return to a glorious yesteryear when Howard Jones would match wits with Pop Warner. When the Vow Boys were making good on their promise to beat the Trojans. Or later when Bob Mathias was besting Frank Gifford. And, of course, when Plunketts third-time-is-a-charm effort was too much one warm October afternoon for John McKays perennial Rose Bowl team.
Stanford holds a 6-5 advantage since 1991. Six of the 11 games were decided by an average margin of 3 ½ points.
The USC-Stanford game had become a toss-up. Two physically comparable, evenly matched football teams. A game that could and would be decided on one or two plays. But best of all, for Stanford fans, it was no longer a gimme on the Trojan card, the way it was through most of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
This year? Retro, big time, at least on paper. From the Trojan vantage, its back to the natural order of things. Arrive SFO, clock Stanford, party in the City, back to LAX. And God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.
This year we have the free-falling, two-and-six-and-going-nowhere Cardinal trying to salvage some dignity as they line up against six-and-two, bowl-bound USC. Déjà vu all over again. And the rowdy-wedding USC fans in sing-alongs with their Ben-Hur band. Two teams headed in opposite directions. The matchups today heavily favor the rowdy wedding party so get ready. What Stanford needs in this one are the capes worn by the Trojan Band. Only with the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, out-power a locomotive, and being faster than a speeding bullet can this crop of Cardinal hope to stay in the athletic event that follows the daylight tailgates. Or encourage their disillusioned followers from retreating back to their respective hurricane lamps for some interesting cabs, zins, and chardonnays. Face it: what shell-shocked Stanford fans have seen or heard transpire on the field most of this season has been less than, shall we say, interesting. In fact, its encouraged them to open the bar early and keep it open late.
Still, hope springs eternal and, as Joe Kapp used to say, the ball is pointy on both ends and takes funny bounces. A clear-eyed observer, that Kapp. But then he never had an abundance of luck against USC, at least as a coach. And if it werent for bad luck this year, starting back in January, Stanford would have no luck at all. We wish them good luck. And hope the weather is conducive to tailgating. Because it wont be a picnic against USC.
Stan DeVaughn is editor-in-chief of The Bootleg
Magazine. This article will also be published on Saturday in
the Palo Alto Daily News special Stanford Football 2002
Section. If you have not seen it, make sure to pick up a copy
before the game on Saturday. Palo Alto Daily News is
available for free everywhere in the greater Palo Alto area.