A Good Walk Spoiled

You can only wonder what the 15 Stanford seniors will be thinking Saturday as they take their last walk from the locker room to the Stadium, with the exhortations of adoring fans ringing in their ears. "Exhortations" is term used loosely here. It is, after all, Stanford.

Like no seniors in school history, these guys have ridden a roller coaster in their Stanford careers that makes the one in Nagashima, Japan, supposedly the world's biggest, probably feel like the coin-operated pony down at the car-wash.

Think about it.  Pac-10 champs as freshmen, they came this close to a Rose Bowl championship.  A bitter losing season (5-6) followed, sweetened only somewhat by their victory in the first overtime Big Game ever played.  One of today's seniors, Casey Moore, caught the game-winning pass that late afternoon in Memorial Stadium. Last year?  The best regular season record since 1940 (9-2), followed by a bowl game.  This year?  The worst one-year negative reversal in school history.

Roller coasters like this should be banned.

But to follow, or play, Stanford football is to know such torturous extremes.  A look at the record book reveals peaks and valleys that can only be described as other-worldly.  They amount to a relief map of the planet Mars.  The last ten years are representative: Two New Year's Day bowl games and three lesser ones are the spikes that punctuate the depths of 4-7, 3-7-1, 3-8, and whatever becomes the final, ugly tally of '02.

It was none other than Bill Walsh, a name synonymous with success at Stanford who, after a particularly ugly shellacking administered by USC a generation ago (49-0), ruefully observed that Stanford would always sustain such lopsided losses from time to time.  The corollary was that lopsided seasons would occur as well.  In his first tenure as chairman of the Department of Football, Walsh recorded winning years (‘77-'78) and couple of bowl wins.

But his own law caught up when he pushed his luck.  In his second-coming, ‘92-‘94, along with sustaining a Trojan-esque mugging, 41-7 to Washington, he ended his Stanford career at an even .500. To Walsh, the perturbations of football on the Farm were symptomatic of the thinness of ranks that came with the territory (read: a maddeningly football-unfriendly admissions formula).  To become a Stanford student, a high-school athlete had to be, well, Stanford material. Which, like titanium, platinum and the Tiger Salamander, is not known for its abundance.  And which, in its own strange way, makes the whole football issue at this singular university a compelling story with its own allure and attraction.

Eugene "Buddy" Teevens was attracted to it and he's experiencing Walsh's Law at the moment, big time.  Moreover, he entered a no-win situation.  Inheriting a bowl-team that won nine of its 11 regular season games a year ago, it was a program hit hard by graduation then again by a cruel rash of early season injuries and telephonic mishaps.  The season was essentially over almost by the time it began.  Alas, a good chunk of Stanford supporters are hardly persuaded by this argument, insisting that a reversal of this magnitude cannot be explained by such frail evidence as injuries, depth charts and Walsh's Law.

Teevens' skin, we suspect, has been thickened over the years by dues paid in places like New Orleans, Champagne-Urbana, and Gainesville.  He, above all others, knows what comes with the territory.  He also knows that whatever second-guessing he gets in a place like Palo Alto would always be dwarfed by the heat felt at places where the only game in town is the one on Saturdays over on campus.  He also knows that the honeymoon was over this year almost as quickly as the season.  And that despite the variety of games from which the local folk can choose on a given Saturday, winning is no less important.  A truism that will no doubt be crossing the minds of the young men in the black commemorative tee-shirts, making that last walk, before they finally realize that there are a lot of peaks and valleys in life, too.

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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.


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