I don't know if it was love at first sight. But one thing is for sure. The place made a huge impression on me.
About an hour earlier, I set foot in the state of California for the first time. When you show up for Stanford Law School, with a school year starting a month or so before the one for the rest of the university, there is no welcoming committee at SFO. But they do send you a map of the campus, along with the advice that a cab ride to campus will cost you about $25.
I was cheap and broke, though. [Some things do not change.] I needed that $25 for football tickets. So I decided to take a bus to The Farm (though I had no idea anybody called it that at the time).
I had packed up all my worldly possessions into, if my recollection is correct, two huge suitcases and two cardboard boxes. For those too young too remember, airplane travel was a bit different in August of 1980. If you smiled and asked really nicely, the good folks at the ticket counter often let you put lots of luggage onto the plane.
Getting the stuff from the luggage carousel to the bus was not easy, but I managed. As I rode that bus getting my first taste of California out the window as we cruised down El Camino Real, I knew the real challenge was ahead of me. Based on the map, I decided to get off the bus near Embarcadero Road. That looked to be the shortest walk, and it would give me a look at the football stadium as I trekked across campus to Crothers Hall (near the soon to be departed Meyer Library, for those of you fortunate enough to never have heard of the law school dorm).
The obvious question is, "How could anybody be stupid enough to try to walk from El Camino to the center of campus with two suitcases and two big boxes?" Put more precisely, "How could anybody that stupid ever get admitted to Stanford Law School?"
In my defense, I did not expect it to be easy. I had done a rough calculation of the distance from the map the law school sent me. Unfortunately, my calculations were based on the substantially smaller campuses that I attended as an undergrad. I knew Stanford would be bigger, but I had no idea how much bigger.
So there I was, schlepping those four bags to the (very) distant building that would be my home for the next three years. It must have been quite a sight. This was the basic system. First, haul the two suit cases about twenty feet. Then go back to get the boxes and haul them about forty feet. Then go back and get the two suitcases and haul them forty feet. Repeat a whole bunch of times. [It was my own version of leapfrogging, I guess.]
Stupid as I quite obviously am, I quickly figured out just how much work it was going to be to haul that stuff half way across what turned out to be the largest campus in the world. Thus, I will never forget my three word first impression of Leland Stanford Junior University: Oh my God. Actually, it was more like three sentences. Oh. My. God.
From the very first, Stanford was more than I expected. Much more.
I have a confession to make. Unlike many of my fellow Booties, I did not grow up dreaming of attending Stanford. Instead, my impression of Stanford in the late summer of 1980, before I got there, was that it was a pretty good school. As the above story establishes, I was clueless.
The place amazed me from the start. The people did, too. [Speaking of the people, it should be noted that I only got about as far as where the Track House is now before one of my future classmates and his parents drove by, somehow recognized me as a colleague, and offered me—and, more importantly, my stuff—a ride. I was already about an hour into the effort to save that $25, so I accepted their offer despite my parents having told me to never enter a car with strangers. To this day, that classmate is a close friend. He and his parents love to tell the story of driving by this hapless fool hauling suitcases and boxes.]
From that point forward, Stanford has continued to amaze me. I quickly learned that my days of often being the smartest person in the room were over. Of course, my grand entrance pretty much established that. Even with my limited intellect, though, I realized that both the professors and my colleagues possessed mechanisms (as Crash Davis called the brain in Bull Durham) unlike any I had seen before.
The sports fan in me also got more than I expected. When I spent a bit of that preciously guarded $25 to buy a ticket to a game between Stanford and Tulane, I saw this kid named Elway win the game with a long laser shot caught by a kid named Margerum.
Unlike so many things in life that fall short of expectations, Stanford has always exceeded mine. I continue to be amazed that I was allowed to be part of it. To this day, I get a special kick when I get to tell someone I am from Stanford. The very word puts a smile on my face.
These days, I don't get to The Farm very often, because I have returned to the Midwest (and to a state of being simultaneously broke and cheap). Most of you spend a lot of time there, cheering on our teams, and, whether you know it or not, representing far-flung Stanford fans who wish we could join you more often.
It is a part of human nature for the special to become the commonplace. So allow me to remind you of something you know, but might occasionally forget. That is a very special place.
Last weekend, Mrs. MizzouCard and I squeezed the piggy bank, arranged for my dad to watch the boys, and returned to The Farm for my 25th Law School class reunion. As we drove up Palm Drive, I had that same spine tingling feeling I always have on those all-too-rare trips to Palo Alto: Oh. My. God. This is a special place. How lucky we all are to be part of it.
It was a glorious weekend to be back. Friday provided the chance to "run" around campus to get the smell and feel of it again. Saturday gave us the chance to reconnect with old friends at the reunion and meet (in the flesh) several of my close buddies here on the Bootleg for the first time at Lars' tailgate.
For pure "oh my God," though, it was hard to top my first trip inside the new Stanford Stadium. I realize that everybody here knows it already, but I am going to say it anyway: That place is amazing. As a peripatetic sports fan, I have been in a whole lot of stadiums and arenas. Our new stadium beats them all. The seats are comfortable and right on top of the action. The replay screens have large, bright, sharp images that put most replay boards to shame. The field itself is stunning. Even the pizza was the best I have tasted at a sporting event. Once again, Stanford provided more than I expected.
We have not even gotten to the best part. There I sat, for the second week in a row, watching Stanford overpower a worthy opponent. Our team has its flaws, folks, but our guys are T-O-U-G-H. We did not beat Arizona (or hang with Notre Dame) via the traditional Stanford weapons of trickery and longshot gambles. We took it to them. Stanford? Overpowering? Just like the stadium, it was much more than I expected.
Philosophically, I am in the Teejers camp as a Stanford fan. I tend to be pessimistic in my estimation of Stanford's chances in the next play, the next series, the next game, or the next season. With that approach, one can be pleasantly surprised when the results exceed expectations. Having adopted that attitude, I really hate to say what I am about to say. Here it is anyway.
I really like what I see and feel from the Stanford football team. They have adopted their coach's toughness, optimism, and, yes, enthusiasm. As noted above, this is not a team without its flaws. But, try as I might, I cannot avoid feeling good about the state of Stanford football for the foreseeable future.
It is more than we expected, isn't it? And that is a great feeling.
A Few Random Thoughts
If You Built It, Will They
All of us who love Stanford football, from the head coach down to this lowly fan, are disappointed at the attendance for our home games. At the risk of being accused of drinking too much koolaid, let me point to a few tiny rays of hope. First, if you sat on the shady side on Saturday, don't completely trust what you saw (or did not see, in terms of fans in the seats). Mrs. MizzouCard and I started on that side of the field, then moved to the sunny side at halftime because we were cold. There are a lot more folks on the shady side than the sunny side. If you want to feel a bit—though admittedly only a bit—better about the size of the crowd, wander over to the sunny side and look west. Also, I was encouraged by the size and the enthusiasm (there is that word again) of the student section. Gostanford1116 and his co-conspirators are having an effect. Finally, let's remember that we are still in the early stages of what we hope will be a revival of Stanford football. We who are passionate need to be patient for the less passionate to join us. We need to do everything we can to encourage them, because it is a shame that a team like this does not have more fan support, but let's not lose heart too quickly.
It's Mini and Me
It should be noted that Stanford actually won a game that yours truly attended on Saturday. Thus, it is time to reevaluate the MizzouCard curse. Here are a few recent data points. Mini and I have attended the basketball regional in Houston, the softball regional games in College Station, the game against Georgia in the baseball College World Series, and the football game at Notre Dame. All losses. Interestingly, during this time span, Mrs. MizzouCard has attended three Stanford games, the College World Series opening game (with Mini, but not me) and the homecoming volleyball and football games against Arizona (with me, but not Mini). All wins. The pattern seems pretty clear: Mrs. MizzouCard's presence seems to negate the bad karma provided by her son or her husband. In addition, she is a lot more fun, a nicer person, and far better-looking than either of us. Seems to me that we should get her to games more often. Sadly, she is a fan, but somewhat less passionate about Stanford sports than her guys. [She did admit to the same "wow, this place is cool" feeling about being back at The Farm, though.]
Can a Kid Catch a Break?
Speaking of Mini, that rabid sports fan has had three tough weeks. First he goes to Arrowhead to watch his then-undefeated Broncos lay an egg against the Chiefs. A week later, he drives through the night to catch the Boot Train, only to see Stanford's comeback fall short against Notre Dame. Then his dad has the audacity to go to the new Stanford Stadium without him, leaving him to take his grandfather to see Mizzou lose a home game to Oklahoma State and thereby probably end any hope of playing for a national championship. The sports gods owe him one somewhere along the line.
Two Scary Weeks Ahead
Despite my feelings of optimism about the general direction of Stanford football, I am plenty worried about the next two weeks. I think we are a better team than UCLA, but they still have a lot of talent and their coaches, much as I hate to say this, are good at finding and exploiting the opposition's weaknesses. That game would do so much good for the program, so it really gives me the willies. Why would I worry about Washington State? If you have to ask, you need a bit more experience as a Stanford fan. Nobody I root for is so good at giving better teams fits, but I must also admit that we sometimes don't do as well against weaker teams. Here's hoping they will once again exceed my expectations the next two weeks.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!