Clardy's Corner: It's No Choke

The mainstream press was neither fair nor balanced: Stanford didn't choke away the game in Eugene, longtime columnist Troy Clardy argues. "Clardy's Corner" this week isn't for the faint of heart, as it details some old Stanford chokes in all their gory detail. Plus, why 5-5, needing to beat USC or Cal, might just be exactly where the Cardinal wants to be.

At about 10:15 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, I checked around the internet to see what people were saying about Stanford's 35-28 loss at Oregon. As usual, I hit up the San Francisco Chronicle's website, scrolled down the front page, and saw their headline for the game.

"Stanford Chokes."

My first thought was "'Chokes?' That's a little harsh, isn't it?" A tough loss? You bet. A gut-puncher? No doubt. A choke job? A few of my friends felt that way, but I wasn't quite sure.

After all, Stanford had played well enough to be ahead with 2:18 left. They had forced Oregon turnovers. Tavita Pritchard had established a rhythm, and his offensive line had been blocking well. The running game had been productive, even with Toby Gerhart gone for much of the game. Few people expected Stanford to be in that spot, especially once they saw how a rough Cardinal start turned into a quick 17-3 Oregon lead.

Still, the Cardinal obviously didn't seal the deal. It started on the ensuing kickoff after Stanford's go-ahead touchdown. The Card appeared to get a break when Oregon's return man mishandled the kick and fell on it back at his own 11. But that break was negated when Stanford was called offsides and forced to re-kick. After the return, the Ducks started from their own 26, instead of having to begin deep in their own territory. That was a small play, but it might have made a huge difference in the grand scheme of that game.

Then, Oregon used its quick tempo to drive through a confused Stanford defense. On several plays, the guys in white jerseys were barely lined up as the Ducks snapped the ball. On one play, two linebackers ran smack into each other, and it wasn't because Oregon's receivers were running pick routes. 

Stanford gave this game away. I don't think there's much question about that. But a choke? No.

Now, the 2000 game against Washington? To me, and I hate to say this, that was a choke. Down 24-6 in the fourth quarter, Stanford scored three touchdowns to take a 28-24 lead with 53 seconds left. That should have been the difference. It wasn't. A three-play, 80-yard, 36-second drive by the Huskies finished with a Marques Tuiasosopo touchdown pass proved to be the true game-winner.

I remember doing my postgame radio show, then going home and sitting alone in a dark room for a couple of hours. Then I got in my car and drove aimlessly around the Bay Area. I think I ended up in some town called San Gregorio before I finally came to my senses. 

That was a choke job. Stanford men's hoops losing to Alabama in 2004, despite a 13-point lead with 7:40 left? As much as I loved that team, it pains me to say it — that was a choke job. It was the only time that whole season when that team seemed to let its guard down, and it cost them mightily.

Losing the 2000 College World Series championship game to LSU despite a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the 8th? Choke. Job. Ugh. I still can't talk about it.

I don't get that same "choke" sense from last Saturday's game. The folks at sfgate.com may have eventually come to the same conclusion, because when I checked their site again three hours later, the headline had changed.

Still, because of that result, it comes down to this. U$C and cal, Stanford's most hated rivals, in back-to-back weeks. With a bowl bid on the line.

Deep down, you knew it had to be this way, right? You knew this is what you were getting into when you signed up to be a Cardinalmaniac, didn't you? Surely you didn't think being a Stanford fan would be easy.

Granted, I think it's easy to root for the kids who compete for Stanford in all sports, and that shines through every time I talk to one of our athletes. Or, for that matter, their parents. It is never hard to root for the kids themselves.

And hey, we've seen some pretty cool moments on the field. But Lord knows we've also witnessed our share of gut-punching Cardinal losses. Let's face it, rooting for Stanford's fortunes on the football field (or on the basketball court), is not for the faint of heart. Or stomach.

If you want things to be easy, if you want to become a self-entitled, myopic, bandwagon fan, go sit on the other side of the stadium this Saturday. Go root for That School. Put up the two fingers when That Damn Band plays the only song it knows.

Snatching victory from either the Trojans at home or the Bears in Berkeley isn't going to be easy. But, in a way, it's a chance for Stanford to truly earn its bowl bid. Yes, I would rather the Cardinal have put a bow on that goal weeks ago. But if they seal the deal by beating either U$C or cal (or — dare I dream it? — both), that would certainly make achieving that goal all the sweeter.

It's all right there for Stanford, right there for the taking. And even though this is the far more stressful way to go, I'll admit that this is a cool situation for this team to be in.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if you indeed bow to no program, you damn sure had better not bow to U$C or cal. Especially with a bowl at stake.

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RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS

Man, that U$C defense can hit. The Bears' receivers got treated like clay pigeons, particularly by Taylor Mays

Surprised to see the Oregon State-UCLA score was only 3-3 at the half. Not surprised to see the Beavers pull away in the second half…

How's this for weird injuries? Beaver WR Shane Morales strained a hip muscle while trying to dunk a football over the crossbar during the team's Friday walkthrough at the Rose Bowl…

Some folks here in Bristol are spending too much time wondering why there is no Pac-10 championship game. It's simple, folks… everyone in the Pac-10 plays everyone else. By the time the season ends, you clearly know who the best team in the conference is. Plus, no one fattens up on fraud non-conference schedules (well, almost no one… I'm talking to you, Arizona), so no one's record is artificially inflated. There's no need for a Pac-10 championship game in football, much like there's really no need for a Pac-10 basketball tournament. There's also no need for a playoff system in college football… but that's another rant for another time…

Am I the only who is going to be doing the Yale-U$C doubleheader this weekend? The Johnny Dawkins Era begins in New Haven on Friday, and I'll be there for that. Then on Saturday it's a 6:00 a.m. flight to Cincinnati, a 30-minute layover (do I have enough time to stop at the airport Chick-Fil-A?), and a flight to San Francisco for the football game Saturday afternoon. Can't wait to see you this weekend, whether it's at Yale or on The Farm…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… really, Tennessee? Really? Losing to Wyoming? At home? Really??!?!

Not a Pac-10 thought, but…it was interesting to hear San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz blaming the officials for re-spotting the ball, causing his ill-fated call of a fullback Michael Robinson dive from two yards out on the final play of that Monday night game. It sounded a lot like what Jeff Tedford told me about a controversial playcall he made while Oregon's offensive coordinator, facing Stanford in 2001.

Stanford was down 42-41, but Oregon had the ball with three minutes left. But on third-and-one, instead of running the ball, Joey Harrington threw a pass that was picked off by Stanford's Marcus Hoover. A year later, just before his first season as cal's head coach, I asked Tedford why he called a pass instead of a run that day. He said, "Well, I got the incorrect spot from someone, and I thought we needed a short three yards for the first down. Based on that initial spot I called a passing play. I probably should have called a run anyway, but I never would have called a pass if I had known that it was actually third-and-one." Interesting to see Mike Martz channeling Jeff Tedford seven years later…

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Agree with this Corner? Disagree? Got something else on your mind? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com . The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!

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PAC-10 PICKS

cal @ Oregon State. Oregon State is a team that seems to be trending up. The Bears got knocked into a state of limbo thanks to U$C. This is why I like Oregon State by 16.

Washington State @ Arizona State. No. I like Arizona State by 32.

Arizona @ Oregon. Oddly enough, as much as I've questioned Arizona's ability to win road games when it matters most, I think the Wildcats can win this game. But because Oregon has a steadier rushing attack, and because it's Autzen Stadium, I like Oregon by 11.

UCLA @ Washington. The only reason to watch this game is to see Rick Neuheisel making his entrance into Husky Stadium. After that, watch UCLA win this game because they have something the Huskies don't: an actual defense. I like UCLA by 17.

Last week: 4-0 (straight-up), 3-1 (ATS). Thanks for not covering against the Cougs, Arizona!
This year: 21-4 (straight-up), 14-11 (ATS).
Last year: 26-10 (straight-up), 20-15-1 (ATS).

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Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:30p on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station KTRB (860 AM) in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com.

Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com.


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