Five Years @ The Bootleg!

The upcoming school year will not only bring, knock on wood, Stanford's first bowl bid since 2001, but also this reporter's five-year anniversary at The Bootleg. Here are some of the highlights of five eventful years, as we attack the next five with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.

Since I started in February 2004, writing about women's basketball for free for Mike "ME97" Eubanks, some things have changed:

- Men's basketball was the dominant program then, with football an afterthought and a laughingstock. Today, Jim Harbaugh's doing his part to invert that balance, and Johnny Dawkins has his work cut out for him if Stanford basketball circa 2011 is to look different than Stanford football circa 2005.

- Stanford fans used to complain about all things academic: the Admissions Department upholding high standards was going to be the death knell of Stanford football. Division III, here we come.
Now, Stanford's academic reputation is a major explanation for why a program off 1-11, 4-8 and 5-7 seasons is signing top-20 classes, and the Admissions Office and athletic programs, football in particular, are working more synergistically than ever. BCS, here we come.

- The administration didn't used to understand sports or prioritize them highly enough. How could we possibly land an Oklahoma kid with a 33 ACT when his state university's president personally meets with him to pitch the Sooners?
Now, Chase Beeler is Stanford's likely starting center this year, a US Secretary of State turned administrator has helped woo more than her fair share of recruits, and meeting with Professors is a centerpiece of each football recruit's visit.

- The site's a lot busier, with a lot of new faces (avatars?) having cropped up since 2004. That trend only figures to accelerate if football continues its upward climb.

More things have stayed the same though:

- Mike Eubanks knows way too much about Stanford recruiting for his own good, and if ever I mess up a link or phrase something indelicately, I hear about it.

- Trent Johnson has just come off a surprisingly successful season at a school other than Stanford.

- Tara VanDerveer continues to get overshadowed by the 600-pound elephants that are the Tennessee and Connecticut programs, but Stanford routinely starts the season in the top-five, pulls off a double-digit win streak come Pac-10 time, and factors heavily in the Final Four picture come March.
Interestingly, for as strong of a personality as VanDerveer is and as much of a team sport women's basketball is professed to be, one star has always led the charge. When these last five years began, it had been Nicole Powell, and then, obviously, it was Candice Wiggins. Jayne Appel's halfway through a likely two-year run as Pac-10 basketball's undisputed queen, and judging by the caliber of incoming recruits, I wouldn't bet against someone to pick up the torch Appel will pass on.

- Football still hasn't beaten Notre Dame in far too long, and, if my math is correct, graduating Stanford seniors have won the Big Game just once.

- Here on the site, people still complain ocasionally about our layout and technical features – yet I suspect we all type in far too frequently for the good of our personal and professional lives.
An old girlfriend once told me I was cheating on her with the Stanford Daily and The Bootleg, and though the girlfriend and the Daily have faded into pleasant memories -- and I can now deploy the excuse of gainful employment as a reason for my time on the site -- the truth is my addiction is as strong as ever and I suspect this is true for lots of us.

- An emergent Rivals is helping to fill the void, but there's still far too little coverage of Stanford sports, especially with the newspaper industry apparently heading the way of the wooly mammoth. Darren Sabedra always went out of his way to help me out, and the Stanford sports community is poorer given the eliminated or altered or diminished roles Sabedra, Jake Curtis, Michelle Smith and others I'm sure I'm forgetting have today.

- The AD denies it (well, Jim Harbaugh no longer), but I suspect this site is as closely read by the folks working at Arrillaga as ever.

- Stanford Marketing is responsible for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, world hunger and the fact that no one realizes that our (fill-in-the-blank team or player) is horrifically overlooked.

- A love-hate relationship with certain sports personalities is as strong as ever:

Jon Wilner reads this site and uses all our ideas unattributed! No, actually he's the one guy that gets Stanford Athletics and covers them regularly. (Well pat yourselves on the back if the two are related, huh?)

Teyo. (Why do some of us hate him again? It predates me.)

The Whatever-You-Call-It Cup

"Longwinded" is a necessary dose of realism. Or "Longwinded" is the driving force behind a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we say our teams will never win, then no fans or recruits will ever come and it'll become true. Now that he's pulling a Puxe-(ugh I give up, I hate spelling this word)-tony Phil act and resurfacing annually, if that, he's become the Godot of the website. Never has one said so little and had so much impact.

USC football singlehandedly put us on the map (in 2007), singlehandedly gives the Pac-10 national respect, singlehandedly makes us competitive with the rest of the conference by sucking away all the top talent from Cal, Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State and they seem like nice enough guys, especially compared to the rest of the college football world. Or, of course, USC is as sleazy as anyone underneath their slick exterior (see Sanchez, Mark; Bush, Reggie and Floyd, Tim), is our biggest rival and deserves no respect.

- While plenty of new faces have joined, certain posters remain as established as ever – and their personas similarly so. "RMOTKING" has yet to write a post on the Current Events board without a preemptive apology for something wholly innocuous, "MizzouCard" has yet to write a post in under 500 words ("Mizzou", if you ever start a Twitter feed, I would LOVE to subscribe just to see if you can pull it off) and "Emeritus" is more than happy to tell you about that great football team we had in 1852, who on this day 157 years ago, pulled off the upset of upsets against Louisiana Purchase U.
On the Current Events board, the old guard is as convinced as ever that this country is going to hell in a handbasket (If that's the case, shouldn't we have arrived by now? Just how far away can Hades be?), while the new generation is convinced that maybe with just one more elegantly-worded post, the rest of the board will see the wisdom of their argument, drop convictions they've had for half a century and come around to their side.

- Most of all though, we were embracing Stanford sports with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind before that term had even been coined, and we all continue to do so today.
It's said that the opposite of love isn't hate, but indifference, and if that's so, I don't need the latest AP poll, attendance figures or even Sears Cup standings to get a pulse on the state of Stanford Athletics. As long as we have a fan base as engrossed as ever in Stanford sports at sites like The Bootleg, our Cardinal are going to be just fine.

Here's hoping, when I sit down to write a ten-year piece in 2014, we continue to overreact as much as ever to every morsel of sports news and every first down, we continue to be as merciless as ever to Cal and Notre Dame and we continue to be as divided as ever on the Democratic Party, Ty Willingham's legacy and whether Stanford athletics can thrive in today's sports world. Because as long as our passion remains vibrant, so too will our programs.

Go Card!

PS: One more similarity from five years ago, on a more personal note: I continue to dabble in muckracking investigative journalism. Sometimes that's a good thing: we had solid leads throughout the basketball coaching search (being the first outlet to report that Dawkins was being interviewed, for example), some fans really liked how in-depth we got in our press conference coverage with Trent Johnson, and over at the Daily, I broke stories about the drunk Tree, Azia Kim and W.'s visit to campus, among others.
Sometimes it's a bad thing. Might Azia have been better off if she'd just faded quietly away, and not landed on national cable networks and the front page of the Mercury News and the Chronicle? Probably. Would the Stanford community and the country really have been worse off had that story never gone public? Probably not. Might I have been needlessly antagonistic at times, in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to ensure I not come across a PR firm for whomever I was covering? Certainly.
I owe Trent Johnson in particular a big apology – we were both entirely too harsh to each other for our own good at times. I'm told he once said of me, "I'm never talking to that a—hole again." And sure, he should have been more mature dealing with some college kid, but I can't say I entirely blame him. We were both a—holes to each other, and if I'd known at 19 what I know now at 23, I imagine our relationship could have been a lot different. Like all of us, Coach Johnson has his flaws, but he's a good man, and, despite my flaws, I like to think I'm okay guy too. Amidst all the snarky leads and snarkier answers and icy stares and generational differences and disagreements over statistics and the passion inherent to both coaching and fandom, we both lost sight of that. Coach, if you see this or someone sends this your way, I'm sorry and I wish you all the best in Baton Rouge. You've taught me a hell of a lot.
But sometimes all these experiences, good and bad, are a necessary thing. The first word in "student journalist" is there for a reason. Fast forward five years, and I'm strongly considering staying in Zambia and trying to be an investigative reporter for the newspaper of record here. For better and for worse, I do love digging around and stirring things up, and as a strong press is one of the only checks and balances against the rampant misgovernance and corruption here, hopefully I just might be able to do some real good. Besides, I covered that 2006 football season; how much worse could anything else be?

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