From the Cheap Seats: A Very Good Day

If you are a Bootie, you know that being a Stanford football fan is not for the easily discouraged or the faint of heart. We have been through some mighty tough days—make that years—together. Recently, when there has been hope, that hope has come at the price of agonizing near-misses, some at the hands of the team that wanted to do it one more time on Saturday. But this time it did not happen.

Mark it down. Saturday, October 3, 2009. It was a very good day.

If you are a Bootie, you know that being a Stanford football fan is not for the easily discouraged or the faint of heart. We have been through some mighty tough days—make that years—together. Recently, when there has been hope, that hope has come at the price of agonizing near-misses, some at the hands of the team that wanted to do it one more time on Saturday.

But this time it did not happen. This time, the guys in Cardinal were more athletic. Stronger. Tougher. Just plain better.

This time, what we saw in that wonderful new stadium of ours gave us reason to believe that maybe, just maybe, we are going to get back to Stanford football at its best. We are not there yet. But those of us who have wondered whether we would ever get back—whether we would be allowed to get back and whether we would ever find a coach with that unusual combination of football smarts and just enough foolishness to take on one of the toughest challenges in the sport—can honestly say we just might do it.

This time, our guys stiffened their backs. This time they sold out on a couple of well-timed blitzes their coaches had guts enough to call with the game on the line. They had tried before, but something was different this time: it worked. This time, we won.

And this time my son, the crazed Stanford sports fan who had seen so many of those near-misses (and a few outright disasters, too) in his lifetime, and I were there. This time, I did not have to tell him, as I have so many times in places like Tuscaloosa, Houston, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Omaha (eight different times in that one city alone!), "maybe next time" and "hang in there, buddy." This time we walked out of the stadium happy, among friends. This time those friends were thinking, "This could be something pretty special." The new Stanford Stadium had the buzz we had not felt for many years on The Farm.

It was a very good day. And it was an honor to share it with you, to see a few old friends, and to meet many more.

Assorted Observations

For what they are worth, if anything, here are a few observations from a couple of Stanford fans who don't get to see many Stanford football games live.

We Are Pretty Good As muiron can attest after having had the bad judgment to give us a couple of seats and thus endure sitting next to me for the entire game, I come from the Teejers school of positive pessimism when it comes to Stanford sports. Like Teejers, I am not one of those who posts, shouts, or even thinks, "We smoke these guys." When predicting, I like to plan for the worst and hope for the best. [Some make the mistake of thinking we pessimists love our teams less. Not true. We hope our team is going to win, but we don't ever count on it until it happens. When it does, it is that much sweeter. It does not make sense to most, but some of us understand "the power of negative thinking." Also, we pessimists know the power of the sports gods, who like to smote those who get too big for their britches. We make our humble sacrifices to those gods, on behalf of all of you who prefer hubris and optimism.] Thus, I hate to say this, but . . . .

The Stanford football team is pretty good. With the potential to be really good. And, with a bit of good fortune, maybe even great.

There was nothing cheap about that win, folks. That was good old-fashioned football, mixing up the run and the pass on offense and playing solid, if basic, defense most of the time with just enough extra pressure at the end to rattle the opposing quarterback. We did not win on a fluke. [There was one drive that was sustained by a foolish play by one of our opponent's best players, when Rahim Moore tried to light up Coby Fleener, with serious consequences. Personally, I think it is rather silly in the midst of a violent game to not allow a crushing hit on a receiver who might catch the ball, but that apparently is the rule. So we did not get a gift from the officials on that one, though we did get one from Moore, who we all hope is healthy enough to play again soon. And the one questionable penalty call against UCLA for pass interference only evened up a questionable one against us in the end zone. ]

We won by out-shoving, out-running, out-passing, out-tackling, out-gutting, out-hustling, and, yes, out-coaching our opponent. Not by a huge margin. They did some good shoving, especially when they were on offense. They did some nice running. Their quarterback even did some nice passing, especially on rollouts. And they did some nice things on defense, while we occasionally had defensive lapses. But overall we were the better team, and we played better. Sometimes you win when you don't quite deserve it. Not this time. The better team won.

The other team was not bad, by any means. It had beaten an SEC team at its home, which is (depending on which year it is and who put up a couple hundred bad seats to claim the honor) either the biggest or second-biggest football stadium in the world. It was undefeated. It had defensive stars. If we are a better team than that, and we are, even the pessimists among us must admit it: We are pretty good. With potential for even more than that.

These Old Eyes The older I get, the more I realize that football is, or at least can be, a game won in the trenches. And these old eyes watched our offensive line push UCLA's defense into holes that Toby (and Stepfan Taylor) exploited.

As a Stanford fan who has watched many a Stanford team try to "out-cute" (or, if you prefer, out-scheme) its opponent due to a speed or strength disadvantage, didn't you love watching us put four (or was it five?) linemen left of the center? When you do that, you are saying to everyone in the stadium, "We are going to run the ball right here behind these big dudes. See if you can stop us." [As muiron can attest, I thought it was a scheme. I thought we were going to the short side. One time we did, to keep them honest, but usually we went behind the big boys.] You can only do that if you have a physical advantage. And we did.

This was EUTM at its best. Our guys really are blue collar.

What the Doctor Ordered Speaking of EUTM, count me among the converted. Jim Harbaugh is exactly what we need. His enthusiasm has rubbed off on the team, the students, and the alums. With time, it might even get to the town folks. I will not quibble with the play calling, either. When he tried the long pass late (when Toby and Andrew ran into each other), I feared we would never hear the end of it on the board. But we cannot have it both ways, folks. If we want to keep the hammer down, we had to pass a bit. That play might have sealed the deal.

The program has such a wonderful feel to it at the moment. I think our coaching staff is using our academics to our advantage in recruiting. If you were both athletic and smart, why not play football for this guy, at this great place? He obviously loves his players and the place. The place (in terms of the both the campus and the stadium) is fantastic. There is a lot to like about being a football player at Stanford, if you are willing to accept the lack of adoration on campus that is standard at most big time college programs.

Luck(y) Us This was my first sighting of Andrew Luck live. He is really something. He made one bad pass (in the end zone) and one bad decision (where Pac-10 officiating was, happily for us, incredibly incompetent rather than only mildly incompetent, so we did not get tagged for intentional grounding). But he threw two deep balls that were works of art to a barely open Ryan Whalen (who had a great game). He is very accurate, folks, so our guys only need a bit of separation. And I love the way he hustled to cover his fumble.

Seven(th) Heaven Is it just me, or does Toby remind you of someone else? He is the guy every defense is keyed against. He takes a relentless pounding. He gets up, often slowly, from a crushing hit, and lopes back to the huddle trying to heal with every step. You wonder if he is going to survive until the next play, then he comes right at the opposition with gusto. I know the position is different, but he sure looks like John Elway to me.

Isn't it great to have one of those rare players that every fan of another conference team must just hate? At the end of the game, a UCLA fan told muiron "wait ‘til next year, when you don't have Gerhart." Well, we have him now, my friend. And you just hate that, don't you? As Mini points out, it must really be galling to them when he looks so harmless with that baby face (and a body that, shall we say, would not work for that proposed synchronized swimming career).

Hang onto the Ball Into even the brightest day a bit of rain must fall. We need to figure out how to hold onto the ball. We fumbled three times in the first half, and came awfully close to fumbling four times. Eventually that is going to cost us a game, unless we get it cured.

Déjà vu All Over Again As oline84 can attest, the water polo game went much like the football game. In both, Stanford took control early, then let UCLA do just enough to make Cardinal fans nervous. By the way, if you have not been to a water polo game, go! It is a great sport with plenty of excitement, and they hold games right by Chuck Taylor Grove.

Bootie Trends Based upon a pretty decent sized sample of Booties we met before and after the game, we can report that (a) there are lots of Booties named Terry and (b) there are a lot of Booties who are trial attorneys (or, as one prominent Bootie refers to them, "Gators," which is short for "litigators"). Also, there is quite a bit of overlap between the two groups, for some reason. [If any of you in the latter group are interested in coming to Laramie, Wyoming, at your expense of course, for a couple of days in the summer to teach at the summer trial institute I am hoping to start for our law students, let me know. The cycling, hiking, and especially the fly fishing are tremendous here.]

You Owe Us Three, Goat Man Speaking of CTG denizens, before the game we saw a certain prominent poster who claims to have all sorts of strange ways to predict scores. He assured us the score would be 24-13. Not a bad guess, my friend, but that extra three points for the bad guys sure made life difficult for Cardinal fans in the last few minutes of the game.

Killing Demons Then again, those three points gave us the chance to exorcise the ghosts of UCLA games past. It was great to see the defense step up and win the game at the end.

Mini wants it noted that he and I might not quite be out of the jinx business just yet. As he notes, our real specialty, sadly, is ending Stanford sports seasons in NCAA tournaments of all sorts. But this has to be considered a step in the right direction.

Go West, Young Man (and Woman) A quick word to my fellow geographically challenged Booties: Get to The Farm this year. You can do it pretty cheaply. [Mini booked our trip via a last minute travel site. We did the whole thing for under $600, for both of us. We did have a bit of problem getting checked into the hotel in Sunnyvale, as the desk clerk said we had no reservation. If you get the chance, ask Mini to do his impression of his dad throwing a fit to get checked in, complete with waving of a printout of our reservation, displaying of a Wyoming driver's license, and tossing of keys onto the counter. The original was quite a show, but Mini has already improved on it. But we did get checked in, so I get some credit for my own trial lawyer "persuasiveness," right?] You won't have to buy much food, because your friendly fellow Booties have plenty of it in the Grove. They might even have tickets for you. If you have not met them, you should, as they are a friendly and passionate bunch. [By the way, Bobbk, sorry we got to the Hall of Fame so late, after the water polo game, as we missed you this trip.] It is definitely a trip worth taking.

Even the end of our trip was great. After getting our luggage Sunday morning at the Denver airport, we walked out to the traffic island assigned to shuttle buses to wait for a van to take us to our economy parking spot. There sat two _._._. fans all decked out in those atrocious colors, obviously returning from a different football game in the Bay Area. Of course, we walked to the next island, hoping they were waiting for some other van.

Sure enough, when we walked into the van, there they were, with smug looks on their faces. One was a really big, nasty looking guy (though I guess the latter is a bit redundant). Mini was not deterred.

The driver of the van was apparently a fan of oldies radio. The song that was playing as we entered the van was, I kid you not, "Leader of the Pack."

Not missing a beat, Mini says, supposedly to me but just loud enough so the two hear him, "Who is the leader of the Pac these days anyway?"

Not being satisfied, he says, "Maybe that is just a matter of losses. Who has the most wins in the Pac?"

Flush with inspiration, he moved in for the kill: "Maybe it's just scheduling. Do we have any common opponents? Oh yeah, there is that one. "

Then the coup de grace: "We even GAVE them one touchdown. And we still throttled ‘em."

Admittedly it was bold, silly, and premature. Much football remains to be played, and we are not at _._._.'s level—at least not yet. But how often is the poor kid going to get a chance to do that number on a _._._. fan? [And, by the way, UDub has beaten _._._. and played both _._._. and U.S. B. tough. They are a decent football team. They have only been schooled by one team. While one should not make too much of that, it sure is a fun data point for now.]

P.S. I have watched a lot of football this season, at several levels. I have only seen one clipping penalty. Someday I am going to get over that one, but it has not happened yet.

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