Swagger

The Bootleg's popular columnist, former Cardinal offensive lineman Greg Schindler, provides his take on the challenges a team faces when battling the "bravado-ful" OSU Beavs up in Corvallis. Hopefully our Cardinal can slap the swagger from the black and orange and claim a victory over those darn smack-talkin' dam-builders.

Swagger

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a confession to make: I haven't seen the Oregon State Beavers play a down of football this year. Sure, I've followed their weekly results, as I do every Pac-10 team. But other than watching the electrifying Rodgers brothers light up opposing defenses last year, and figuring their run defense (ranked 12th nationally) will be an intriguing test for Toby Gerhart and Stanford's 12th-ranked rushing offense, my knowledge of the Beavers' schemes and personnel is vague at best. But that's not why I was hardly surprised yesterday when I read Las Vegas had deemed today's clash in Corvallis a "pick ‘em." It's always tough to handicap a game including the notoriously mercurial Beavers. That task is downright daunting when that game is played in Reser Stadium — the most disorienting and vexing venue in the Pac-10.

 

I'll admit it. For many years, my heart contained a large soft spot for Oregon State. As a high school offensive lineman, I loved watching any college football team run the option. Nebraska perennially garnered my awe, as the Cornhuskers' cutthroat offensive linemen demolished defensive fronts while their backfield ran seemingly simple dives, powers and pitches with machine-like precision. Oregon State couldn't sniff Nebraska's talent, yet I watched the Beavers scrappily execute coach Jerry Pettibone's wishbone attack against Steve Mariucci's undefeated Cal squad in 1996, pushing the Golden Bears into multiple overtimes before Cal escaped with a 5-0 record. I watched the game from the Cal student section. I was there as a Golden Bears recruit, but I left Berkeley as a Beavers fan.

 

Coincidentally, Oregon State was the first school to offer me a scholarship, and I considered joining Mike Riley's Beavers until late in the recruiting process - even as I dismissed traditional powers like Ohio State and USC. I was excited when Beavers assistant coach Paul Chryst told me I could be part of the recruiting class that revitalized Oregon State football, and I felt a sense of loyalty toward the program that doggedly recruited me long before the big boys (including Nebraska) called. Why the personal-history lesson? Because it's the only way I can justify ever favoring the program and stadium that I and so many Cardinal fans have come to contemn over the last decade.

 

In his four years as Stanford's tackles and tight ends coach, Chuck Moller made myriad proclamations of questionable relevance and sanity. But he was startlingly apt when assessing the Beavers before our 2000 visit to Corvallis. "They're great frontrunners," Moller said. "When they're feeling good about themselves, they can get it going." It was the only understatement of Moller's tenure on The Farm. None of us needed to be convinced that Oregon State was a worth adversary. Many of my older teammates were on the Stanford Stadium field for a listless loss to the Beavers in 1998. Our 1999 home victory over Oregon State wasn't sealed until Frank Primus picked off a pass in the red zone in the final seconds. But few of us had ever played at Reser Stadium, and none of us had faced a team possessing the otherworldly talent and astonishing bravado of Dennis Erickson's 2000 renegade crew.      

 

Noise isn't unique. In my Stanford career, I played at Oregon's Autzen Stadium, Washington's Husky Stadium, Notre Dame Stadium and several other notoriously rambunctious venues. But none of those experiences even approximated the bewildering, visceral fog that filled Reser Stadium during our 2000 visit. Ravenous fans are typically associated with more storied programs, but Oregon State's turnaround under Erickson was so swift and so striking that long-suffering Beavers backers became intoxicated by their newfound limelight. It was a vicious cycle. Each time our offense took the field, the crowd roared for Oregon State's speedy defense. Whenever the defense made a big play, it implored its fans to scream even louder. When we broke the huddle, a chainsaw sound effect pierced the stadium, and the crowd increased its own decibel level so as to not be outdone by artificial noise. The cacophony was literally deafening, erasing the one advantage (the snap count) our offense held. It was the first time I saw and felt noise. But the crowd didn't just cheer sacks and false starts. The loudest eruption came moments before the opening kickoff, when Bill Cosby appeared on the video board with the following message: "Stanford's mascot is a tree. Beavers eat trees!" I knew it would be a long day. Final score? Oregon State 38, Stanford 6.

 

I know I'm not alone in calling Corvallis the most unwelcoming host in the Pac-10. I sat across the table from former Washington State offensive lineman Billy Knotts last summer at former Stanford tight end Brett Pierce's wedding in Portland, Ore. Knotts and I naturally discussed all things Pac-10 football, but when I asked him which opposing team's stadium he considered the most hostile, his answer was immediate and predictable: Oregon State. According to Knotts, when the Cougars played there for the first time in his career, they took the field to a strange dissonance of plinks and thumps. After trading confused glances with one another, they looked to the ground and found the cacophony's culprit. The Corvallis forecast had called for a chance of showers, but it had apparently forgot to mention the impending hailstorm of coins and batteries.

 

No one is comparing the 2009 Beavers (3-2, 1-1 Pac-10) to the 2000 squad that used 15 - yes, 15 all-conference players to rack up a school-record 11 wins en route to a No. 4 final ranking and a 41-9 Fiesta Bowl thrashing of Notre Dame. Long gone are wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who burned our defense for 217 yards before bolting to the NFL. Gone, too, are jackrabbit defensive ends DeLawrence Grant and LaDarius Jackson, who literally ran circle around me and our other young tackles forced to operate in cones of silence. But the prima donna swagger and outlaw spirit Johnson and Co. brought to Corvallis is alive and well in Reser Stadium — at least it was in 2005.

 

I was living in Eugene that year when I made the short trip to Corvallis to watch the Cardinal battle the Beavers. It didn't take long to see — and hear — that Reser Stadium was just as I had left it five years ago. The Beavers had mediocre talent that season, but they were still the Beavers, accumulating 11 penalties for 123 yards. As the fouls became increasingly flagrant and moronic, a fan seated behind me announced "Stanford is a bunch of pussies!" His logic was airtight, alright. It takes a real tough hombre to throttle a defenseless quarterback or cut-block a defender 20 yards behind the ball. It was also the Cardinal's fault that the Beavers insisted on shooting off their own feet every time they seized momentum. Notre Dame fans love their team. Oregon fans have mastered the art of distracting the opposing team and cheering at the right times. Boston College fans showered our 2002 team with Grade F verbal venom. But when the Beavers missed a long field goal as time expired in Stanford's 20-17 victory, it dawned on me: Oregon State's players and fans didn't hate losing; they hated being unable to gloat.

 

I know firsthand how unfair it is to make blanket statements about athletes based on their program's stereotype. Oregon State defensive tackle Eric Manning once called me a "smart nerd," while an Oregon defensive back told our entire team we'd "rather be on Wall Street than playing football." Still, one can only be pestered by so many yappy dogs before assuming all similar dogs — or Beavers — desperately need muzzles. In 2002, we led Oregon State 21-6 when our offense took the field deep in our own territory in the final seconds of the first half. I performed the common courtesy of informing the Beavers' defensive line that we were just taking a knee. But Oregon State wouldn't be Oregon State without jabbering through even the most mundane act in football, so a Beavers defensive tackle who had just entered the game responded by saying, "I don't give a f**k!" I replied that he sure was cocky for someone who only played in garbage time, causing Manning to burst into laughter and shake his head at his undeservedly haughty teammate. But Manning wasn't innocent of being cocky without cause, either. He was a talented and underrated player, but after shooting into our backfield on one play, he bellowed that he'd be "bringing it all night." What Manning didn't realize - or was too proud to acknowledge - was that the play was a screen pass, and I had intentionally invited him behind the line of scrimmage, causing him to over pursue the ball and blow his assignment.

 

Considering the considerable defensive talent Oregon State had in 2002, I figured I'd see some of the Beavers again if I made it to the NFL. I was wrong; I saw them sooner. When I entered Athletes' Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz., for my first pre-combine workout, I noticed two former Beavers in my small training group: Manning and linebacker Nick Barnett. I initially worried there wouldn't be enough room for me to stretch alongside two inflated Oregon State ego. I was wrong - sort of. After chatting with Manning for just a few minutes, I realized he was just a nice kid from Compton, not a preening narcissist. As I watched Manning relentlessly train, encourage other members of our group during grueling workouts, and implore everyone to call their mothers on Valentine's Day, it became obvious that his brash Beaver bravado was a matter of nurture rather than nature.

 

Barnett didn't grow on me so quickly. He was an undeniably superb player, but I quickly learned that he never met a mirror he didn't like, and he never met an exercise, drill or recreational activity he couldn't turn into a heated competition. Barnett's primal screams could be heard in the facility every day, but seldom while he was lifting weights or running sprints. There was a table tennis table in the lounge, and Barnett approached each challenge with the tenacity of a goal-line stand. I was torn while watching his matches. I yearned for someone to Ping Pong him in his place, but was nervous about the scene that might unfold if he ever actually lost. And even though I silently mocked him for taking a meaningless game so seriously, there was something I couldn't deny: I would have loved to have his fire and unflinching confidence on my team. The Green Bay Packers apparently felt the same way, selecting him in the first round of the ensuing draft, despite his relatively slight build and unheralded career in Corvallis.

 

My beef with the Beavers never was that they had bravado, but that they often displayed it at the most unnecessary times. It's one thing to celebrate after forcing a fumble, but quite another to peacock and prattle after tackling a runner for a three-yard gain. Oregon State wasn't alone in this. I've known many football players who believe cocky celebrations are good for humiliating and intimidating opponents. In my experience, the opposite was true.

 

When I watched video of Cal defensive end Andre Carter literally sacking USC's quarterback with a Trojans tackle, it was the first and only time I was actually scared of an upcoming opponent. I managed to hold my own against Carter in the two Big Games in which we squared off, but he was just as frightening in person as he was on the screen - despite, and perhaps because of, the fact that he never emoted. I was a redshirt freshman when I took my first pass set against Carter. I was so wary of his smooth speed rush that I was caught off guard when he drove me straight back on our first collision. Being put on roller skates never helps a young lineman's confidence, but when Carter silently returned to his huddle and blankly stared from the line of scrimmage before the next snap, I knew he was unsurprised by the ease with which he rag-dolled me. Carter's stoic demeanor was, ironically, the most frightening display of true confidence I ever witnessed.

 

Swagger, bravado, cockiness: Whatever you call it, it's not necessarily uncalled for in football. My role as an offensive lineman typically precluded me from hubristic antics, but I wasn't completely immune. As our offense finally came back to life in our soggy 2001 game against Notre Dame, head coach Tyrone Willingham approached us on the field during a timeout and asked what we were seeing so he could relay suggestions to offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick. I had gradually worn down my opposing defensive tackle, and I began dominating him during the last few drives before Willingham's visit. So I spoke up, telling Willingham, "Just tell (Diedrick) to run it behind me. This guy can't handle me!" What surprised me even more than the fact that I finally vocalized my confidence to the man who had spent years trying to boost my aplomb was that Willingham simply nodded, said ‘OK" and walked back to the sideline. Of course it wasn't high school football, and continuously running behind the same offensive lineman would get no college offense moving. But our hogs took over the line of scrimmage for the rest of the contest, leading to two fourth-quarter rushing touchdowns in our 17-13 comeback victory. I'm not sure if my rare outburst of self-assuredness inspired any of my offensive teammates, but timely and well-delivered pomposity can work wonders.

 

Ruben Carter was a quiet cornerback who, unlike most defensive backs, let his play do his talking. But moments before our 2001 game against No. 4 UCLA, Carter delivered one of the rarest gems in football: a pre-game speech that produces a strong enough buzz to outlast the opening kickoff. Carter's message of boldly stepping into the jungle could have come across as a contrived cliché, but it was so visceral, spontaneous and full of conviction that our team became intoxicated by a collective confidence the Bruins simply couldn't match in our 38-28 upset.

 

The Cardinal (4-1, 3-0) won't need a stirring speech to feel good about itself before today's game. Stanford is playing with more respectful confidence than the program has displayed in the last several years. Head coach Jim Harbaugh will undoubtedly inspire his players in the final moments prior to kickoff, but that won't be the reason the Cardinal wins or loses. Thanks largely to the Tunnel Workers Union up front, Stanford boasts what is arguably the Pac-10's brawniest offense. And if today's game were played in Palo Alto, the Cardinal would likely be solid favorites. But Stanford has been outscored 121-35 in its last four trips to Corvallis, and is 2-6 against the Beavers since 2000. Redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck and many of Stanford's other young stars have yet to play in a truly hostile environment. Reser Stadium certainly presents that first grueling road test, but if Stanford passes it, it will vault into the national rankings, move within one win of its first bowl berth in eight years and reinforce its presence as a legitimate contender for the Pac-10 crown. That's all swell, but I have a feeling I'm not the only Cardinal fan pulling for something else: a chance to dam the Beavers' mouths.  


About the Author: Greg Schindler, LSJU '03, was a four-year starter and four-year letter-winner for the Cardinal from 1999-2002, starting 42 of 46 games. After redshirting as a true freshman in 1998, he was the team's starting right tackle in 1999-2000 and the team's starting right guard in 2001-02. Prior to Stanford, Schindler starred at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, CA and was named a First-Team All-American by Prepstar in 1997. Following his Stanford career, Schindler was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent after graduating in 2003 with an English major, which, as you can see, he puts to excellent use here at The Bootleg!


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