No matter how you slice it, Stanford football has arrived. Though we've since assumed all the trappings of a football powerhouse – the three straight runner-up finishes in Heisman voting, the two straight BCS bowl berths and top-10 finishes, the top-ten 2012 recruiting class, or the eminent graduation of top pro prospect of the last decade – it wasn't that long ago that Stanford football was an afterthought.
On December 19, 2006, new athletic director Bob Bowlsby hired Jim Harbaugh, a former star quarterback, but an unproven coach who had never worked at the FBS level. The rest, as they say, was history.
We are pleased present Stanford football's 40 most memorable moments, trends, games and personalities from the magical five-plus years that followed that December 2006 announcement.
3. Heisman hopefuls
Gerhart and Luck compete for college football's most prestigious award
But while Cardinal supporters wanted to see one of their own take home the coveted hardware for the first time since Jim Plunkett did in 1970, that Stanford even offered a player into the Heisman conversation was a wonderfully foreign feeling when compared to the program's massive struggles throughout most of the decade. After three straight years of sending a standout to New York City, the whole process had become magically familiar.
The determining mechanism for the Heisman Trophy is far from perfect. A disproportionate amount of voters represent the eastern United States and a strong number cast their votes based on "last impressions." In all three years, Stanford players' chances of winning were certainly hurt by the fact that they played football late at night in the oft-forgotten West. In 2011, Stanford's schedule was the fatal blow to Luck: he waited through a season-ending bye weekend while Baylor's Robert Griffin III sealed his candidacy during an influential regular season game against Texas. Reliable exit polls showed a close race turning into a Griffin landslide during Luck's season-ending idle weekend.
Still, Gerhart has the strongest beef after not winning despite an otherworldly 2009 season that featured 1,871 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. Unjust as it may be, the bruising running back was certainly hurt by Stanford's four-loss regular season, and came 28 points shy of Mark Ingram, the narrowest margin in award history. The idea that Gerhart's stats were inflated because of his conference affiliation would be dispelled when he trampled Oklahoma, the nation's No. 2 rushing defense, to the tune of 135 yards despite the Sooners' stacking of the box against the Andrew Luck-less Cardinal in the ensuing Sun Bowl.
While the Cam Newton one-man wrecking crew in 2010 left little doubt as to the winner of that year's award, Luck had more on-field responsibility than perhaps any player in the modern era of college football when 2011 rolled around. But his pre-snap diagnostics of defenses and seamless direction of the offense from the field, while a jaw-dropping novelty for football experts, weren't as evident in the simple highlight reels and ordinary stat sheets that influenced most voters.
Alas, such gripes can last an eternity. But Stanford's now-regular visits to the Heisman Trophy presentation represented the team's rise to dominance. Gerhart and Luck will forever be remembered as the two superhuman talents who led the revival of a program once in dire straits.
50-41. More memorable moments - Loukas, Luck, and a phantom clipping call
40. Fake out - Luck stuns UW with a naked bootleg in 2010
39. Polls and bowls - Stanford climbs into college football's beauty contests
38. Steamrolled - Card run for 446 yards in 2011 beatdown of UW
37. Opening act - 2009 win over Ducks launches a November to remember
36. Going bowling - Loss to Sooners doesn't ruin first bowl game since 2001
35. "Shut up and play football" - Cal jaws pregame, falls behind 45-0 in 2010
34. Look ma, no legs - Luck throws a 52- yard dart while in free fall
33. Sit down - Burfict's head leads to go-ahead TD, Wilkerson's ices W at ASU
32. Injury bug - Despite multiple injuries, 2011 Card manage to rally
31. Whale watching - Stanford starts recruiting at an elite level
30. Suck for Luck - The media machine anoints the next football savior
29. Outta my way - Luck bounces off Cattouse for a 50-yard run
28. 0 for 3 - Card post three shutouts in 2010 campaign
27. Laying the wood - Luck lays out Wright
26. Concussed - Owusu is knocked out of four games
25. Jumping ahead - A 21-3 lead vanishes in Autzen in 2010
24. So close, yet so far - Luck's worst game costs Card 2009 Big Game
23. Run, Toby, run - Gerhart takes over against the Irish
22. Xs and Os… and Ys and Zs - Stanford toys with defensive coordinators
21. "The perfect football player" - Marecic makes purists weep
20. Rumor Mill - Report: Harbaugh to take every NFL job
19. "What's Your Deal?" - Stanford hands 'SC worst home beatdown ever
18. Continuity Unknown to Mankind - Shaw named Harbaugh's successor
17. Whitaker Beats USC - Cardinal hand the Trojans another soul-crusher
16. We've Got the Axe - Stanford wins first Big Game in six years
15. Return of the Red Zone - Cardinal students populate the stadium in force
14. Blown Away - Stanford takes VT to the woodshed in Orange Bowl
13. Streaking - Stanford wins 10 straight games by 25+ points
12. Dance With Girl Who Brung Ya - Card settle for FG attempt, loses Fiesta Bowl
11. College Gameday to The Farm - Campus welcomes ESPN
10. Thanks, John - Card build new stadium, enter arms race
9. The Stanford-USC rivalry - Stanford takes four of five in thrilling fashion
8. Andrew Luck returns - QB shocks nation with decision
7. Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind - Harbaugh reignites program's fire
6. Dreams Deferred - Oregon 53, Stanford 30
5. Dream On - Stanford 56, USC 48 (3OT)
4. The Class of 2008 - Harbaugh's first stockpile becomes legendary
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