It took a month, but finally we were given an explanation as to the reasoning behind all the injury secrecy.
Tom Fitzgerald of the San Francisco Chronicle is the elder statesman of the media luncheon contingent. He always asks the questions nobody wants to and courageously broached the injury subject again Tuesday. The conversation between Fitzgerald and head coach Jim Harbaugh was such an "instant classic", we had to transcribe it in its entirety:
Tom Fitzgerald (TF): Coach, can you give us any information on Ryan Whalen's status?
Jim Harbaugh (JH): Nope.
TF: None at all?
JH: I'm not going to tell you anything. As soon as we tell you, you tell Notre Dame so there's no advantage to doing that.
TF: What's the difference whether Notre Dame knows if Ryan Whalen is going to play or not?
JH: I think it does [matter]. I would want to know that about the status of every player on their team. Whether they're going to play, what percent they are, how many plays they are going to play, how they're going to be used…that's valuable information.
TF: Is that the main reason for your…
JH: Yeah, that's the exact truth. As soon as I tell you, I might as well call them up and tell them.
TF: But you're the only coach that does it.
JH: No, I don't think that's true.
TF: Name another coach in Division I.
JH: Mike Shanahan. There's a coach, I heard him say it the other day. Bill Belichick.
TF: Mike Shanahan is required by the NFL to give injury information. I'm talking about another college coach.
Jim Young (interceding): Can we move on to the next question?
TF: Okay. The reason I ask is because he (Whalen) is not listed on the depth chart.
JH: Again, I didn't make the depth chart. I don't know who keeps making these depth charts.
The word on the street is that Whalen has a dislocated elbow and will miss anywhere from 4-6 weeks.
"Whales is the leader on offense for us," Andrew Luck said. "He's our captain; he's been there and done it all. It will be a serious blow if he's out for awhile. But we know we have guys that can step up and fill that role."
Most were shocked to see the Cardinal trot onto the field donning black tops to their uniforms Saturday night. Apparently at one point last season, Nike approached Stanford and asked if they could create an alternate black jersey for the football team. Some of the upperclassmen on the team assisted with the design.
Harbaugh seemed not to really care one way or the other about the new unis. He said he took the black out of the uniforms after the 2007 season because he is more of a "traditionalist" and the school colors are Cardinal and White. Harbaugh also mentioned that the black jerseys will likely be hung in the equipment room and not seen again this year.
"Probably not this season," he said. "We just prefer to wear our standard uniforms in the conference games. But I think we'll wear them again at some point."
Harbaugh made it clear that wearing the black had no commercial tie with ESPN or Nike. The players took a vote earlier in the week to wear them.
"I loved the black uniforms Saturday," said Tyler Gaffney. "Some alumni might not have liked it but you can't argue with 68 points."
"I know there might have been some people that didn't like them but personally I loved them," Shayne Skov said. "I just think wearing all black with a defensive attitude is just kind of more aggressive."
"They might have helped me run faster," said Andrew Luck jokingly. "I was actually a little nervous because as a quarterback you get used to throwing to a certain color. Wake Forest wears all black a lot and I was worried it might be hard to differentiate between the two, but it ended up alright."
Some questioned whether Harbaugh opting to challenge a Wake Forest fumble with under a minute left was appropriate considering that Stanford was up more than 40 points at the time. Harbaugh indirectly said that he was not trying to disrespect anyone or run up the score (maybe if it was USC....).
"Brent Etiz made a terrific play and we thought he caused a fumble," he said. "The guys that are in there…that's very important game-time for them and we thought there was a fumble. It's as simple as that."
From this writer's perspective—five feet from a 52-inch HD flatscreen—it appeared the ball indeed had been jarred loose before the Wake player's knee hit the ground.
Chris Owusu returned for the Cardinal on Saturday and made a big impact. He hauled in the first two touchdown passes of the game and finished the night with three receptions for 65 yards.
It could have been the black uniforms, but Owusu looked bigger, stronger and maybe even faster than last year.
"He's gotten stronger and tougher to go along with his speed," Harbaugh said. "I don't know if there's anybody faster on our team, I think he's the fastest. It's a good combination for a football player to have—strong, tough, fast."
Harbaugh did mention that Owusu would be returning kicks at some point this season.
Chris Owusu wasn't the only Stanford player to make an impact in his 2010 debut. Linebacker Shayne Skov registered three tackles (one for a loss) after returning from a knee injury.
"It was great having him back out there. I thought he played at a high level," said Harbaugh. "There weren't a lot of signs of rust and he was excited to be out there. When I looked into Shayne's eyes before the game there was a focused, mean, vicious kind of look."
There is no question Skov brings a level of aggressiveness and tenacity to the Cardinal defense. But he is still young and can get careless at times. Skov was penalized for roughing the passer Saturday and while he has a great motor, he does have the tendency to keep it running a little too long. We wondered if Harbaugh and the staff were willing sacrifice flags here and there for Skov's relentlessness.
"We want them to play from snap to whistle," Harbaugh said. "I'm not going to tell him to slow down or back off; I'm just going to tell him to play from snap to whistle."
The only problem with that is that the whistle rarely blows immediately after the quarterback releases the football. Skov admitted it was his mistake.
"It was a good call. I saw the film and it was late," he said. "My emotions probably got the best of me, being back on the field. I saw an opportunity and took it. It was the wrong play to make and ultimately cost us a touchdown. Hopefully I got the rust off and it won't happen again this season."
Nate Whitaker did not look as sound as we're used to seeing when kicking the ball Saturday. He missed two extra points and booted one kickoff out of bounds, resulting in a penalty. When kickers start to struggle you just hope there isn't a mental issue. Harbaugh affirmed that Whitaker is just having some technical problems at the moment.
"He's not getting his hips squared to the uprights at impact," he said. "The plant leg is getting further past the ball than we want it. We're working to shorten up those steps and get his mechanics right."
Or maybe Whitaker was just tired after kicking so many extra points and kickoffs that night. He should be pretty motivated to return to South Bend after spending the first part of his collegiate career there.
As with many things in the world of Jim Harbaugh, the coach has an interesting rule for his players regarding how long they can celebrate a victory.
"Coach Harbaugh always says there is a six-hour rule," Andrew Luck said. "After the game you can enjoy the win for six hours but once those six hours are up, it's on to the next game. Sometimes it extends to seven or eight hours."
We wonder what the rule is after a loss…20 minutes?
Learning From The Best
Tyler Gaffney has assumed the role of the bruising back in the Cardinal's stable of runners. He is a tough tackle for any defender and said that he learned to be that way from Toby Gerhart.
"He told me when there's no other way out, let them know that they don't really want to tackle you," Gaffney said.
Gaffney is also a two-sport student athlete, playing baseball and football at Stanford. He again credited Gerhart with helping him find the balance needed to succeed in academics and on the playing fields.
"That was one of the things Toby actually drilled into me," he said. "You have to wisely manage your time and be organized."
About the Author: Bootleg Senior Writer Scott Cooley has worked in the sports media industry throughout his professional career, including serving as a writer for an ESPN production house and a professional football franchise. His work has been published in multiple print and online platforms including ESPN.com. He currently writes for yours truly, The Bootleg, as well as Covers.com and Bookmaker.com. Cooley specializes in football, baseball and basketball with an emphasis on sports betting. Cooley and his wife reside in California, contact him at email@example.com
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