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 have been pleased to present Stanford football's 40 most memorable moments, trends, games and personalities from the magical five-plus years that followed that December 2006 announcement. Here is Daniel Novinson's account of moment No. 1.
No. 1: Biggest upset ever
October 6, 2007: Stanford 24, USC 23.
It's the game that got it all started. Stanford was coming off the Teevens and Harris years and had done nothing to date to suggest the Harbaugh era would be any different.
It was beyond unexpected. The Cardinal were 41-point underdogs, and by that measure, Stanford's victory was indeed the biggest upset in college football history.
The game's stories came straight out of a Disney move.
Third-string quarterback Tavita Pritchard finished 11-of-30 - and
with the game-winning fourth-down touchdown with under a minute to
Catching that score that shocked the world was Mark Bradford. Like all of his teammates, Bradford more than earned this win. Yeah, Bradford persevered through the some of the worst seasons in program history. He also lost his father five days before the Oct. 6, 2007 shocker. All told then, the odds of Bradford: catching the game-winning pass, in his hometown of Los Angeles, on fourth down, as a senior, five days after the death of his father, against a 42-point favorite, from a third-string quarterback - are and always will be simply beyond comprehension.
The result marked the beginning of the end of USC's dynastic run, had national title implications, and was welcomed around the country. When the team got back home late at night, a surprise rally welcomed them, with cheering students and fans packing the courtyard outside Maples Pavilion and Jim Harbaugh delivering an impassioned speech.
Plus, of course, it was a heck of a game. Highlights included Pannel Egboh blocking USC's first extra point attempt and a goal-line stand to end first half, keeping the Cardinal within striking distance, trailing 9-0 at the break. Austin Yancy opened the second half with a pick-six – one of five USC turnovers on the night – but Fred Davis responded with a 63-yard touchdown catch-and-sprint to give USC a 16-7 lead as the third quarter wound down.
Stanford responded with a nine-play touchdown drive to pull within 16-14 seconds into the fourth. USC responded with a 46-yard touchdown strike to Ronald Johnson. The Trojans led 23-14 with 11 minutes to go. Stanford in turn responded, moving to within a score on a 12-play drive capped by a 26-yard Derek Belch field goal. The lead was cut to 23-17 with five minutes to go. USC then tried to run out the clock, but Wopamo Osaisai picked off John David Booty on third and 19. Stanford ball at the USC 44, 2:50 to play.
Then came the drive we'll carry with us to the grave. A USC pass
interference call and a Pritchard scramble gives Stanford a fresh
set of downs at USC's 19. Three incomplete passes and a holding
call later, however, and it's fourth and 20. Pritchard finds
Richard Sherman across the middle. Sherman gets drilled but hangs
on -- exactly 20 yards downfield.
First and goal on the nine. Pritchard scrambles for four, two
throws to Evan Moore go nowhere and Stanford gets docked five
yards for illegal substitution. Fourth and ballgame from the 10.
Pritchard finds Bradford in the side of the end zone. The Coliseum gasps. The extra point is good. Stanford 24, USC 23. Bo McNally picks off the Trojans' last-chance prayer.
It's the game that epitomizes everything we love about sports: dreams come true, drama, the ultimate Cinderella story, miracle play after miracle play working against all odds, and sports serving as a mere conduit for larger truths: courage, heroism, raw emotion. Future games will remind us of this October day, the Boise State/Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl a perfect example, but nothing we see will ever top, match, or even come close to what we witnessed at the Coliseum on that October evening.
David Lombardi began his radio career by announcing this epic game. Here's his take, written while the triumph was still fresh back in 2007.
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
3. Heisman hopefuls - Gerhart, Luck up for college football's most prestigious award
2. Character and Cruelty - Harbaugh's brings new mentality of dominance
1. Hollywood Heartbreak - David Lombardi's take on Stanford 24, USC 23 (2007)
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