It was the first season of the new Stanford Stadium, and the hated Trojans were in town. Didn't matter. No one seemed to want to be there that afternoon. The Card were already playing out the string in a miserable season, and U$C seemed bored by it all. The resulting 42-0 jackstomping by the Trojans was equal parts routine, depressing, and apathetic.
Yet, in the midst of all the despair that afternoon. I'll never forget looking over at the student section during the game and seeing some of the students holding up a sign that simply said, of all things, "WE BELIEVE IN STANFORD FOOTBALL."
At first, I kind of scoffed and chuckled at the sign, and chalked it up to kids being defiantly naïve in the face of harsh realities. Seriously, at that exact point in time, what was there to believe in about Stanford football?
Sure enough, at the home opener the following season, even as the UCLA Bruins spent the afternoon wearing down an overmatched Cardinal squad and ruining Jim Harbaugh's debut, the sign was back. And again, it resided in the student section. "WE BELIEVE IN STANFORD FOOTBALL."
I don't know who those kids were. But today, I'd like to thank them. [Ed: As a matter of fact, some are current Booties.]
Because those kids believed then, the current students believe now. And with the Cardinal hosting this week's Pac-12 Championship Game, they get one more chance to believe again this season.
Now that my 15th reunion has passed, I think I officially qualify as an old fart. And it seems like the only time we geezers mention the students are when we're complaining about them. That needs to change. It's been mentioned in passing in several previous Corners, but now I think it's time to give the Stanford students their full due.
The football team has done its part on the field, and the students have done their part in the stands. Anyone who spent time at Maples Pavilion when the Sixth Man Club was in its prime knows full well how a student section can electrify an entire building. It's happening again at Stanford, and this time it's the Red Zone that is lighting up Stanford Stadium.
While some of us old geezers are busy grumbling about kickoff times and having to be dragged from our tailgates to our seats, the Red Zone has always been packed and ready to go, right from the start. The chants. The cheers. Jumping at the precise moment in "All Right Now." Even the cool new stomp routine they do with the band's drummers. It's fun to watch. They are exactly what a student section should be. And they're ours.
The college experience has changed so drastically since my days on The Farm, and it's only been 15 years. Technology and the internet have made so many strides since then. When I started, our facebook was actually a book. Almost no one had heard of a dot-com. The cell phone I had by senior year was as big as something Kevin Hogan would throw. I couldn't even imagine what it's like now.
Sure, the current students don't know what the Big Game bonfire at Lake Lag is all about. Hell, some of the current students don't even know what a Big Game in November is all about. But even though they may not have enjoyed the same Stanford traditions you and I may have enjoyed during our respective days, these students have been incredible. They've been far better than anything I've seen in my twenty years of following the Card. And this football program has rewarded the students with memories they'll share for a lifetime.
My buddies and I still revel in the glories of the football road trips we took while following the Cardinal. To this day, we will still gladly relive those tales with anyone who'll listen (and a few who won't). And this was back in the day when the Card were merely playing for pride, not BCS bowls.
Think of what this year's graduating class will have witnessed. Toby Gerhart. Andrew Luck. Owen Marecic. ESPN's College GameDay actually broadcasting live from campus. Domination over U$C. The 2010 demolition of the cal Bears. And, of course, an Orange Bowl and a Fiesta Bowl…and perhaps a Rose Bowl, too. Can you imagine the stories those kids will have to tell?
Stanford Football went to two bowl games while I was on The Farm, and that was pretty cool. But I will readily admit that I'm a bit jealous of the current students. Still, knowing that they will be supporting this team in full throat and representing Stanford the right way makes it all worth it.
About an hour after Stanford had finished off upsetting the Oregon Ducks in 2009, Cardinal RB Toby Gerhart was on the phone with Mel Kiper and the ESPN Radio Network. Mel mentioned how electric the atmosphere must have been at Stanford Stadium that day. Toby confirmed it, then told Mel, "Three years ago, we were the worst thing on campus. People hated us. Now we're a football school again."
Three years later, football has become an even bigger part of Stanford student life. And the Red Zone, in my mind, has become a tremendous part of the Stanford Football experience. Now, with the Pac-12 Championship coming to The Farm, the Red Zone has a chance to cheer the Card on to Pasadena.
Take a bow, Red Zone. You've earned this, too. Now go light up Stanford Stadium one more time.
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RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS
Can you believe it? This will be the first time that no Stanford player is in the room when the Heisman Trophy winner is announced since 2008…
Really, Washington? Really? How can you let that happen? To those guys? Steve Sarkisian may never live that down…
Even though I wrote what I wrote last week, I'm still surprised David Shaw won Pac-12 Coach of the Year. I thought the award was Jim Mora's to lose. And maybe last Saturday, he did…
Colorado fires Jon Embree. When a coach has a .160 winning percentage, it shouldn't be much of a surprise when he's shown the door. But should Embree have been given more than just two years to get things moving in the right direction? Especially when Dan Hawkins spent his five years in Boulder leading the Buffs to exactly zero winning seasons?
Part of me says that Embree's firing is the cost of doing business in the new Pac-12. The money that the conference has generated has spawned an arms race for head football coaches. (How else could Washington State have hired Mike Leach?) With more money comes higher expectations of the head coach, who now must win quickly or else. Nowadays, most boosters, athletic directors and university presidents aren't willing to wait two years. Part of me says Embree fell victim to that mentality…
That said, does it seem to me that the margin of error for minority coaches seems to be much lower, as Embree suggests? Yes. Yes, it does…
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Normally I would pick the Pac-12 Championship Game, but since I don't pick games involving Stanford, Pac-12 Picks are done for the year. I don't think I did too badly this season, no?
That said…I look forward to making plans for Pasadena. Go Card!
Last week: 3-1 (straight-up), 3-1 (ATS).
This year: 36-9 (straight-up), 25-20 (ATS).
Last year: 27-19 (straight-up), 28-18 (ATS).
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Troy Clardy is in his 20th year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 11th season of Cardinal commentary, Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, hear him on Pittsburgh's Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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