Highly successful disappointment.
That's the oxymoron that I've devised to describe the roller coaster ride that was the 2013 Stanford football season, one that began with (in retrospect, very realistic) dreams of a BCS title appearance and ended with the hollow feeling of defeat on New Year's Day.
A Pac-12 championship is nothing to scoff at -- especially in a year during which conference competition was particularly stiff. But it was impossible to ignore the hushed murmur of Stanford's locker room on the night of January 1. This was a season of absolutely fantastic memories, but there was real disappointment that accompanied them.
Like any thrilling roller coaster ride, this year saw its share of nerves, exhilaration, jarring drops, and soaring highs. Some signature moments, particularly those following a destruction of Oregon that involved nerd glasses, gave it a signature Stanford feel. That one memory, though, had plenty of company. I'll remember...
- Furiously evaluating Stanford's chances when I first saw their
2013 schedule back last January. It had accidentally been leaked
while I was working an ESPN basketball broadcast at Berkeley's
Haas Pavilion, and it was tough to focus on my job that night
after learning the details of the journey ahead.
- The mind-numbing jet lag of the trip to Army, which
included a red-eye flight from SFO to Newark on Thursday, a day
of napping and playing football at Sam Fisher's New Jersey house
on Friday, and an early morning trek to West Point with Sam and John Treat on Saturday.
That kicked off my most exhausting day of football watching
ever, as we were glued to the botched finish of Wisconsin-ASU until
about 2 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday.
- Flacco Fever. Watching the cadets' adoration of Stanford's
reserve safety unfold in person at West Point was surreal, but
tracking the growing hysteria in Sam's living room via Facebook
later that night was even more fascinating. It turned into a bizarre yet
- The flash of pregame rain that soaked everybody and everything
outside of Stanford Stadium before the ASU game. The Bootleg's
flat screen TV in Chuck Taylor Grove was caught in the downpour.
Legend (or Lars?) says that somehow, someway, it remains functioning
perfectly to this day.
- Meeting countless Booties and Twitter followers in various
places throughout the season. Each encounter brought a unique,
refreshing conversation. Many of those came while I was on the
KNBR Stanford football pregame show with Larry Krueger, which
was a fantastic experience in its own right.
- Venturing to the upper deck of CenturyLink Field hours before kickoff to see a food cart rolling down the open-air concourse, and then seeing a vendor frantically chasing after it. Weather conditions were apocalyptic in Seattle, where rain was falling sideways and wind was wreaking havoc. The ushers told us that they'd never seen worse conditions in the stadium's history -- and that's saying something considering the Pacific Northwest's reputation for inclement weather. Naturally, Stanford passed its way to victory later that night.
- The sheer physical dominance of Stanford's defense during that three-minute barrage of hell against Washington State. Two interceptions returned for touchdowns, two Cougar quarterbacks injured, and a rapid offensive scoring strike.
- Pulling over to the side of El Camino Real when David Shaw began his teleconference statement lashing out at Washington's Steve Sarkisian because he was upset over fake injury accusations waged against the Cardinal team. Shaw asked to begin his press conference with an opening statement instead of fielding questions from reporters. When I heard that unusual request, I knew something big was coming, so I immediately stopped driving to document it.
- Working feverishly in the press room and on the field with
postgame partner Jim Rutter. Our quality assistants Muhammad
Saqib, Ariana Goodell, and Murrell Rizon did plenty to help in the grind of
unveiling a dedicated Stanford football postgame show for the first time in 2013.
- The hipster Seattle nightlife, Portland microbreweries, Tempe hotspots, and some of Bo McNally's excellent Salt Lake City recommendations. The Pie Hole was a fantastic Friday finish there. Of course, I can't forget Jack Wang's superb Chinese dumplings in San Gabriel and Cutija, the magical burrito shack in Los Banos.
- Representing The Bootleg at Candlestick Park, where I had the thrill of taking this picture and covering Andrew Luck's triumphant return to the Bay Area.
Stanford football's sparkling new facility for the first
- Our surprise after finding some of the best Mediterranean food
that we'd ever tried at a random location in Corvallis (right
next to the Local Boyz Hawaiian Barbecue -- a local staple).
This meal provided fuel that lasted all the way through a tense
game and long nighttime drive back to the hotel in Portland.
- Watching Ben Gardner's career end at Oregon State. As chance would have it, I was zeroed in on him during that fateful play. The Beavers completed a big pass downfield after No. 49 narrowly missed a sack and tore his pectoral muscle. As Gardner simultaneously sprinted and stumbled off the field, the punch to Stanford's gut was palpable in the press box. When doctors draped the big, red parka over him on that cold Corvallis night, the ending was all but certain.
- A season full of Twitter interaction with excellent football fans. Sports are about memories, banter and fun discussion, and I'm happy to say social media helped me enjoy the full gamut in 2013.
- Checking my phone for the first time after recording our Oregon postgame breakdown. My picture of Tyler Gaffney, A.J. Tarpley, and Shayne Skov wearing their nerd glasses had gone viral online, and my phone haywire because of it.
Jeff Trojan after his game-sealing (and possibly game-saving)
onside kick recoveries against Oregon. He appeared to stash the
football after his last onside kick recovery, but I still don't
know exactly what happened to it.
- Meeting and chatting with Donovan McNabb in Los Angeles, the bad luck occurrence Sam (a Philadelphia Eagles fan) says spurred Stanford's gut-wrenching loss to USC the next day.
- The frigid (by California standards) days leading up the game at USC, when the Trojans' fight song played over, and over, and over again at Stanford practice.
- The shocking aftermath of Stanford's loss to USC, in which we created a makeshift postgame radio studio in our dimly lit Los Angeles hotel room. We used my iPhone as a recording device as we broke down all that Stanford did wrong at the Coliseum. They say one must experience the lows to enjoy the highs. If that's the case, that gloomy night enhanced the later satisfaction of seeing Stanford finally put the perfect offensive approach into practice at Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship game.
- David Shaw's beaming smile as he walked down the Sun Devil Stadium tunnel, bouquet of roses in hand, with Kevin Hogan holding a rose right next to him.
- Some of the awkward press conference moments that preceded
that magical night when it all truly came together for Stanford
offensively away from home, highlighted by the time a reporter
asked Shaw about the Wildcat following the USC game.
- Seeing the empty look of post-loss disappointment in Trent Murphy's eyes
in the tunnel under the Los Angeles Coliseum all while
ambulances rolled through to tend to those hurt in the epic
field storming. There was a surreal, post-apocalyptic feel in
Los Angeles on that dark night in Stanford history.
- Seeing Murphy again seven days later, holding the Axe on the Stanford Stadium turf, this time enjoying unexpected second life with Oregon's loss to Arizona. I'll never forget his words on that field: "Keep chopping wood and good things will happen."
- Stanford assistant coaches going crazy in their booth at Sun Devil Stadium after Ty Montgomery's reverse touchdown run in the Pac-12 Championship.
- The class of Michigan State media and fans, who I'm still happily associated with on Twitter.
- The Rose Bowl media hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the makeshift radio studio Sam and I set up in his room for our week there, The Standard Hotel rooftop bar, and -- unfortunately -- the gruesome details of the actual game..
- Tears in the Cardinal locker room on January 1 that
accompanied words from Conor McFadden after the Farm Boys realized they had left their winning offensive approach behind in Tempe. I thought that what I
heard on that night exemplified
what this era of Stanford has been all about.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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