PRAISE (AND THANKS) FOR THOSE WHO FIGHT TO THE BITTER END
These are not happy times for those who love Stanford Football. In the
midst of much turmoil, though, we will soon bid adieu to a bunch of kids who
have invested five years of blood, sweat, guts, tears, in addition to
considerable talent, into our school and our team. Let us not forget to
thank them and celebrate their achievements.
Achievements? Certainly. There have been four wins in each of the
past two seasons, and any win in Division I football is an accomplishment.
[In my own last year playing football in college (okay, junior college), we lost
every game, so I am well-positioned to make the following statement: Although
four is not what any of us would hope for, four beats the heck out of zero any
There is more, though. This year, this group of seniors has fought to
what has all too often been the bitter end, time and time again. That is
an achievement that should be noted and celebrated, particularly in football.
For football, more so than any other team sport, is one where the team that is
behind on the scoreboard is, quite often, also being beaten up physically.
This simultaneously lovely and awful game exacts a physical toll that is hard to
pay when the losses keep coming.
Again, let me draw for the moment on my own experience. When losses, and
particularly excruciatingly painful close losses, start to pile up, there is an
almost overwhelming temptation to mail it in. I don’t mean that you give
up trying, at some level, because of course you do not. But there comes a
point when you start to somehow almost accept losing and start to give up on
games when they start to go against you. This is a natural means of
protecting yourself from further pain. You know what I am talking about,
because you have seen this at work in the not too distant past. But you
have not seen it - not once - this year. In every game, our guys have
fought to win until the painful end. That is simultaneously both a bit
insane (given how it has ended in almost every one of those close games) and
quite admirable. It is no small honor to keep fighting for victory when
victory is so often so tantalizingly close, and yet repeatedly outside the
So I offer the following open letter to our all too soon to be departed
To Oshiomogho Atogwe, David Bergeron, Greg Camarillo, Ryan Eklund, Jared Newberry, Scott Scharff, Alex Smith, Will Svitek, Kenneth Tolon II, Leigh Torrence, and Stanley Wilson:
Because there is turmoil among us, the fans of Stanford Football, we want to
make sure that you understand how we feel about you before your last game in a
Stanford uniform. We are disappointed, to be sure. But we are not
disappointed in you. Toward you, we feel only pride and gratitude.
Our disappointment is not with you, but for you. For we remember well
the excitement of the days half a decade or so ago when each of you joined the
Stanford family. Like you, we had great hopes for your days on The Farm.
In a way that you do not fully understand (if, indeed, it is even
understandable), each time we fans hear about a recruit signing a letter of
intent to attend our school, which is so special to us, we are excited not just
for us, but for that person. We honestly believe that you could have made
no better decision than to come to Stanford, and we want you to feel the same
way for the rest of your life. Like parents (and perhaps especially like
adoptive parents), we want the best for you from that day forward.
And so, there is a substantial part of pretty much every one of us that feels
that we, the “elders,” have failed you. We did not provide you with the
support to make it possible for you to do what we had hoped for you on that day
when you became one of us. We feel bad about that, and we should. As
you probably know, we are struggling to figure out how to prevent it from
happening to your teammates in future years. We do not agree on how best
to provide that support, but we agree that we need to do a better job.
That is not to say that you have not had some success, even if one made the
mistake of defining success only in terms of wins. We have celebrated your
wins, and we thank you for them. But the last three years - your years -
have sadly gone without the “YES!!!” kind of win over a highly touted opponent
that we foresaw for you when you decided to invest your four years of college
eligibility at Stanford.
We want you to know, though, that your amazing effort, week after week, has
not gone unnoticed. It is not an easy thing to come so close to winning a
“big” game so many times and to keep trying. And yet, there is no doubt:
This year, you have fought every battle to the bitter end.
You have done this not only with guts, but with grace. Weaker men would
have pointed fingers after tough losses. To a man, you have not done so.
You have never placed blame on your teammates. You have even rallied to
the defense of your coaches, appropriately and admirably ignoring our criticism
of them. Though we may sometimes disagree with your assessments, we
respect your loyalty.
In the end, we believe that sports, and especially Stanford sports, should
build character. Though winning is undoubtedly preferable to losing for
any athlete and any fan, winning does little to build character. It is
easy to keep fighting when one is winning. It is quite another thing to
fight again and again after so many “almosts.”
That is precisely what you have done. If Stanford is a school that
prides itself on building character, this has been a successful season.
You deserve the credit for that. Coaches can ask their players to lead,
but it is up the players to do the leading. On a college football team, it
is the seniors who lead, if there is any leading to be done. And you have
led. Under circumstances that would beat down many men (like a touchdown
called back at the end of a half and three straight scoreless trips to the
shadow of the end zone), you have fought back over and over again. You
have put an end to a potentially dangerous trend that we saw sneak into the last
few games of the previous season (and, thus, you are in no small measure
responsible for starting what we hope will be the rebirth of even more Stanford
Football success in the win column next season).
Therefore, while there is, without a doubt, no small measure of sadness among
us for you, there is also pride. The sadness comes from knowing that the
world does not measure well the kind of success you have had. There will
be no chapters in Stanford sports history books chronicling this season and no
midfield reunions for your team decades from now.
And yet, for those who love Stanford Football, there will always be a special
place in our hearts for your class. [I mean that. I still have great
fondness, despite a bit of lingering “what should have been” sadness, for the
team which your team calls to mind - the one that played that game (you know the
one) in 1982.] You played your hearts out for our beloved university, even
when it surely must have been hard. You will be fine men, in the finest
tradition of Stanford men. You have made us proud, and we have no doubt
that you will continue to do so in the many endeavors that await you.
In the end, we remain delighted that you chose to become one of us half a
decade ago. We hope you feel the same way.
MizzouCard (and other Cardinalmaniacs™)
p.s. Perhaps that “YES!!!” win is only a few days away. You deserve it.
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