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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 day.]
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 grasp.
So I offer the following open letter to our all too soon to be departed seniors...
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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