Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kick Off Dinner

The Stanford Football Kickoff Dinner is an event that I had always wanted to attend but never had the chance to because of work. This year I was determined to make it and managed to convince a friend to join me. We got there at around 3pm to watch the open practice and as someone who was never a railbird, it was interesting to see the various kickoff, hands team and 7 on 7 drills. Polian’s exuberance during special teams practice definitely stood out. Just like the scrimmage, I found it difficult to draw any real conclusions although one thing that stood out to me was that Owusu looked great (no surprise there based on what we’ve been hearing).

After practice ended, we dropped by the Hall of Fame room which was unfortunately closed and then ambled over to the stadium where just like the open house, there already was a line waiting to get in before doors opened. If that becomes a reoccurring theme this season, there are going to be no complaints from me!

Upon entering, we picked up our nametags and being somewhat unfamiliar with the setup, tried to figure out where to sit. It turned out that there were 3 main considerations – proximity to the front where a microphone was set up, amount of shade (some tables had umbrellas, others were in the sun) and the player/coach that would be seated at your table as denoted by the nametags on the table. The first and third factors were obviously the most important and so we ended up at one of the front most tables directly in the sun with Johnson Bademosi (a true senior and third year starter). I thought it would be interesting to talk to someone who had gone through different defensive schemes and coaches and being a senior, experienced at handling himself at these alumni events.

Bademosi didn’t disappoint and talked very glowingly about the current defensive staff and the tools/techniques/schemes that they had brought over from their respective backgrounds. He had very high expectations for the defense this year as they had a year under their belt. We got to talking about the top WRs in the conference like Robert Woods and Juron Criner and how Bademosi relished the opportunity to go against them. He made a great point that he gets to go against one of the top WRs in the conference ever day in Chris Owusu. At one point, we got to the topic of how Baldwin was beating out Golden Tate in Seattle and my friend innocently asked if Bademosi had ever covered Tate. With flashbacks to the Stanford-Notre Dame game, I thought “Not really”, but Bademosi handled it well and admitted that it was a rough game when he was still an inexperienced rookie thrown into the fire. He mentioned that all week during practice they had been coached to slide outside and ended up being beaten inside repeatedly. There were also a lot of jump balls where I would have opted for intentional pass interference, but I kept that to myself. Through our conversations, I also picked up the tidbit that Bademosi’s first start was his sophomore year (2010) against Arizona State which was coincidentally also the start of Albert and my consecutive games streak.

We had an alum at our table who had gone to the Graduate School of Business back in the day (the days of Plunkett his friend who had been a punter at Illinois ribbed him repeatedly) and had been a season ticket holder for 25 years. He was a fun guy to talk to and Bademosi definitely tried to pick him brain about his experiences and indicated that he wanted to go to Business School some day. It was a great table to be at and we were also up close for the speeches that Bowlsby and Shaw gave and the interviews that Husak conducted with Skov, Thomas, Taylor and Luck.

There wasn’t really too much that I hadn’t heard before but my friend who was hearing Shaw talk for the first time came away deeply impressed by his thoughtfulness and general demeanor. David Shaw is definitely someone who represents the university well. It was also great to see 3 generations of the Shaw family in attendance (everyone should read the great article about David Shaw and his dad Willie Shaw if they haven’t already: I thought that it was a nice touch to have Luck sit with them and not have to schmooze with alums although that obviously didn’t stop many well-wishers from stopping by for a picture or autograph. Taylor who I probably have heard the least from was very self effacing in talking about how with the O-line and TE blocking at the line of scrimmage, WRs blocking downfield and Luck preventing defenses from stacking the box, all he needed to do was run through holes. He didn’t mention his superb blocking skills but Husak brought it up and Taylor credited it to having to go against big guys like Shayne Skov in practice.

All in all, it was a great event from the food (Bademosi’s plate was stacked sky high with the special defensive back diet of 6 cookies) to the company to the interviews/speeches. My favorite moment thought had to do with our nametags. Upon entering, we were all given 2 nametags, one to wear on our shirts and the other to claim a seat at our tables. Most players didn’t bother with one given that they were wearing jerseys with their name on the back. Andrew Luck, however, only the most recognizable face in college football, had his nametag on!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Open House

The Open House last year was an extremely memorable event as I managed to get the whole team to sign a Stanford football poster and Luck to autograph a #12 jersey and my Sun Bowl cap. I had both the poster and jersey framed (for way too much money) and wore the cap to every single game. Somewhat superstitious, I wanted to do the same this year and was delighted that the program included an open scrimmage as well. As I pulled off the 101 to the Embarcadero exit, a car with an Oregon Ducks license plate was in front of me. I ended up following the car to the parking lot anxious to see who this not-so-clandestine advance scout was. It turned out to be a father and young son – both clad in red. As we walked towards the rugby field where the scrimmage was being held, I couldn’t help but drop the “doing some early scouting for the Ducks” line and he was somewhat taken aback by how I had figured it out. I almost told him I could spot a Duck a mile away but fessed up that his license plate revealed his true allegiances. It turned out that he was a UW undergraduate who went to graduate school at Oregon and had moved to the Bay Area where he was a Stanford/Andrew Luck fan whenever they weren’t playing the Ducks or Huskies. Or so he claimed.

The scrimmage was a spirited affair but it’s hard to draw any real conclusions other than who is getting first team reps when offenses and defenses are so vanilla. I recall the Spring game before the Orange Bowl season when the game ended in a 6-6 tie and the Whitaker brothers had to settle it in a sudden death kickoff duel that Nate won. If anything, Eric seems to have lost some of his mojo because he pushed his brother pretty hard during that battle. Ty Montgomery’s mother was sitting near me and it is always amusing to hear well intentioned but less informed fans ask questions like “Is he on a scholarship?” The question of what other offers he had been considering also came up and I always feel like asking “If Team X had offered, would he have gone there?” where in Ty’s case, Team X would be Texas given that he is from Dallas.

There was some time between the end of scrimmage and the open house in the stadium and so I made my way over to the Track House to purchase a #12 jersey. A line outside the Gate 1 entrance a good 30 minutes before doors opened had already begun to form. It was much longer when I got back from the Track House. What a difference a year makes! Upon entering the stadium, I noticed another line on the East concourse an hour before the autograph session commenced. Of course, it was for Andrew Luck (and Shayne Skov) and I promptly got in line, With only 1 autographed item allowed per player, my plan was to get Andrew to sign my poster, get through the rest of the team and get back in line for him to sign my jersey. It would have been a breeze last year but with the long lines this year, I missed out on a station and was sadly unable to get any of the first string running backs’ signatures.

Some of the highlights while getting my poster signed were giving Skov some shit about not being featured on this year’s poster and telling him that he’d be front and center of next year’s poster (if he comes back was the unspoken assumption), telling Ty how glad I was that he chose Stanford and hear him sincerely respond that he couldn’t be happier about his decision, Vaughters adamantly telling a young fan when asked that he would be a true freshman, and telling a somewhat bemused Fleener how much his freshman RAs who I know talk about him.

While I didn’t get a chance to obtain everyone’s signature for the team poster, I did get back in the Luck/Skov line and had Skov autograph my Orange Bowl cap and Luck sign my jersey. Last year when I had Luck sign my jersey, it felt like it was still pretty new to him and he asked me where I wanted him to sign it. This year he wanted to know my name so he could personalize it, presumably so that it wouldn’t end up on eBay for a decent chunk of change. What a difference a year makes! That suited me just fine and once this season concludes, my most prized possession is going to be a framed Andrew Luck jersey with a plaque containing his final Stanford stats signed “To Z”!

Friday, August 26, 2011

We're Back!

It’s been just over 3 years since a memorable senior year where we travelled around the county in the name of Stanford sports. After graduation, Alex headed to New York to pursue her passion for theatre while Albert and I stayed in the Bay Area. We’ve had 3 football seasons since – a painful 5-7 season where the decision to red-shirt Andrew Luck has been second-guessed ad nauseam; a respectable 8-5 season that made El Paso the place to be for New Year’s; and finally a ground-breaking 12-1 season that made Stanford football relevant once again and was perhaps best captured by a friend’s proclamation before kick off in the Orange Bowl, “Can you believe it? We’re playing in a motherfucking BCS bowl!”

Except for the San Jose State game in 2008 where Harbaugh gave credence to the Old Pro saying: “Good coaches win, great coaches cover”, I’ve been to every single home game in those 3 years. Additionally, Albert and I have an active streak of 19 consecutive games dating back to the last home game against Arizona State on 10/24/09 which was followed by the home shootout against Oregon and then the man-handling at the Coliseum. Not a bad way to start a streak! Since this is my blog, I’ll declare it as the longest active streak among Stanford fans, but would be happy to hear otherwise and of other similar streaks both active and not active.

I don’t necessarily think it was the belief that we would go 12-1 that led to our travels last year, but rather the desire to visit every single Pac-10 football stadium. We were at Pasadena for Slick Rick’s apology to Bruin fans following the first of 3 defensive goose eggs; South Bend for the rich gameday tradition and Owen’s back-to-back touchdowns; Eugene for a taste of the College Game Day set, deafening noise of Autzen stadium and painful loss that may have been averted if the ball had bounced differently; Seattle for the pouring rain and absolute dominance on both sides of the ball; Tempe for a hard-fought victory that culminated with Wilkerson’s knee (one of the better strategic calls in an end-game situation during Harbaugh’s tenure); Berkeley for the storming of the field as we reclaimed the Axe and celebrated on their field for a change; and finally South Beach where we not only played in but dominated in a motherfucking BCS bowl!

Throughout our journeys, we have been fortunate enough to become acquainted with a group of fans who are much like ourselves in their dedication to Stanford football. These are diehards who fly in from LA for home football games and speak their mind at basketball scrimmages no matter which player’s father might be sitting nearby, deck themselves out in face-paint while remaining steadfastly loyal to our student athletes, stand up and make some noise at a football game despite the consternation of their neighbors, and engage in online debates before the Chuck Taylor Grove tailgates. These are the types of fans I yearned for during my senior year and it’s been a privilege to meet them.

With the 2011 football season rapidly approaching, I’ve decided to bring back this blog as Albert and I plan to attend all the football games this year. I’ll be moving to Las Vegas right after the home opener but that’s only a minor inconvenience as all plane and game tickets have been purchased. Expectations are sky high as insiders are less concerned by the coaching transition, loss of receivers and loss of three starting O-lineman that the pundits. If anything, this could be a once in a lifetime team in terms of pre-season expectations and potential. Stay tuned because it’s going to be one hell of a ride!