Friday, September 9, 2011

Stanford vs San Jose State

Greetings from Las Vegas! It’s been a hectic week as I packed up and bade the Bay Area goodbye right after the college football season kicked off. Opening weekend is always special because of the anticipation and optimism. Everyone is undefeated and the sky is the limit. Heck, I know someone who dreamt of an oracle who told him with probability 1 that UCLA was going to beat Houston. Luckily the online sportsbook limited the amount that he could deposit. He has since sworn off betting on the Bruins for the season but I was able to lock in a friendly Stanford -10 vs UCLA wager when his hopes were still sky high.

For me, the best part of opening weekend is soaking in the game day experience after the 9 month hiatus. Unlike other sports where one just shows up and goes to the game, football’s game day experience is so much more. For starters, it’s almost always on a Saturday and provides the perfect excuse to get back on campus and meet up with old friends who you invariably have seen less of but share a bond that only experiencing the Walt Harris days or seeing Cal celebrate on your field can bring. Next, there’s the day long tailgating fraught with pre-game analysis, discussion of recruiting, unsubstantiated gossip and bold predictions. And finally, there’s the backdrop of arguably the best campus and weather combination which might just make Stanford the perfect place to tailgate and watch a football game. It doesn’t get any better than that.

This year, we took the game day experience one step further and had a pre-game party on Friday night that involved pizza, drinks, catching the end of the Baylor-TCU shoot out and an Orange Bowl viewing. I arrived on campus around 10am, realizing that it would be the last time I would enjoy the convenience of a 20 minute drive to catch a Stanford football game. The new Lot 2 tailgating area was pretty empty when we got there but it filled up decently by kick off. While it might have been a non-conference game against San Jose State, we were in mid-season form from the Air-Luck sirens to the Skov-inspired face paint and Moose inspired antlers to the MT3 Black and Blueberry Iced Tea which I found particularly tasty. While making it out to The Walk, we bumped into several family members of the outstanding freshmen class. Introductions and well wishes were in order for the Vaughters and Montgomery families. I recall Ty mentioning in an interview that his mother was going to make it to all the games (not sure whether he meant home and away but I guess we’ll see). The Lyons and Richards families were represented as well. I guess you can’t say no to witnessing your sons showing incredible promise in their college debuts!

Upon entering the stadium and finding my new seats on the sunny side (I decided that it was time to retire from the student section given that even that grad students I knew were gone), I marveled at my new and improved vantage point and took it all in. Football was back! Because of the sparser but still respectable turn-out, I moved one section over to my friend’s section in the much vaunted 235 and was struck by the camaraderie as neighbors reconnected for the first time since last season. It was a great moment when David Shaw took the field with the team and while some might question the hire from within, I'm a supporter of not only his capabilities but how he represents the university and if it turns out that the continuity increases the probability of the team playing in a BCS bowl by a few percentage points, it’s well worth it in my mind.

I won’t comment too much about the game since like the scrimmages (I must sound like a broken record right now) it’s hard to draw too many conclusions in a game like that, but there were definitely promising signs from the defense (didn’t surprise me) and some hiccups in the run game (also didn’t surprise me) but it’s early and we struggled in that area early last year too. The freshman who had their shirts burned came to play and I could definitely see Lyons starting this year. Most importantly, there weren’t any notable injuries. Looking at the rest of the conference, the Pac-12 struggled mightily which is unfortunate, but at the same time if we can keep on improving and take it one game at a time, it’s ours for the taking.

While I’m not yet fully settled in Vegas, Durham beckons and I’m extremely excited for the first road trip of the season. Duke is a place that I’ve yet to visit and I have a friend at the Duke business school who will be going to the game as well. In other news, I found myself wondering what to do with myself during Stanford’s bye week (9/24). I could play a couple of poker tournaments. I could check out the Saturday night scene in Vegas. I could go visit some friends in New York or Chicago. Instead, I found myself looking at the college football schedule and picking out the best game that weekend. The top two contenders were Missouri at Oklahoma and Arkansas at Alabama. It wasn’t too hard a decision as I’ve always wanted to go to an SEC game. Stubhub found me a ticket on the 25-30 yard line 50 rows up for $200. Southwest had a couple of direct flights and with all the money I had saved booking and re-booking flights on Southwest, it was practically “free”. Accommodation was pricy in Tuscaloosa and so I settled for somewhere closer to Birmingham. By the end of the night, I had figured out how I’ll be spending the bye week. If anyone has any tips or advice on how to maximize my game day experience, I’m all ears.

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