Friday, November 18, 2011

Stanford vs Oregon

After 9 weeks of build up, it was finally here: 9-0 Stanford vs 8-1 Oregon. It doesn’t get any better than that! The trip got off to a shaky start when my 7:30pm flight on Friday got pushed back to 8pm. With the possibility of further delays, I considered flying in to San Jose but didn’t feel that it was worth it given that I had someone picking me up from SFO. I settled into conversation with a fellow alum when the Southwest attendant announced that there was some bad news. Before she could finish her sentence, I bolted out of my seat and was second in a long line of passengers who didn’t want to wait for our new departure time of 11pm. The San Jose flight had just left and the next flight to Oakland was in 15 minutes. With the prospect of not making it out to SFO that night and missing College Game Day, I half sprinted, half jogged to the other terminal. Boy am I out of shape!

Luckily, everything went pretty smoothly from then on and I even managed to get a friend to pick me up from the Oakland airport. While waiting, I was approached by an alum who was picking up his son and instantly knew what my allegiances were from my Shayne Skov 11 for 11 shirt. On the way to campus, we stopped at the Fed Ex along California Avenue and bumped into than Ty Montgomery’s mum whom I’d met at the Stanford Scrimmage 3 months ago. One of his teachers was in tow as they printed out several signs for Game Day. I congratulated her on Ty’s success and upcoming first career start at WR and also let her know what a great gunner he was as she explained his special teams role to some other fans. Unfortunately, I forgot to compliment her on her role in The Program:

After that short detour, it was off to campus where we parked in the new GSB parking lot which was much closer to the stadium than the usual Wilbur spot. We decided to swing by the Oval to do some scouting of the Game Day set up. With sleeping bag in tow, we expected to be warned that we couldn’t camp out as stated in several university press releases but the security guards didn’t mention a thing and let us scope out our desired spot. It was then off to the RV where Albert had expanded the sleeping quarters to fit 7 but with the amount of adrenaline I had and an early wake up call to boot, there was no way I was going to be able to sleep. Instead, I met up with another friend who was coming for Game Day and we walked around the campus and made a stop at the Oval where a handful of people were in line – the first person being a UCLA fan. An hour later we were back with reinforcements. It was about 3:30am and there were about 50 people there. The first sign of note unfortunately did not make it past the sign Nazis.

It was a little after 4am when they started letting people into the Pit – the area directly behind the stage where the Game Day guys were – but not after a strict search to make sure they weren’t carrying any contraband items like markers to write offensive signs. We opted to be off to the side in front of the side stage and video screen thanks to the advice of the following blog post: The preparation came in handy as it meant no waiting in line or being searched and ample TV time, especially on ESPNU. In retrospect, we could probably have shown up at 5:30 and gotten the same spot. By the time it was 6am, a sizable crowd had formed. It was hard to tell from our vantage point how many people there were but it felt respectable especially after an ESPN article the day before predicted the smallest College Game Day turn out ever. As I’m sure was its intention, the article galvanized the student body which to be fair, has only 6,200 undergrads to work with. Chris Fowler thanked the crowd for showing up very genuinely and implored us to stay classy when they talked about Penn State. I was pleasantly surprised that it was heeded given the tremendous amount of time devoted to the matter. To be perfectly honest, most of College Game Day was a blur. Coach Shaw came on in a nice Stanford Football leather coat to chants of “Shaw has swag”; Plunkett was well received although it was obvious that he had not done much prep on the teams he was picking but ended up getting them mostly right; Erin Andrews was amused by a sign that mistakenly called Kirk Herbstreit “Curt”; Shayne Skov posted a picture of my favorite sign on twitter (the one to the right of it is pretty good too); and we caught a glimpse of both the BCS Championship trophy and the Pac-12 championship trophy.

After Game Day ended, it was time for a nap but even in my sleep deprived state, the most I could muster was an hour. I got up feeling great. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. While at Chuck Taylor’s Grove, I got pulled aside by a CNN reporter who tried to bait me with the “Is Stanford’s recent success a result of relaxed admission standards” question. If he was hoping that I would give him something juicy, he picked the wrong guy. After I bored him with Stanford’s new approach to recruiting under Harbaugh –encouraging underclassmen in high school to take AP classes if they were serious about Stanford and the resulting signaling effect of how serious they were that told us if we should devote more resources to recruiting them – my buddy knocked his next question out of the park by talking about how Stanford football brings people together and creates a community of both alums and non-alums. I’m guessing we won’t make it to TV since we didn’t admit to writing papers for football players. Just like College Game Day, the pre-game festivities were a blur too as I met several friends and some people who I hadn’t seen in ages.
It was beautiful night in Stanford stadium and the electricity was palpable. I was fortunate to sit next to my economic honors thesis advisor who I could discuss the strategic aspect of football with while yelling my head off. The game itself was of course disappointing. We were out-coached and out executed. Oregon was the superior team and had the better game plan. Our play calling was predictably bad and it felt like we had more drops in this one game than all the other games this season combined. Even if we had brought our A game in terms of execution, it would have been a coin flip. When we beat Oregon 2 years ago, we played what felt like the perfect game. We needed something like that to win and even then, the coaches might have given it away. I honestly thought that they had a plan for this game and that a lot of the earlier stuff they had shown this season was misdirection. I guess I gave them too much credit or perhaps the injury to Ertz was a lot more impactful than realized. In any case, we were beaten convincingly and you can’t play the what-if game after being beaten so thoroughly, especially when every break and call seemed to go our way.

After I good night’s rest, I felt refreshed and it was nice to see the 49ers win a big game against the Giants. With extra credit freed up by cancelled Southwest flights and inspired by a friend who is a huge Packers fan (he’s from Milwaukee), I decided that a Packers-49ers NFC championship game would be a fitting first NFL game for me to attend in person. On my flight home, a stewardess stowed a walking stick in the compartment above me right before we took off and warned us to be careful when we opened it. Of course, no one else paid any attention and when the clueless guy in front of me opened it when we landed, the walking stick came hurtling down towards my head. Crisis was adverted when I grabbed it in the nick of time and after he recovered from the shock, he said “Nice catch”. If only I could say the same thing to our receivers.

Thanks to Boise’s loss, we are still very much in the BCS Bowl conversation and to tell you the truth, if we can’t play in New Orleans, I’d rather play Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl than a Big-10 team in the Rose Bowl. Not only do I think we have a better shot at beating Oklahoma than Wisconsin (irrespective of what the spread will be), we have much more to gain and less to lose by playing Oklahoma than a Big-10 team. But now, there’s absolutely no more margin for error. Big Game will be a bigger challenge than previously thought now that Cal has some momentum and Notre Dame was always going to be tough. We’ll need to play our A game from here on out.

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