Saturday, December 3, 2011

Stanford vs Notre Dame

With a week off for Thanksgiving, I racked up the air miles by heading to New York to catch the men’s basketball team in action at Madison Square Garden. Having never been to the famed MSG, I planned a trip to New York even before the team clinched a semi-finals appearance. Luckily, they came through even though it looked pretty dicey in the early going against Colorado State. It was fun trip to the East Coast. I landed in Newark on Sunday night, visited Yale on Monday, Harvard on Tuesday and stayed in New York for the rest of the week.

Alex heard about a pre-game chalk talk an hour before it started and my friend’s place which was a couple of blocks from MSG came in handy. Coach Payne talked about the game plan and answered a few questions while we feasted on chicken tenders and an open bar. After a back and forth first 15 min, we pulled away against an up-tempo OK State team and the game was never really in doubt in the second half. Unfortunately, I was only able to watch the 3rd/4th consolation game between Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech as I had to catch a flight back for the Notre Dame game and didn’t want to risk leaving on Saturday morning and running into delays. I ran into Robbie Lemon’s mum at a sportsbar in the airport who corrected my guess of 35 points/game during his senior year of high school (it was 37 ppg). Wearing my Stanford basketball #15 jersey, I caught the Stanford-Syracuse game on my JetBlue flight. It was a shame we couldn’t hold on but I think it’ll be a good learning experience for the team. I got into San Jose a good 45 min ahead of schedule and crashed at a friend’s place for the night.

After a delicious lunch, we headed to campus and got to Chuck Taylor’s Grove in time for the walk. CTG felt much quieter than the previous week but I guess it was the Thanksgiving + Cal factor. Speaking of which, I heard that the area was trashed by some Cal students last week and security was needed. The walk didn’t feel particularly different from other walks. Luck and Martin led the way and a couple of guys were donning “My Last Walk” shirts. After Albert put the finishing touches on some deep fried turkey, we headed into the stadium. By finishing in the top 8 of a Stanford Fan of the Season essay competition (you can read the entry in the previous post), we won pre-game field passes and were recognized during head time.

Being on the field during warm-ups and the honoring of the seniors was an absolutely amazing experience. Coach Shaw seemed tremendously relaxed as he strode on the field and it was cool to see the O-linemen warm up right in front of us. They were big and a couple of guys really went at it with each other. The honoring of the seniors before the team took the field was a nice touch by Shaw and well received by some of the seniors as evident by their comments after the game. We also got the chance to chat with some of the other winners who were equally excited at the privilege of being up close. It was great to see the Helmet Head guy (Greg) who sat a couple of rows in front of us at the Orange Bowl last year again. Apparently, that was the day that his look was first created.

With 7 minutes to go before half time, we were told to meet outside the stadium by the entrance to the field. That unfortunately meant missing a good part of the drive which resulted in Luck’s record breaking TD to Fleener but we figured out what was going on by the roar in the stadium. Ironically, that’s the only 2 minutes out of Luck’s entire career that I’ve missed. We entered the stadium in time for the ensuing kickoff and had a great sideline view of the action. I was able to see Corey Gatewood’s pick up close as well as the 2 minute drill that Luck ran to perfection. On one of the 3rd down conversions, Montgomery ran out of bounds right by us and it definitely made me appreciate game speed a lot more. Ex-Olinemen James McGillicuddy, Chase Beeler and Allen Smith were all hanging out on the sidelines and I snapped a picture of Greg with Cuddy or rather Cuddy with Greg who was quite the fan favorite. At half time, we walked to the center of the field where clumps of turf seemed to materialize from nowhere. Against Notre Dame, the field was an extra defender so I can’t really complain.

We didn’t put the game away until the play-action TD from Luck to Fleener in the fourth quarter but our defense really held up and we got some pressure on the QB which seemed missing in our past few games. We were surprisingly conservative with our play calling in the 2nd half but if the goal was to win the game rather than pad Luck’s Heisman stats, I can see merit to running the ball since interceptions for big returns have been a problem these past few weeks and it seemed like that was the only way for Notre Dame to come back into the game. It also set up play action which we pulled off to perfection. My other observation was that I think the coaches dialed up the aggression on the last defensive series to increase our chances of taking a knee to end the game (either by forcing a turnover or giving up a TD). I guess we’ll never know if that was their intention but it was a nice move to have Owusu on the field for the last play.

What a season! It looks like we’re heading for a 2nd consecutive BCS bowl if nothing too crazy happens. Albert and I have our reservations for the Fiesta Bowl set and some contingencies in place for the Sugar Bowl. Fiesta against a Big 12 champion would be a lot less expensive but New Year’s in New Orleans would be quite the experience and frankly, I don’t care about the cost or preference of other Stanford fans. There were tons of folks who grumbled last year when we ended up in the Orange Bowl instead of the Fiesta Bowl but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. Besides, I would travel anywhere to catch Andrew Luck’s last game in a Stanford uniform!

P.S.: If anyone has a DVD of the Stanford-Notre Dame game, please let me know. I was unable to record it because I left home too far in advance and I still haven’t seen those two minutes I missed in their entirety.

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