Rose Bowl dinner? Plate of humility with a side of excuses
On the plus side, on January 1 I kicked one more item off my bucket list: Go to Pasadena and see my alma mater play in the Rose Bowl.
On the minus, my actual bucket-list item was “See my alma mater win the Rose Bowl” – and that didn’t happen.
Instead I saw in the New Year by watching Stanford get its high-IQ, Nerd-Nation butt kicked by Michigan State in the 100th Rose Bowl. The score was 24-20, but the game wasn’t nearly that close.
The Cardinal limped out of Southern California with fewer total yards, passing yards, completions, minutes of possession, touchdowns, high fives, decibels produced by fans, and gloat-worthy gridiron moments.
Yeah, we jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but the score for the rest of the game was 24-10. And, although Stanford was within a TD of victory as the fourth quarter wound down, the Spartans had us figured out. We might as well have been Youngstown State.
Making all this even more painful was that the entire city of East Lansing apparently migrated west to see the Spartans shame us. After weathering a 26-year Rose Bowl drought, green-clad MSU fans were everywhere. Not only that, but these Midwesterners were unfailingly friendly and gracious – which was particularly irritating.
The day after the game, I ran into one of these Grinning Greenies at our LA motel. “How come you’re still here?” I muttered. He only smiled and congratulated Stanford on “a great game.”
Me? I martialed excuses and rationalizations:
From Row 68, it wasn’t that bad: I’m of course grateful that my fellow Stanford alum Dick Anderson, a Cardinal season ticket holder from Calaveras County, came up with our end-zone Rose Bowl tickets. But I’m really happy he didn’t have enough cash or clout to get us 50-yard line seats.
As it was, we were so far away that what happened on the field came to us in the form of rumors – which we then confirmed by looking up at the scoreboard, about five rows behind us. Thus were we spared up-close and way too personal looks at Stanford’s failings.
Sports Illustrated jinxed us: Shane Skov, the Cardinal’s fearsome All-American linebacker, was on the cover of SI’s August college football preview issue. “Who can beat ‘Bama?” read the adjoining headline. “The smart pick is the Cardinal.”
Then and there, the legendary SI-cover jinx was on. With losses to Utah and USC, our national championship chances evaporated. The Rose Bowl? Near as I can tell, MSU football hasn’t hit Sports Illustrated’s cover in decades, so we didn’t stand a chance.
One more thing: In a quick December preview of a Rose Bowl battle between stout defenses, SI declared “First team to 10 wins.” So when our guys got to 10 in the first quarter, they may have figured the game was over.
David Shaw doesn’t know football: From the Rose Bowl’s nosebleed seats, we Stanford dilettantes by the third quarter began blaming the Cardinal’s talented coach for handing the Rose Bowl to MSU on a silver platter.
“Not Gaffney up the middle! Not again,” came the chorus of gripes and groans from middle managers, registered nurses, school administrators, day traders and real estate agents who reckoned that a few years on The Farm two or three decades ago makes them smarter than the Pac 12’s two-time coach of the year.
Never mind that Shaw in three years has compiled a 34-7 record and has brought Stanford to three consecutive BCS bowls. Never mind that running back Tyler Gaffney shredded defenses for 1,618 yards this year and, by rolling roughshod over Oregon (45 carries, 151 yards), helped win us a berth in the Rose Bowl. And never mind that these two guys have brought Stanford to a previously unimaginable football promised land.
None of that stuff mattered to us fans in Rows 68 through 72. If only we could call the shots (“Hail Mary! Triple Reverse!! Flea-flicker!!! Statue of Liberty!!!!”), we would win.
You beat us, but we’re smarter: For Stanford fans, this is the oldest, lamest excuse in the book.
SC stomps us? So what? The Trojan players are muscle-bound jocks with single-digit IQs, and Stanford’s unbelievably high admission requirements yield football rosters stocked with scrawny Merit Scholars, Mensa members, dot-com geniuses and future Nobel laureates.
So not only are we smarter, goes the refrain, but you guys (insert Trojans, Spartans, Utes or any other school that just kicked our butts) take your football way too seriously.
Trouble is, Stanford All-Americans Andrew Luck, Toby Gearhart, Shane Skov, Zach Ertz, Tyler Gaffney and the like are anything but scrawny nerds. And defensive, irrational screeds like this prove that at least some of us alums do take Stanford football seriously (if not logically).
You guys have to go back to East Lansing: Long after the glow of a Rose Bowl win wears off, you Spartans will still be freezing your way through winter in Michigan (New Year’s Day high in East Lansing: 14. Estimated end of winter at MSU: June 1). Meanwhile, we Cardinal faithful will stay here in California (New Year’s Day highs: Pasadena, 77; Palo Alto, 58).
So while we pull on our shorts and slather on sunscreen, you guys will be throwing buckets of water into the air, watching it turn to falling ice and hoping the video will go viral.
So maybe we’re smarter after all.
Chris Bateman, 67, is a journalist based in Sonora, California, where over the past 40 years he has covered everything under the Sierra Nevada sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or better yet, comment below.
Copyright 2014, Friends and Neighbors Magazine