[Cross-blogged for Leland Quarterly]
This is a story about losers.
It is a story about me, primarily, but I—for a change—am not the loser. It is a story about me, and Stanford, and primarily it is about a football team with an uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
This is a story about 2007. (Or did you have something else in mind?)
To me, 2007 was the start of something beautiful on the Farm. It happens to coincide with the first year I found myself on Stanford’s campus, but we’ll chalk that up to correlation rather than causation. You see, 2007 was also the year the Venerable James Harbaugh came to campus—and the year that Stanford football began its rebound.
It was slow. And painful. And definitely didn’t happen in 2007. But that was the start, the genesis, the inception of greatness.
…and the fourteenth level of the movie is a complex football metaphor.
In the first eleven games of the season, Stanford football won one home game. Against San Jose State. I was there for those games—and they were painful. Stadium-meals-are-the-best-part-of-this-experience painful.
There were glimpses of greatness, though. The biggest upset in college football history comes to mind, a stubborn refusal from the Venerable James Harbaugh to bow to any accepted powerhouse. But ultimately, that week after Thanksgiving, Stanford was looking at a 3-8 season.
It was disappointing. It was disheartening. It was disempowering. And then, the California Golden Bears came to Stanford Stadium.
Big Game, if nothing else, did wonders for morale.
There’s something magical about a rivalry game that can make you forget the rest of the season, forget any losses or injuries or blown calls or missed tackles or some short guy with a CamelCase name running train all over your backfield. And that was true in 2007—all of a sudden, 3-8 Stanford was 4-8 Stanford with a Big Game victory, and the season didn’t seem so bad anymore. Sure, there was no bowl game. But we had crushed USC’s dreams and beaten Oski to a pulp—what more could you ask for in a season?
“Beaten to a pulp” may be a mean-spirited thing to say when to begin with Oski looks more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame than the mascot of California.
Rivalry games are definitely the best part of the season. And the best part of rivalry games? Well, their names—and spoils of war associated with them.
- Duel in the Desert: Arizona v. Arizona State
- Prize: The Territorial Cup
- First game: 1899
- Why you should watch it: Arizona’s season is irrecoverable. Arizona State’s is spiraling down in flames. So lately? I dunno, just to see if Vontaze Burfict kills a guy.
The Territorial Cup is notable for being the only trophy that can hold all of the liquid in the state of the colleges that play for it.
- Civil War: Oregon v. Oregon State
- Prize: The Platypus Trophy
- First game: 1894
- Why you should watch it: Upset?
It’s a duck stuffed in a beaver stuffed in a turkey!
- Apple Cup: Washington v. Washington State
- Prize: The Apple Cup
- First game: 1900
- Why you should watch it: Opportunity to make cougar jokes.
Wait, the cup is actually a trophy?
- Holy War: Utah v. BYU
- Prize: The Beehive Boot (sort of)
- First game: 1896
- Why you should watch it: Only rivalry game whose history involves a cheerleader fight.
Not really sure why this is sought after.
- Crosstown Showdown: UCLA v. USC
- Prize: The Victory Bell
- First game: 1929
- Why you should watch it: Vain hope that UCLA beats USC.
Note: bell has not been this color for some time.
- Notre Dame – USC rivalry: Uhhh… Oregon State v. Colorado?
- Prize: The Jeweled Shillelagh
- First game: 1926
- Why you should watch it: Learn what the hell a jeweled shillelagh is.
Pronounced shuh-LAY-lee, obviously. Turns out a shillelagh is some sort of ancient Irish war club, which makes a jeweled shillelagh about as useful as a bedazzled assault rifle.
- Big Game: Stanford v. California
- Prize: The Stanford Axe
- First game: 1892
- Why you should watch it: Assert your Stanford superiority in athletics, academics, and attractiveness. Watch Kal weenies cry. Channel your inner lumberjack.
Always reads 20-19 in 1982.
The moral of the story is this: No matter how good or how bad the season, no matter how disappointing or exhilarating the games have been, there are always more games, future years, new horizons—and so a team is never a loser.
Until it loses its rivalry game.
Finally a look at some rhetoric from around the internet (and a last, resounding, BEAT CAL):