Dear Stanford community, I don’t know how to say this. I screwed up. I’m deeply sorry.
We all knew that this was the year. Somehow, we’d found a quarterback to more or less substitute for the absent Andrew Luck. Somehow we’d managed to win against USC and we were going to do the same against Notre Dame and Oregon. Somehow the unthinkable–the impossible–was going to happen: Stanford football was heading unbeaten to the national championship game.
So what happened? It wasn’t merely a case of Washington exposing our weaknesses on Thursday night, of an inexperienced and untested offense being found out or even of ludicrous dreams and expectations built on three lucky results. Deep down I know I brought this on us.
I watched every single minute of the difficult opening day of the season against San Jose State. I was back at Stanford Stadium for the Duke game, lasting until the final second of a contest that was over by halftime. And I lost my voice cheering on the Cardinal against USC before rushing the field in giddy, childlike excitement.
The Washington game? I didn’t watch a single play. I didn’t shout or cheer and I wasn’t even wearing a single cardinal-colored item.
I do have an excuse–I was covering the women’s soccer team’s destruction of Oregon State for this very newspaper–but even the requirements of journalistic integrity and impartiality shouldn’t get me off the hook.
A physics graduate and an engineering Ph.D. student, I realize of course how completely illogical this all is; that the support of just one lone fan out of tens or evens hundreds of thousands of Cardinal faithful can’t make or break a result. Especially since, however loud I’d have yelled, no one would have heard me hundreds of miles north in Seattle. But sports aren’t logical. Deciding to watch a handful of athletes run around a grassy field for hours every weekend when you could be doing something worthwhile like working to end poverty or cure cancer is not a cold, rational choice.
Real fans believe – they don’t care about useless facts; they know their support counts. They know that those little superstitions and game-day routines can make the crucial difference. From relatively harmless ones like wearing a lucky shirt or crossing your fingers ahead of a crucial play, to those life-defining and life-destroying ones that inspire Hollywood movies.
When your team wins, nothing really matters, but when it loses, and when that coincides with an unusual break in your routine, it begs the question: Did I change something? Could my inconsequential actions have been magnified by the butterfly effect of sports to doom my team?
The cruel reality of college football is that, unlike in the forgiving world of the NFL, a single loss almost certainly destroys any dreams of season greatness.
The elusive and unrealistic specter of the national title is gone, but there is still reason to hope. Shock loss or not, the Cardinal football program is in rude health, and though a third-straight BCS bowl now seems unlikely, it is not yet mathematically impossible. The Pac-12 Championship game and the Rose Bowl could still be reached with a healthy dose of luck – not Luck – and hard work. Washington is almost certain to lose to Oregon this weekend and USC the next. If the Trojans can defeat the Ducks in LA at the beginning of November then everything might just come down to Stanford’s trip to Eugene two weeks later. It would be a mighty upset, but this program has history with those.
And I’ve learnt my lesson. I will be at every home game this season from kick-off until the game clock runs dead, continuing this Saturday against Arizona. I may even be at most of the remaining road games, starting with Notre Dame the following weekend and finishing with UCLA two months from now.
I will not just be dressed in a Red Zone shirt and my lucky Stanford baseball cap, but am now in the possession of a No. 33 jersey too–unimaginatively, my favorite player on the field in senior running back Stepfan Taylor, not simply because he is great at what he does, but also because I can unconvincingly claim that we must be distant relatives. Superstition or not, if there is any difference that I can make, anything that might get that ball over the line from up there in the stands, consider it made.
If you don’t believe that Tom Taylor is as superstitious as they come, take in a Reading “football” game with him as he curls up in his Reading FC snuggie, drinks from his favorite mug with his left hand every 13 mintues and roars like a lion every time him squad gets a throw-in. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @dailyTomTaylor.