For the first time in eight years, I sat on the sunny side of Stanford Stadium on Saturday. Far from the noise and youthful enthusiasm of the Red Zone, I was doing my bit for the greater cause of Cardinal football; I was introducing my parents to college football.
My dad had actually been once before, back in the days of the old bowl when I’d only ever sat in the East side of the stands, and when I still had no concrete idea of what was going on out on the field. Since I had found a real interest–and at least some understanding–however, neither of my folks had been through this; the closest they’d come had been watching a quarter or so of the Orange Bowl with me from the UK in 2011, before confusion and sleepiness had gotten the better of them.
Britain and the U.S. disagree pretty substantially on the subject of football. The most vocal–and ill-informed–on either side will disparage the other’s definition of a sport, and even among the moderate majority there is a feeling of suspicion based in large part on a simple lack of knowledge. Not purely knowledge of the rules, but rather of everything that makes us fans. Stay up late in the UK to watch the Super Bowl and it will likely be an experience free of atmosphere, emotion, fan vs. fan banter, history, even those one-off commercials. Suddenly it becomes an excruciatingly long and mystifying contest keeping us from the comfort of our beds.
The role of being an ambassador for the sport was easy in the first quarter. That early Stanford fumble swept aside, a 14-0 score raised hopes around the stadium of the team’s sixth home win of the season. Relaxed and happy, relaying the general rules and tactics of the game and teaching my parents some of the chants and synchronized movements that I could both hear and see across the field in the student section was enjoyable.
Oregon State’s resurgence in the second quarter dampened spirits a little, but added a bit of reality to the whole contest. There was no way the then-No. 11 team wouldn’t score against the then-No. 14 school; the Beavers weren’t exactly as overrated as national-title chasing LSU from last year. But it was the start of the second half, the bulk of the third quarter, which darkened a bright and sunny day.
Late in the third, it dawned on me. Not only did Stanford not seem to have an answer to the Beavers, who raced from 0-14 down to 23-14 ahead, not only were any hopes of an upset next weekend against Oregon becoming steadily meaningless, but sitting parallel to the South end zone, my parents weren’t even going to see, up close, a Cardinal touchdown. So far, every single point had been scored down the other end of the field, the end that was one hundred yards closer to Corvallis than to us.
With just seconds left on the clock, on second-and-six, even though Stanford had the ball, it was 40 yards short of where it needed to be. For the home team to win this one, we needed to hope for as little action as possible from hereon in.
Because of my persistence, my parents had flown out here last weekend. They of course came to see me, but I also wanted to give them a small taste of college football; this (hopefully) being my last year on the Farm, it was their last chance to get that. When I bought the tickets a few months back, I had no idea how important this game would be. I suspected Stanford might already be out of the running for any serious postseason action, and even if it was still in with a shout, I didn’t expect a major challenge from Oregon State.
Now it mattered, though. And now, it looked over. I’ve never been good at putting on a brave face in defeat–and being both an England and Reading FC fan I’ve had my fair share of opportunities to practice–and now I had to find a way to entertain them through what was going to be a painful fourth quarter and not waste the few days that I had with them under a cloud of sporting depression.
But then it happened: a trio of Taylors sitting together in the stands were treated to running back Stepfan Taylor’s sensational run from a dumped pass that quarterback Kevin Hogan barely released in time. Somehow, he avoiding being forced out of bounds and, cutting back infield, stiff-armed his way out of trouble. When a handful of Beavers finally caught him it was already too late; the clock may have run dead, but Taylor had dragged Stanford back into this contest.
The rest, as they say, is history. Stanford scored again and held off Oregon State to set up a de facto Pac-12 North title match with the No. 1 Ducks next weekend. Taylor and his senior cohorts kept alive one last chance of playing football at Stanford Stadium and the Cardinal team as a whole underlined a fighting spirit that didn’t quite keep it undefeated this year, but nevertheless resurrected it from defeat and then near-defeat to miraculously present a chance at the Rose Bowl.
But more than anything, two new college football fans will be heading back to the UK.
Tom Taylor is every bit as British as his parents. Instead of buying stadium fare from the concession stands, Tom brings in his own packets of Earl Grey. Let him know your tea preferences at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DailyTomTaylor.