As I sit in the Portland airport starting my trip home for Thanksgiving break, I feel something eerily familiar, yet so different. A little over 10 months ago, I had to watch Jordan Williamson sit devastated in the Phoenix airport, fewer than 24 hours after Oklahoma State stunned Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. I will never forget the feeling of complete emptiness in my stomach having to see a friend and classmate in such deep, and crushingly public, emotional agony.
The past 10 months have been a wild and crazy journey, but with Stanford’s 17-14 win over Oregon on Saturday, the path has come full circle. Jordan Williamson responded to the final installment of a season’s worth of pep talks and statements of confidence from head coach David Shaw. In Shaw’s words, Jordan grew up to deliver Stanford a stunning upset of the Ducks with a game-winning 37-yard field goal in overtime.
The path to Williamson’s sweet redemption was about as windy as anything that could still be called a path, but looking back at it now, it’s so fitting. As many players said on the field just minutes after Williamson’s game-winner sailed through the uprights, it had to be Jordan.
Williamson’s misses in the desert ended the Andrew Luck era, the most successful years in Stanford football history, on the bitterest of notes. Now, with Andrew Luck dominating the NFL less than a year later, Jordan Williamson’s right foot propelled Stanford to its first win at Oregon since 2001, well before Luck started high school. More importantly, it put the Cardinal on the brink of a Pac-12 title, the one goal Andrew never achieved in his otherwise wildly successful time on the Farm.
But if you talked to the Stanford players on the field after they emerged from the locker room celebration, excitement over the monumental win was dramatically overshadowed by joy for Jordan Williamson.
It is an extraordinarily difficult task to overcome a miss like Williamson’s potential game-winner in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl. Many college kickers in Jordan’s situation would have transferred, but Williamson’s teammates, classmates and the entire Stanford community didn’t make that necessary. Even many NFL kickers never do get that confidence back.
To be fair, until that 37-yarder cleared the crossbar inside of the left upright, I don’t think anyone knew if Williamson would ever recover. The 2012 season has been filled with perplexing misses, some certainly aided by snapping issues, but unnerving nonetheless. I consider myself to be one of the biggest Williamson supporters around — believe me, I’ve taken a lot of heat for it — and even I was overcome with anxiety in the final seconds.
It wasn’t that I thought Williamson would miss the kick; it was my fear of what a miss would mean to his career as a kicker and life at Sanford. Missing the biggest kick of his career for a second consecutive time would have been nothing short of devastating. Williamson showed tremendous strength and courage in his comeback from Phoenix, but coming back from another in a spot like Saturday’s might have been too much to ask of a college junior.
From this day forward, however, Williamson will not be thought of as a kicker who can’t make a clutch field goal–he will be the kid who missed in the biggest moment of his young career, but then came back to make it when so much more was on the line.
That first kick would’ve given Stanford another nice shiny trophy for the Arrillaga Family Sports Center and a postseason ranking in the top three to brag about for generations–simply memories of past greatness. Williamson’s field goal on Saturday gave much more than the everlasting memory of 100 white jerseys sprinting to mob him at midfield.
The kick gives Stanford a chance to give its decorated seniors a second “Last Walk” at Stanford Stadium. It gives Stanford a chance to finish a remarkable comeback from bitter defeats in Seattle and South Bend with a Rose Bowl win in Pasadena. It won’t change the past, but it certainly will give Stanford an opportunity to make one heck of a future.
Perhaps most importantly, Williamson now knows for sure that he can get the job done with everything on the line. As Stanford heads down to Pasadena for what it hopes is the first of two trips on the season, none of us know what Jordan Williamson’s role will be. But, for the first time since that fateful January night, Stanford fans will know that Williamson can get the job done when it counts the most.
If Sam Fisher ever misses a deadline on his column, we here at The Daily are fully confident that he will bounce back with an even bigger piece in the clutch. Send him your ideas for more feel-good stories at safisher “at” stanford.edu.