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Shi: Hatred of Cal goes further than rivalry with USC

The Stanford University Athletic Department claims to have three rivals: Cal, USC and Notre Dame. Cardinal football has played these three teams a combined 233 times, and it would not be the same program without these opponents. That much we can say for sure.

Part of this sentiment, however, is window dressing. First off, Notre Dame is not really Stanford’s rival. Both fan bases recognize that Notre Dame is a mutually beneficial scheduling agreement. Stanford wants to play the Irish because it’s a legendary program. Notre Dame wants to play Stanford because of California recruiting, and because Stanford is academically Notre Dame’s self-described “aspirational peer.” But the series was viscerally irrelevant to Notre Dame when Stanford was bad, and now that Stanford can go punch-for-punch with the Irish, it’s still just a big game for both sides — the Irish’s field rush last year notwithstanding.

Like those at Notre Dame, most Stanford fans would much rather beat USC. USC is a program on Notre Dame’s level, but far worse than that, it is in Stanford’s backyard. I had the pleasure of interviewing the popular USC blogger Zack Jerome via email shortly after Saturday’s game, and he had a few points about how far Stanford still needs to go if it will call itself the Trojans’ equal.

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The Trojan football program — which Jerome cheerfully likens to Darth Vader — doesn’t throw the term “rivalry” around lightly.

“The USC-Stanford game has only been a game to circle in recent years, mostly because winning five of six will do that,” Jerome said. “In the end, there [are] teams that rise up and offer periods of competition that heighten the experience for Trojan fans, but rivalries are limited to UCLA and Notre Dame.”

I should probably disagree: Even on the Coliseum video board, USC was calling Stanford its “oldest rival.” But, distasteful as it sounds, Jerome is right. Some games are only intermittently significant; Washington under Don James comes to mind, and if Oregon crashes back to Earth perhaps we’ll view the Ducks in a similar light.

But what about Stanford? Crystal footballs aside, there is no greater symbol of significance in college football than the field rush. When Stanford rushes, it implies that it doesn’t expect victory to happen very often, and when USC and Notre Dame rush for Stanford — much as Jerome would like to argue otherwise — it implies that beating Stanford means something.

Sitting in the suddenly empty USC student section last Saturday in disbelief, my first feeling was, naturally, sadness. But my second feeling was something more along the lines of, Wow, now that’s respect. Stanford hadn’t just taken advantage of USC during its sanctions; Stanford had thrashed USC with Pete Carroll at the helm. Two generations of USC students had passed through University Park without seeing the Trojans beat the Cardinal at the Coliseum.

Alabama does not rush the field. Florida State does not rush the field. These programs expect not just greatness but glory. But for Stanford, Southern Cal rushed the field.

Jerome explained the USC field rush last Saturday not as a sign of respect but as a milestone for the well-sanctioned football program.

“I am wildly against us rushing the field, as were many of my readers,” Jerome wrote. “That said, if you are going to rush a field, that’s the time. You fire your coach and go on an improbable run. You play injured. You play with walk-ons. You do this because the NCAA gave you a penalty that is inexplicable, especially when compared to every other hearing and ruling since.”

“Saturday is a reminder that once the hands get untied, it will eventually return to a long period of dominance…I don’t think a team has done enough in USC’s ‘down’ era to cement [itself] when USC actually can recruit and travel a full football team.”

I don’t think Jerome’s claims of a “Pac-1” are true, and I also think it’s clear that beating Stanford had something to do with USC’s jubilation. But until Stanford can prove that it can hang with the Trojans for a couple more decades, there’s no reason to believe Jerome is wrong about USC itself. Southern Cal has earned the benefit of the doubt.

“USC is the only team in the conference that has returned to great heights each time they fell,” Jerome said.

Even though everything signals that Stanford is here to stay, the Cardinal hasn’t earned that tradition. Not yet. Saturday was the first Stanford loss I’ve witnessed in person, but more than that, it was a reminder after four years of victories that beating the University of Southern California is not a birthright.

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The breaks of the game are fickle, and only sustained excellence can build a history — a tradition — of winning. Some things you cannot buy with money. Greatness comes at a more painful price; if you raise your expectations, losing hurts all the more. The chief requirement of greatness is being relevant long enough to play a lot of big games. Some games you win, some games you lose, and if you play enough important games you’ll have a lot of wins.

You’ll also lose a lot of them, some by achingly close scores. Oregon was a play away from winning a national championship in 2011. Last Saturday, Stanford was a play away from beating USC. It doesn’t matter that USC kicked a 47-yard field goal, a 50-50 shot at best, in order to pull ahead. It doesn’t matter that USC only got into position for that field goal by completing a difficult pass to a gimpy receiver, also a 50-50 shot at best. It doesn’t matter that USC was rated by Vegas as just a three-point underdog, and that advanced computer systems like the ones Vegas uses considered the Trojans a top-10 team. There are no moral victories.

As Stanford readies to welcome the Golden Bears — the Beat Cal banner on Meyer Library, the Bearial at the Claw, the fountains bathed in red — I want Stanford to deny Cal even a moral victory. I want the Cardinal to trounce the Bears in ways they can’t even imagine. Here is my prediction ahead of time: Stanford by 50. The Cardinal runs over the Bears’ front seven to the point that David Shaw orders Stanford’s backups to chuck the ball in the fourth quarter out of pity. A day later Memorial Stadium collapses into the Hayward Fault.

We may hate USC because of a century of matchups and because the Trojans are traditionally good, but we hate Cal because destiny saw it fit to place two great universities on opposite sides of San Francisco Bay. As time goes on, beating USC may become less significant, or even more significant — who knows? I don’t have a crystal ball. But no matter who wins or who loses Saturday’s Big Game, the 115 Big Games before that or all the Big Games to come, Cal will always be here.

It doesn’t matter whether Cal is losing to Colorado or on top of the world, and it’s equally irrelevant whether Stanford is beating USC four times on the bounce or losing to UC-Davis. It’s Hate Week, and the Bears are going down. See you then.

Even during Hate Week, Big Brother is always watching Winston. If you’re mad that Shi forgot to mention Stanford’s 27-10 win in the 1984 Big Game, remind him that Stanford is at war with Cal — and has always been at war with Cal — at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Winston Shi

Winston Shi is an opinions columnist and senior staff writer for The Stanford Daily and was the Managing Editor of Opinions for Volume 245 (February-June 2014). He also sits on The Daily's Editorial Board. Previously, he worked at The Daily as a staff writer for the sports section. He is a junior from Thousand Oaks, California and majors in history. In his free time, he likes to read, travel and write about himself in the third person. Contact him at wshi94@stanford.edu.
  • lovestohike

    Hating anyone is being a bully.
    There must be team spirit
    and the age of bully and meanness as Winston espouses should end.
    We cannot hate anyone…
    and those who hate become bulllies
    and one thing leads to another
    Sorry to see
    Its time to play another team
    but your hatred Winston keep it in your mouth and not write out or talk the words.
    shame on you.

  • A Card Fan

    While I would more likely use words other than “hate” or “hatred”, I DO believe that the word can have different meanings within different contexts. For example, there is a “good hate”: “one hates discrimination and racism”; there is a “bad hate”: “one hates someone from a particular part of the country or a country”; and then, there is a “neutral hate” (which is just an expression): “one hates biology and chemistry”, etc. So, to equate the word “hate” with the world “bully”, especially for a piece like this, is both unnecessary and inappropriate.
    The author was writing a column (which can understandably be subjective with a biased view), not a news (which shall be objective). I could also understand the frustration and disappointment from another genuine Card fan for Cardinal’s loss to Trojan a week ago.
    I in fact like the author’s candidness in terms of how badly he wants Cardinal to win against Cal. Sports is partly about a sense of belongings and loyalty that have fans to live in a fantasy world for moments. Without that, sports loose its true meaning.

  • CyclingKen

    Re rivalries, it’s Cal, Notre Dame and USC. Two of those schools have Cardinal respect, though. Yep, I’m talking Cal and Notre Dame. As for your prediction of Big Game, congratulations! That’s a good crystal ball you have there.

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