The following is an excerpt from The Daily’s upcoming book, “Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football,” by Joseph Beyda, George Chen and Sam Fisher. The book will be sold electronically starting on July 15, and we will publish excerpts every Friday, including today’s installment on the 2010 season. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to sign up for updates on ordering information and future excerpts.
As much as Stanford had earned the opportunity to celebrate its personal and collective accomplishments, Jim Harbaugh wasn’t going to let his team simply enjoy an Orange Bowl berth. Sure, Stanford achieved its highest ranking in 40 years after starting the season outside of the top 25, but Harbaugh wanted an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech to cap it off. And he was going to do whatever it took to get that win, even if that meant calling out his grieving left guard, Andrew Phillips.
After being able to keep his focus through most of the year while dealing with the loss of his dad, Phillips was struggling. Senior Day against Oregon State that past Saturday had been especially hard, as he wanted his dad to be there on the field with him. It was one of the toughest moments in a fall full of trying times. On one play against Oregon State, Phillips was beaten by standout defensive lineman Stephen Paea, who got the edge and hit Andrew Luck.
“It’s one of those things I’ll never forget,” Phillips says. “It was like a big, momentum-changing thing that could’ve been costly. And it was on my mind and I was just feeling really bad about it.”
At practice the next Friday, Phillips messed up on a play. His mind still wasn’t right.
“I came off the field,” Phillips remembers, “and Harbaugh’s saying, ‘Hey, get me a new left guard. Get this guy out of here. He can’t focus during the game. I don’t know where you were on Saturday, but you did not play a good game.’ He laid it out like it was, didn’t put any kid gloves on me…Somebody who didn’t understand what he was doing, just like I did at the time, would’ve said, ‘What are you talking about? My dad is dead. I wanted him at my last game and he wasn’t there. There wasn’t a moment that went by during that game that I didn’t think about him not being there.’ And I kind of flipped out for a second and I got really upset that he was being unfair — of course I had a bad game, why wouldn’t I have a bad game?
“But I realize now,” Phillips continues, “[Harbaugh] was not going to allow me to make excuses, no matter what it was. Even something as serious as that…It’s those moments of tough love that I didn’t understand in the moment, but now I understand. And I’m especially grateful to him for those.”
Harbaugh wasn’t just singling out Phillips; he was going to make sure that everyone on the team played as well as they could for the Orange Bowl. Bowl practices were not relaxed by any means. Owen Marecic says it felt like being back in training camp again as Harbaugh prepared the team for Virginia Tech.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, the team was nearing the end of bowl practices. Harbaugh promised that anyone on the team who lived either in driving distance or a short plane ride away could go home for a day before flying back the next night so the team could head to Miami early on Dec. 26. But first, Harbaugh told them, they were going to “celebrate Christmas and Jesus Christ by celebrating with football.” To ensure players could get home early enough to enjoy Christmas Eve, Harbaugh had practice start very early in the morning. Harbaugh promised it would be a short practice: The first team would only have around 20 plays.
“So 46 plays later for the ones,” remembers James McGillicuddy, “tensions are getting a little high…People started getting a little chippy.”
Senior guard Matt Bentler and sophomore defensive end Josh Mauro got in a shoving match. Watching from the sideline — and frustrated by the extra-long practice — McGillicuddy wasn’t going to waste an opportunity for some fun. McGillicuddy ran in and laid a big hit on one of the players, and then everybody got involved.
“This giant brawl broke out between the offense and the defense,” McGillicuddy says. “It was innocent, right. Tensions are high. I started the fight, I got out the back and I’m just kind of watching it. And after five minutes Harbaugh and Fangio are just breaking people up and like Vic [is] just yelling at Harbaugh, ‘That McGillicuddy, he’s a bully! Get him out of here!’
“Harbaugh was defending me, when in actuality I was kind of at fault. It was kind of an iconic story of that year. Things are going great, but even though we’re going to the Orange Bowl, we’re still practicing on Christmas Eve. And tensions are so high that a brawl breaks out. If that doesn’t talk about hunger, I don’t know what [does].”
Contact the authors at [email protected]