By Winston Shi
The following is the final Wednesday Roundtable for Vol. 244 of The Stanford Daily. The 2013-14 football season had some remarkable highs — like the home win against Oregon and the Pac-12 title — and three crushing defeats. We asked football writers Winston Shi, David Cohn and Do-Hyoung Park: What was your favorite moment from the season?
Winston: The high point of the season had to be winning the Pac-12 championship. Stanford has won 14 conference titles, and, in just three years, head coach David Shaw’s teams have captured two of them. Winning the Pac-12 for the second year in a row makes it absolutely clear that the Cardinal is the class of the West. There were two brutal hiccups in conference play, but Stanford stepped up against its biggest contenders: It absolutely put the wood to Oregon, humiliated Arizona State twice, shut down UCLA’s explosive offense and did I mention Oregon?
Stanford killed a dragon on Nov. 7, to be sure. It may seem like small praise to call the Oregon game the most lopsided one-score victory I’ve ever seen, but from that point the bruised and battered Ducks were no longer invincible. For a Ducks program that so thrived on its reputation of glamorous devastation, Stanford’s victories certainly hurt. But for Stanford, Oregon was but a step toward the goal. The Cardinal is about more than beating Oregon.
I said before the Oregon game that Stanford’s season was not going to be defined by one evening, and even with a great victory in hindsight, I will not backtrack on what I have said. If we will honor the principle that great teams count silverware and not big wins, Stanford’s Pac-12 championship is undoubtedly the true gem of the 2013 season. Big games have happened and will happen again, but trophies never disappear.
It’s indeed trophies that Stanford’s players ultimately seek, and, in that regard, David Shaw has absolutely delivered. Some people thought that Stanford could go down the drain after Jim Harbaugh left. Harbaugh is a truly elite coach, but Shaw has now twice accomplished something Harbaugh never did. With a revived fan base, brand new facilities, continued recruiting success and of course a burgeoning win total, Stanford is in a far better place than it was when Shaw took over.
David: While I certainly respect and understand Winston’s selection of the Pac-12 Championship Game victory over Arizona State (I, in fact, selected that title game victory as the third-best moment of 2013 for Stanford Athletics), for the sake of highlighting another fantastic football moment, I will choose to talk about the Nov. 7 game against Oregon.
That night will forever live in Stanford lore for a multitude of reasons, but as an upperclassman, the win over the Ducks was so incredibly special in large part because of what I had witnessed in 2011 during Oregon’s last trip to the Farm. That 2011 contest was a nightmare almost from the opening kickoff. Although the Cardinal kept the game reasonably close for three quarters, everything that could have possibly gone wrong in that game went wrong. Stanford was utterly humiliated on its own field.
Fast forward to 2013: With 2011’s game etched on many Cardinal fans’ minds, I know many fans were worried about a similar result against Oregon in 2013. In fact, a large majority of people outside of the Stanford program, including the Oregon Ducks themselves, thought Stanford’s 2012 victory in Eugene, Ore., was an anomaly and that the Ducks would reassert themselves with their high-powered offense and standout quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Instead, the seemingly unexpected happened: Stanford not only beat the Ducks for a second consecutive year but utterly thrashed them in the process. Stanford dominated both lines of scrimmage and time of possession while running out to a 26-0 lead. Although the Ducks would score a few times in what amounted to be garbage time in the fourth quarter, any reasonable observer could see who was the better football team.
I believe that John Elway, during his halftime jersey retirement ceremony, would provide the quote that would ultimately best summarize the night: “We’ve got some work to get done tonight, and that is about kicking a little ass in the second half…”.
In short, the Card played an absolutely inspired game. Senior Tyler Gaffney carried the ball for an inhuman 45 carries, and Stanford’s defense put up perhaps its finest performance in program history; if you don’t believe me, look at Marcus Mariota’s expression after three Cardinal defenders, namely senior linebacker A.J. Tarpley, senior defensive tackle David Parry, and fifth-year senior linebacker Jared Lancaster, absolutely leveled him for a sack and fumble recovery.
By the end of the night, the Cardinal had delivered a tremendous knockout of the Oregon Ducks, and in the process, more than avenged 2011’s defeat at Stanford Stadium. This time, it was the Cardinal left to celebrate with its fans one of the most impressive victories in school history, and at least for one night, send a definitive message to the entire nation that Stanford was truly the “Best in the West.”
Do: “A-RI-ZO-NA!” clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. “A-RI-ZO-NA!” clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.
To me, the most beautiful element of sports is its ability to bring together the unlikeliest of people into a brotherhood of sorts — a group of strangers standing in each others’ arms, killing their vocal cords together, exchanging high-fives — bonded first and foremost by their shared desire to see a man hit a ball with a stick as far as possible. Or move an inflated pig bladder 10 yards at a time. Or kick a ball into a net.
Such was the scene at Stanford Stadium on Nov. 23, 2013.
All of a sudden, the spectacle on the field in front of the fans didn’t matter. Nobody cared that Stanford was steamrolling its most hated rival to a historic degree in one of the most traditional rivalries in sports history. Everybody — from the engineer from Kansas to the creative writer from Louisiana to the piano virtuoso from Singapore — was united by one event at that moment, Stanford versus California be damned.
And believe me, I was one of them.
Arizona 42, Oregon 16.
That was the story of Big Game 2013. With all due respect to the history of the storied Big Game, Ty Montgomery’s five (five!) touchdowns in the first half and Francis Owusu’s flashy first career touchdown, the game itself was a foregone conclusion weeks before it was played and became unimportant very early. Up in the press box, streams of the Arizona-Oregon game were on nearly every laptop screen and very few pairs of eyes were trained on the field below.
Arizona somehow beat Oregon by 26 points. As 21-point underdogs. We laughed David Cohn out of the building when he suggested it before that fateful day. We all thought that Stanford was doomed to a — shudder — Holiday Bowl as the Ducks marched on, leaving Stanford in its shadow yet again despite the Cardinal’s resounding defeat of the Quack Attack just a few weeks before. That’s why this was so important to Stanford’s fans. The USC loss left Stanford’s fans in the lowest of ruts after the highest of highs. That juxtaposition crushed a fervent fan base.
But inexplicably, the improbable happened, injecting new life into a fan base that was fully prepared for the reality of missing the BCS and setting off a rousing cheer during Big Game 2013 as the fan base was awakened again. That win was what made a second consecutive Pac-12 Championship and a trip to the 100th Rose Bowl Game possible. For that, Stanford fans will be grateful to the Arizona Wildcats for a long, long time.
I proclaimed that day that I would name my first-born child “Arizona.”
I have no idea how I’m going to explain this one to my future wife.
David Cohn, Winston Shi and Do-Hyoung Park are counting down the days until the Cardinal and White spring scrimmage so that they can start talking about and analyzing college football once again. Keep the conversation going during this painful time by contacting them at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu, wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu and dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu, respectively.