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Beyda: On the road with Stanford football

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“WHOOOOO’S GOOOOOT MYYYYY BACK?” I heard booming from underneath my feet last Friday afternoon, as the players in the Stanford tunnel prepared to make their entrance into the Rose Bowl Stadium. I replied with a couple of stomps on the metal bleachers, and at that moment, I had a feeling that it would be a good day.

That it was, as Stanford went on to its shocking 31-10 victory against No. 8 UCLA. When the Stanford lead continued to balloon as the game went on, my dad and I, dressed in Cardinal red, could only look sheepishly at my mom and sister, sitting next to us in Bruins baby blue.

The big win helped salvage Stanford’s disappointing year — and redeem my travel plans for the 2014 season. In 16 previous years of watching Cardinal football, I’d been to just one road game other than Big Game, and that was a short drive to San Jose State; this season, I planned weekend trips to Washington, Oregon and UCLA, three difficult matchups that Stanford most likely wouldn’t sweep.

I’m not entirely sure why I had been so hesitant to go out on the road beforehand. It probably was the combination of a fear of being in enemy territory and stories of a brutal, chilly experience my dad had once survived in a miserable loss at Notre Dame. It’s bad enough to see your team lose, I’d reasoned, but it’s far worse to spend hundreds of dollars to risk living through the same thing on the road — not to mention the associated heckling of the home fans.

My experiences with the latter point were actually one of the biggest pleasant surprises of this season. Other than a single pregame “f*** Stanford!” from an Oregon student in Autzen Stadium, the only times I heard anything from opposing fans were when my “house divided” family unit walked as a pack around the Rose Bowl. “Now this is an interesting group,” one woman laughed as she passed us. “Girls, you can do better,” another UCLA fan joked to my mom and sister. Later, the all-UCLA family sitting in front of us helped my sister arrive at the conclusion that she could extort a shopping trip in exchange for the Bruins’ ugly loss.

I’d been on guard on that first trip to Husky Stadium, fearing everything on the continuum from harmless expletives to the type of violence endured by Giants fan Bryan Stow at Dodger Stadium a few years ago. But I didn’t feel unsafe at all in the three stadiums I visited. I’m not sure whether that owes itself to the civility of Pac-12 fans, but it was refreshing nonetheless.

Meanwhile, the other eventuality I dreaded — losing to Oregon, at Oregon — wasn’t nearly as dismal as I had expected. It certainly helped that Stanford hadn’t looked up to snuff all season and that no one traveling to the game with me expected a win against the Ducks. But because we made the road trip about more than the football game — I’ll remember it most for our stop at Crater Lake and getting caught in a small blizzard on the drive back to the hotel — it was easy to sit back, relax, and take in the fall colors of a Eugene evening as soon as the Cardinal fell too far behind. In that sense, it was actually a lower-pressure experience than your typical home game at Stanford Stadium.

So next season, make an excuse to travel to a Cardinal football road game. If experiencing another college town, coloring an enemy stadium red and not having to listen to TV commentators aren’t reasons enough, remember this: It’s always great to have your team’s back.

It turns out that Joseph Beyda showed up to more games this season than Stanford’s football team itself. Console the life-long Cardinal fan at jbeydat ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Joseph Beyda is the editor in chief of The Stanford Daily. Previously he has worked as the executive editor, webmaster, football editor, a sports desk editor, the paper's summer managing editor and a beat reporter for football, baseball and women's soccer. He co-authored The Daily's recent football book, "Rags to Roses," and covered the soccer team's national title run for the New York Times. Joseph is a senior from Cupertino, Calif. majoring in Electrical Engineering. To contact him, please email jbeyda "at" stanford.edu.