In the aftermath of Stanford’s physical mauling of Iowa in the 102nd Rose Bowl, senior guard Joshua Garnett was stomping around the locker room, emphatically doing interviews and relishing in the physical domination that his offensive line — the Tunnel Workers’ Union — and Christian McCaffrey unleashed on the Hawkeyes in Stanford’s 45-16 victory.
Garnett was extra riled-up because of the Union’s crushing performance in the wake of a perceived challenge from Iowa’s defensive leaders, who said in the week leading up to the Rose Bowl Game that they didn’t anticipate Stanford’s offensive line being a much bigger challenge than the talented Big Ten offensive lines they had faced all year.
“When they call out the Tunnel Workers’ Union, that’s the wrong union to call out,” Garnett said. “All we do is dig tunnels, so we’re pissed off all week.”
“They said we’re just another Big Ten team, and, well, it’s ‘Okay, man. You can’t hide once the whistle blows and the game starts.’”
Once the whistle blew on Friday, the Union came out and dug some of its finest tunnels of the year for McCaffrey against Iowa’s elite front seven. According to ESPN Stats & Info, McCaffrey averaged 6.1 yards before contact in the Rose Bowl, the offensive line’s second-best performance of the season behind the UCLA game.
It was a fitting swan song for Garnett and “Bash Brother” Kyle Murphy, who anchored the left side of Stanford’s line alongside each other for the 27th and final time in the Rose Bowl.
“For us to come in and have a legacy and have this kind of year, it’s awesome to leave that legacy,” Garnett said. “To be the team that won three Pac-12s and went to three Rose Bowls is just unbelievable.”
This kind of performance — coming in with people underestimating them but proving the doubters wrong — was emblematic of Garnett’s and Murphy’s reign at Stanford. After Stanford’s highly-touted 2012 recruits on the line struggled in their debut as a line last season, people wrote them off. After the Cardinal couldn’t get anything going against Northwestern in Week 1 this season, people wrote them off once more.
But behind Mike Bloomgren, “the greatest offensive line coach in the world” according to Garnett, the Union kept their heads down and just kept quietly digging, as was the tradition laid down by Chris Marinelli, Alex Fletcher, James McGillicuddy and the other founding fathers of the Union a decade ago.
And, well, the results spoke for themselves — louder than ever on Friday.
“That’s kind of how we like to be as Nerd Nation, as young guys coming up, we like to be under the radar,” Garnett said. “We come into Stanford, people are telling us, ‘You can’t play bigtime football.’ We’ve always worked from behind, and that’s how we like it.
“We don’t like to be in the spotlight. We don’t like everyone talking about us. We don’t really talk a big game in the media. We let our play do the talking.”
After the Rose Bowl, though, with his tunnel working career at Stanford finally at an end, Garnett finally let his words emphatically do the talking — he’d said all he could with his play.
But all the while, he was quietly watched by the inquisitive eyes of next year’s leaders of the Union — Graham Shuler, Johnny Caspers, David Bright, Nick Davidson — sitting idly by at their lockers with their brand-new “Tunnel Workers’ Union” beanies on, surveying the scene.
They didn’t have much to say; reporters were too focused on Garnett and his commanding presence in the center of the room. But that’s fine — next year, as their performance does the talking, their voices will cut through, loud and clear.
As is tradition, people are sure to question whether they can maintain the standard set by their predecessors — many will likely doubt them with the departures of Garnett and Murphy.
As is tradition, they’re set to prove everyone wrong.
“[David] DeCastro leaves, people say Stanford’s O-line is not going to be better,” Garnett said. “David Yankey leaves, people say Stanford’s O-line can’t be great. Once [Murphy and I] leave, people are going to say the Union can’t be great.”
“But we’re going to reload. We have great offensive linemen coming in, great guys coming back, great coaching in Mike Bloomgren. We’re just going to keep reloading and the Tunnel Workers’ Union is just going to keep getting better and better every year.”
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.