Given my extreme-bordering-on-unhealthy devotion to the San Francisco Giants, some might be surprised to learn there are many athletic teams whose exploits I take far more personally than those of the Orange and Black. Yep, there's a reason I don't write very often about the Stanford Cardinal.
When things are going well for one of my Alma mater's squads, like many alumni, I embrace it with an intimate connection that doesn't exist with los Gigantes.
Let's face it—you can become as true a fan as possible of any professional franchise. Locals might argue they have a stronger, purer synergy with their teams than remote fans, but that's becoming more and more fatuous in the Information Age. Furthermore, anyone who pays the price of sweat and tears earns the right to wear the label "true fan."
Contrarily, you can't just choose to be an alumnus or alumna of a school.
You've got to earn your way in (for the most part), go to class (or at least pass them), become part of the student body, and then graduate. At a school like Stanford, there's an extra little perk because the Farm actually forces the integration of student-athletes with the rest of the population.
In my freshman dorm, I lived across the hall from one of the baseball team's two aces—he got drafted by the Colorado Rockies although his career never panned out.
The original literal twin towers—Jason and Jarron Collins—lived one and two floors down, respectively. Mark Madsen (accidentally) almost killed my date on several occasions while showing the same reckless exuberance on a dance floor as he shows on the basketball court.
All are in the National Basketball Association.
I had class with Riall Johnson, a defensive end on the football team that went to the Rose Bowl. He played in the National Football League for a while and now plies his trade in the Canadian Football League.
I'm not mentioning these guys to drop names—aside from the baseball player, I wasn't friends with any of them and never even spoke to Johnson. Instead, I'm trying to show the university incorporated even the blue-chippers into the average, daily student life.
One result of the policy was a different feel to the athletic program than seems to exist at a lot of schools. Rather than giving off the aura of an exclusive club for the glitterati, the collective felt more like a high school version i.e. friendship and familiarity erased the disconnect created by the imminent potential for millions of dollars and pseudo-celebrity.
The student-athletes weren't uniquely different, just different in the same way an engineering major was different from an English major.
Regardless of whether other or most schools take Stanford's approach, alumni share a deeper commonality with their schools' teams than an average fan or one of a professional franchise because there is that shared context.
That's not to say alumni are better fans, but I do think those alumni devoted to the programs feel the wins and losses differently, more viscerally.
Maybe it's arrogant, but I really do feel like I have contributed and continue to contribute to Stanford's success in all facets because I was once a student there. I made the sacrifices it asked of me and this is part of my reward.
If Stanford wins, the alumni win.
On the other hand, if Stanford loses, the alumni lose.
Which brings me back to my original point—if things are going well, I don't want to jinx the development by calling attention to it because the injury gets magnified.
Luckily, when you hang 55 points on the USC Trojans, the situation calls attention to itself and I can go along for the ride. When you etch your name into the Men of Troy record books next to the line that says, "Most Points Ever Surrendered to:" the mighty Cardinal's trumpet will drown out mine.
Most Stanford fans thought this game had some sort of potential to be a blow-out.
We just didn't think we'd be on the enjoyable end, not with the game being played in Southern California and the Cardinal coming off a thrashing of the Oregon Ducks (who dropped a not-too-stale beating on USC). We certainly didn't think it would be the Cardinal trying to run up the score, going for a two-point conversion despite a 48-21 lead.
Incidentally, let's have no illusions about this—Jim Harbaugh was most certainly trying to rub Pete Carroll's nose in it with that move. You can believe with equal certainty that, had the opposition been Northern Arizona or Temple, Harbaugh would've called off the dogs much earlier than he did.
The two-point try and final score were part of a personally tailored message to Goliath that said, "payback's a bitch."
As was every one of Toby Gerhart's punishing 178 yards and three touchdowns. I don't know what the qualifications are for the Heisman Trophy, but the Stanford running back has to be climbing the ladder of front-running candidates.
If he manages to shock the college football world by taking home the hardware, he'll owe some very large dinners to his offensive linemen. The so-called Tunnel Diggers Union should be getting some nice concessions in its next collective bargaining agreement because those monsters up front are doing work. Good work.
Red-shirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck is having an excellent campaign due to the protection afforded by the big uglies and Gerhart owes many of his yards to the same group.
Still, the most important variable in the entire equation is Harbaugh.
The new resolve and sincerity to the mission at hand starts with the head coach, then trickles down. You could see proof of it in the way each and every Stanford player finished each and every play with 100 percent effort. Whether it was the vapors of a big gain or the last couple inches of a two-yard lean forward, quit only set in after the whistle.
That was the difference and it's a direct reflection of Jim Harbaugh's pervasive personality.
Stanford will never—NEVER—have the sheer athleticism to compete with the likes of USC. But, on Saturday it proved that the team has more than enough discipline, determination, toughness, and intelligence to execute precisely.
Added to those ingredients, this football team has enough raw talent to beat anyone .
But they're no longer a sneaky little secret—a double-nickel on USC will have everyone taking notice of the Stanford Cardinal.
And that means the real tests may be yet to come.