For this week’s “Game of the Century,” you are presented a team with the longest major college football winning streak in the land, the Heisman Trophy favorite and the early morning arrival of that “look at me, Ma” presentation, ESPN’s “GameDay.”
Yes, as the Stanford band plays, it’s all right now.
Only 4½ years ago, however, it was all wrong.
“The culture has changed a lot,” said Andrew Luck, the quarterback who will be next spring’s No. 1 NFL draft pick whether or not he’s this season’s Heisman winner. “I don’t want to say it’s because of my [entering] class, but yeah, it’s fun.”
It’s Stanford, which hasn’t lost in 17 games, against Oregon, the last team to defeat the Cardinal, on Oct. 2, 2010.
It’s hype against hip-hop. It’s No. 3 (Stanford), against No. 6 (Oregon), Saturday at sold-out Stanford Stadium.
It’s a situation which in the spring of 2007, a few weeks after Jim Harbaugh became coach of Stanford, might have been judged impossible. And not only because the Cardinal had been 1-11 in 2006.
Admission standards were uncompromising.
Tom Williams, a Stanford star and deposed assistant, said the future was scary.
“I see Stanford being a l-AA program,” was his prediction, “if things don’t change.”
They changed dramatically because of Harbaugh, the man who took over for him this year, David Shaw, and a lot of stars, including Luck, now a redshirt junior.
They changed, and a student body of intellects who had suffered from rampant lack of interest — Tiger Woods said he was just another person on the Stanford campus — also changed.
“To see a full stadium, that’s fun,” Luck said. “No one wants to play in an empty stadium. Fans traveling down to SC to watch games. Maybe people go around campus congratulating you more than they used to.”
Stanford — the school, not the team — has always been sportingly schizophrenic. When it’s Harvard, it wants to be LSU (but not USC). When it’s Alabama, it wants to be MIT.
Back in the early 1970s, after the Cardinal went to back-to-back Rose Bowls, some of the faculty was embarrassed. Oh, what will the profs at Chicago say?
What Luck says is that it’s exciting to be associated with Stanford.
“This big game atmosphere is great,” he said of the first appearance on the Stanford campus of the “GameDay” setup with Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Fowler and Lee Corso.
“It’s part of being a quality football team. You want to play games like this, but you try not to get caught up in it,” Luck said.
One of his teammates, linebacker Jarek Lancaster, said in the spring he had circled the date of Saturday’s game on a calendar, a reminder of the 52-31 loss to Oregon last season.
Andrew Luck did not do anything so emphatic.
“I don’t have a calendar,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t have a watch on me. But I know my classes.”
He also knows Oregon. Asked his impressions of the Ducks, he said, “First off, I’m impressed. They put points on the board.”
As does Stanford, along with putting people in the seats. It’s all right now.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.