Being a Stanford Football Fan

(Author’s Note: check out one of the recaps at ESPN or Go Mighty Card if you’re interested in the details of the game this post came from. It shouldn’t be too important, so read on if you prefer)

A few minutes after Stanford beat USC 48-38 and we had a chance to recover from triple overtime, my roommate Joe commented that it had been the “most nerve-wracking game” he had even watched. I pointed out that it was only so because we won: had we lost, it would’ve been the most devastating game ever. Cue the camera panning over fans with their hands on their hand.

This year, Stanford football, only 5 years from going 1-11, came into the season as a top-1o ranked team with aspirations for and a shot at a national championship. So far, it’s gone very well. Coming into the game last night, Stanford had won their last 10 games by more than 25 points, were on a 15 game winning streak, and, through 7 games this year, were never behind at any point in a game. It may have been close a few times, but we never needed to come from behind.

Even so, I was scared in a few games when we were only winning by less than a touchdown at the half. Unlike teams of the past, we were expected to win, and that changed my attitude towards the games. Before, I could be happy just that we were playing well and winning. Now, in a season where we could go to the Rose Bowl or beyond, each game isn’t a step forward: it’s another chance to lose.

So watching us go to the half only leading by 4 point was worrying, but being down 10 points in the 3rd quarter was frightening. And when Andrew Luck, our star quarter back, threw an interception that USC ran back for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter to put us behind by a touchdown, I had a scary realization: our season could be “over” so quickly. Everything we hoped for could disappear, and I was looking at the score on the TV by which that might happen.

But the team showed the poise that matches their tunnel vision and “one game at a time” mentality that makes them far better and stronger than their fans, many like me who are aware of every scenario for how things play out. The offense put together 4 consecutive touchdown drives (3 in OT), and the defense forced a fumble that linebacker A.J. Tarpley jumped on top of. And that was the shocking end to a game that left all fans in disbelief, some better and some worse.

I sometimes wish we were back in the old days, when the only fans were true die-hards to a team that didn’t have any big expectations. But as easy as that life was, it didn’t drive the same intensity in me. It was easy because I wasn’t invested, even if I was watching. Stanford’s upset of then #2 USC in 2007 was great, but had we lost, I’m sure I wouldn’t have any particular memories of the game. NOw, I can experience all of the highs and lows of a game developing before me, tracking other teams and feeling every moment of the season.

I would never wish a game to come as close as this last one did, but it was probably good for us. The team showed their ability to endure a long and physical game against a tough opponent. But for the fans, we felt a fear that we hadn’t really in the past 10 games. Instead of thinking to the next few games after the team had a huge lead in the first quarter, we were intently watching every moment of the game. We saw every tackle, every reception, every juke through the game. For that game, we weren’t the fans of a possible future: we were the fans of the game of football itself that we claim to be.

Dining Super Bowl Style

If my cooking blog hasn’t made it apparent, you should know that I really like food. I’m not much into truly fine-dining, and I don’t think I have any in-depth knowledge of particular cuisines or cooking techniques, but thanks to 2 sisters and a mom, I really enjoy being in the kitchen and watching The Food Network.

On truly American holidays, though, one must return to truly American cuisine. This past weekend was the Super Bowl, and I had the privilege of determining the menu to serve ~25 people. Here’s what I came up with:

  • 10 2-liters of assorted beverage
  • 6 bags of chips
  • 1 jar salsa, 1 jar queso
  • 6 Pizzas
  • 40 Pizza rolls
  • 60 Chicken wings
  • 2 bags of cookies
  • 1 Veggie Platter

When I was initially creating the list, I considered trying to find classier stuff to eat, but I quickly realized that a Super Bowl party with cauliflower quiche and sparkling apple cider simply would be as good as a bag of Doritos and a can of diet soda. When we left the grocery store with our cart-full, I realized that it was difficult to believe that anything we had bought could actually be called food. Anyways, for the most part, it went pretty well, I think, though there are some lessons in this. Let’s take an item-by-item breakdown:

Drinks

This I was particularly worried about. I found 2 answers about portions, which said about 2 2-liters per 5 people. I discovered that 1 2-liter is apparently equal to about 5.6 cans of soda, which was taken into account in buying. The breakdown went 2 bottles of coke, 2 bottles of sprite, 2 bottles of diet coke, 2 bottles of lemonade, 1 bottle of fanta, and 1 bottle of mountain dew. The coke ran out, but we had leftovers of the sprite, diet coke, and lemonade, meaning that we probably roughly had enough to drink.

Chips

6 was definitely low-balling. 2 bags of tortilla chips and 2 jars of dip was definitely the wrong ratio, but moreover, the chips went quick. The ratio I found was I think around 1 bag per 4 people. Instead, I’m going to vote that 1 bag per 3 people is the correct way to go. Besides, that gives more variety.

Pizzas

As far as dinner plans go, people only seemed interested in either a) burritos or b) pizza. Because we didn’t put in our pizza order a week before, it seemed better to not worry about delivery issues and breaking the bank, so we got frozen pizzas instead, which were extra-cheap for the Super Bowl sales. I found a few recommendations for how much to get, but ended up buying a little less since I figured that people would be full of other snacks. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed at the recommendation, being roughly 1 pizza for every 3 people.

The bigger difficulty I had, however, was that our dorm oven isn’t particularly big. It also only has 1 rack. A little overlap on the corner allowed 2 pizzas onto the 1 rack, but that’s still pretty slow. So if you’re not well-equipped, I think delivery pizza might be a better option in any case.

Pizza Rolls and Chicken Wings

I was trying to think of good, somewhat substantive junk food to eat, and that’s what I came up with. Both are very easy to pop in the oven frozen to cook, and they both went fairly quickly. The wings I got were actually of the boneless variety, but were still fine. As far as pizza rolls go, I don’t think you can get much further from real food than pizza bites. Let’s go down the ladder of foods that it evolved from:

  • Real food. Real food has a recipe.
  • Pizza. This might be an urban legend, but I believe that pizza was originally just something made at the end of the day to use up extra ingredients, which is believable.
  • American Pizza. In the land of convenience, we took the art out of it and reduced it to the key ingredients: dough, tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings (mostly meat). A friend once mentioned seeing someone use ketchup instead of tomato sauce. That doesn’t sound tasty.
  • Frozen Pizza. It’s too difficult to make real pizza, so we have them package up all the bits, and we just throw it in the oven.
  • Chicken tenders. Too difficult to prepare the chicken. Just bread it and deep fry.
  • Chicken nuggets. Mix the chicken in with something starchy and bread it, and freeze it. Comes in nice bite-size chunks that can be eaten with fingers.

And so frozen pizza + chicken nuggets = pizza rolls. So probably not real food, but it’s okay: they’re still delicious.

2 bags of cookies

I figured we should have something sweet to balance out all of the salty. These ran out fairly early as well, so I think I would double the amount of sweet to bring along.

1 Veggie Platter

This was my token attempt to ensure that not everything we were eating would shorten our lives. I think it failed, because the ranch dip it came with was pretty good as well.

So that was that. It was educational in terms of figuring out how much people eat and will certainly help with future party-planning. I think the #1 lesson, though, is that in these things, don’t lowball. Real food is expensive. Fortunately, nothing we bought was expensive. I don’t think anyone would’ve complained about an extra bag or two of chips to stash away for a later snack, so here’s the rule I’ll be running with from now on:

Determine how much food to get. Get 25% more than that.

The Aftermath of Big Game

I woke up yesterday morning on the the couch. Not the bad sort of waking up on the couch, but the two-room double and not wanting to be in the bedroom sort of waking up. The sun through the window told and scolded me for sleeping in, but Daylight Savings Time meant that I had no idea what time it actually was. Rolling over, I grabbed my watch, saw “10:00,” and decided that the couch really wasn’t comfortable enough to keep sleeping. Besides, it was game day.

Stanford football generally isn’t a big deal, but for at least one day every two year, it is. Near the end of our season, we play “Big Game” against our rival across the bay, Cal, and students who don’t care about Stanford football will consider showing up. Given that it was a home game and that student tickets are free, it seems like a good idea.

That wasn’t me, however. Not this year. Maybe the rain, problem sets, and simultaneous IM Ultimate games kept me from the few home games we had last year, but I was going to pay attention this time. This year, I have been following Stanford football, going to all of the home games, staying till the game is over (not necessarily when time runs out, mind you), reading ESPN coverage after the game, reading more in the Stanford Daily, and raving about Toby Gerhart (resident of an adjacent dorm and frequent sight at the dining hall) and Andrew Luck (product of Stratford High School, about 10 minutes down I-10 from home) to whoever will listen. Coming off huge victories against both Oregon and USC and a #14 ranking, the team and school were pumped. We talked about it quietly not wanting to jinx it, but I heard that we might even have a shot at the Rose Bowl if the dominoes fell.

My floormates and I had discussed when we wanted to be where and ended up at the Treehouse for lunch at noon. In thanks for our appearance at enough previous games, Lee, Alex, Joe, and I all had enough points to get priority seating for Big Game. Though the game would start at 4:30, the blessed with priority seating could get in at 2:30, far before general admission at 3:45. Not even that was good enough for us, though, so after meeting Jenni at the Treehouse as well, we left around 1 to get in line for seats. We arrived before most and were only maybe 10 meters away from the gate. Our patience paid off, and we got seats in the student section closest to the middle, about 8 rows up from the field. Two hours, a stuffed student section, and sunset later, we had Big Game.

It was disappointing. We started quickly with Toby running 61 yards for a TD and a blocked punt putting us in great field position for another TD, but otherwise, the offense only looked so-so. With only 70ish passing yards by the 3rd quarter, 3 dropped snaps, and facing off with one of the best rush defenses in the nation, the score was generous for the performance.

The end looked good, though. A minute and a half, our ball on the Cal 13, and we’re down 6 points. 1st play, Luck drops back, sees nothing, rolls to the right, sort of sees something, incomplete. 2nd play, Luck drops back, quickly tosses one right over the middle into the hands of a linebacker, and like that, the game is over.

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh knows a lot more about football than me, but the consensus seems to be that that was not a good call. Just after we got the first down, Alex looks at me excitedly and tells me that we can run the ball. I agree. Given the history (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Play) of Big Game, we don’t want any time left for last minute heroics. Although Luck made some great passes down the stretch in the 4th quarter, that wasn’t going well. Toby Gerhart averages far above the requisite 3 yards per carry and had been great for us all game, scoring all 4 TDs up till then.

We were shocked. It all happened really quickly, and we left almost immediately.

It was because we got our hopes up. Two years ago, a loss would’ve been disappointing, but not devastating, since the team wasn’t doing as well. Last year, a win would’ve gotten us bowl eligible, but only barely. This year, we had seen the path to the Rose Bowl, but it all crumbled.

We got back to the dorm hungry and quickly decided that an In-N-Out run was the only way to end the day. By the time we got back, it was 10:00, and we were all tired.

I certainly won’t look back on today with happiness, but maybe with fondness, because it was a lot of fun. I lived in Texas for a long time, but only this year has it dawned on me that football really can be as big as some make it out to be. Friday night football game (plus tailgate if you’re Katy High School), Saturday college football, and Sunday pro football. For 10 weeks, you can just watch football.

And for some students, my 10 hour day is probably a weekly ordeal. UT and A&M football matter a lot. What a way to live. I can see why they do it, because (even more when it’s a part of campus culture) it’s a lot of fun.

After the game, Lee mentioned feeling more let down by the game than ever before, to which Alex pointed out that the disappointment is a part of being a real fan. As usual, he drew upon his great corpus of historical examples, including Brett Favre throwing an interception for the loss on the way to a Super Bowl. Although I loathe allowing Alex’s sports analogies to lead to real insight, I think I can accept his wisdom in matters of fandom. It’s great to wear around a Texas hoodie and root for them, but they’re my safe bet because I’m pretty sure that they will never disappoint. Being a fan truly is about feeling the loss as well. I’ll remember the loss forever, I’m sure, but I’ll also remember Andrew Luck running and not sliding for the first down, Richard Sherman picking the ball at the 3rd yard line, howling on Cal possessions, joking about poor clothing choices for a nippy game, running after getting through the gate to the seat, and standing in line behind people with wet body paint that I wanted nowhere near me.

It was bad for us, but the moral of the story is that sour grapes makes the world go round. For the dominoes to fall, Arizona needed to beat Oregon, and that didn’t happen. Moreover, we didn’t miss out on the most. Arizona fans were apparently standing on the sidelines, waiting to rush the field with 6 seconds to go when Oregon scored to send it to overtime. Triple OT later, they lost.

Did I mention that an Arizona win would send them to the Rose Bowl?

It could’ve been worse.

Stanford 20, Cal 13

Last week of regular season college football, and for many college students, it’s huge. At Stanford, it’s Big Game week. We play our rival, Cal (UC Berkeley), in a crazy game for possession of “The Axe.” The most famous game was played exactly 25 years ago, where Stanford took the lead with 4 seconds on the clock. In an amazing (yet controversial) play, Cal returned the kickoff for a touchdown for the win, in “The Play.”

I’m not big on rivalries. I think it brings out the worst in people. I’m all for cheering for your favorite team, but when it turns to booing the opposition, that’s just nasty. I remember how my high school had a rivalry turn full-on last year, with our game being featured as the high school game of the week. People became very intense about it, and it felt over-the-top. We became highly opposed to people who were no different from us, minus living 15 minutes away in a different zone. And many of them were our friends.

College, naturally, isn’t any better. Turned somewhat belligerent, actually, including some very popular “Cal Sucks” shirts and cars driving around yelling profanities at pedestrians.

Regardless, the game itself was very exciting. Somewhat cold, but close, with many moments. The game was really just a game like any other, though, except that there were Stanford fans. And they cared. The crowd has been somewhat disappointing to me up to now. Mayhaps I have unrealistic expectations about football from having experienced high school football in Texas. Hopefully, though, this win will turn things around next season, and people will care. They certainly cared when we rushed the field. That was very crazy.

The most significant point for me, though, was watching the Cal marching band. Unlike the Stanford marching band (a scatter band), the Cal marching band is at least somewhat serious about marching. They actually march, and have a drilled show. It was actually very entertaining, with a show and music focused around video games.

I love the Stanford marching band. They have a lot of fun, are the most-spirited group for our sports teams, are well-liked, and just make the campus fun. For myself, however, marching band is closer to what I saw from Cal. But life moves on. Can’t cling to and try to emulate high school marching band forever. Better a clean cut than to slowly lose it.

So the other big event of the day was “Big Concert.” A couple weeks ago, it was advertised as having a group called “The Roots” to come perform. Seeing as it would be hopefully an action-packed weekend, I paid for my ticket and decided to try it out.

Only a couple days ago did I learn that they were a hip-hop group. I’ve never listened to hip-hop before. Heck, I’ve never been to a live concert for a non-orchestral/big band jazz/wind ensemble concert before. I listened to a couple of their recordings, and definitely wasn’t amazed by it.

Regardless, I went to the concert tonight as I once again proved my poor understanding of sunk costs. Fortunately, I was totally wrong about my expected utility. That was a seriously rocking concert. I became more leery as I listened to some openers play hip-hop and not particularly enjoy it. “The Roots”, however, are a hip-hop fusion group, with some jazz and funk and other stuff thrown in. The group had the typical vocals, guitar, bassist, drummer, but also had a keyboard player, percussionist (temple blocks and bongos, I think), and a souaphone player. Yes, a tuba.

The sound blew me away. Well, physically, it was, like all live concerts nowadays, not only aural but also kinesthetic as the bass vibrated my clothing (I thought I was going to have a heart attack, because it felt like my entire abdomen was shaking). Past that, the concert had just about everything in it. They mashed a lot of stuff in, including “The Hey Song”, a lick from “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” and that “Tonto, Jump on it” song, and tons more I didn’t recognize. “Jungle Boogie” was prominently featured at the end, and there was even a great section focused around a Bob Dylan song. Some amazing stuff, including a drum solo enhanced with playback.

And I just can’t say enough about the tuba player. How cool. When I switched from trumpet to tuba, I had this conception that I would be in a sore spot, as the tuba doesn’t really have much appeal across genres. But it’s cool to know it happens, and is appreciated. Of course, he was miked, but even so, he toughed out about a 2 hour concert playing very loudly.

It was just a great concert though. It definitely proved to me that there is tons of great music out there, even in the contemporary stuff. Over the past couple years, I’ve shut out a lot of music as I’ve felt that music is just degrading, and that pop is ruining our minds. Never listened to rap, never listened to hip-hop, thought it was trash, to be blunt. How glad I am to have been proven wrong. I don’t see myself becoming a crazy hip-hop fan in the coming days, but it’s still good to open doors.