The Best and Worst of Football

This past weekend, I watched 2 entire football games and saw 1 touchdown. For reference, a typical football game will have maybe 6 touchdowns. Between 2 games over 7 hours, I saw 1 guy with the football in his hands in the endzone. Rough.

I watched the first game in-person at my 5-year college reunion, where Stanford lost to Colorado. I will not attempt to summarize the game any better than ESPN: “Sloppy Colorado holds off equally bad Stanford 10-5“. I watched the second game over pizza at my friend Tom’s place, where the Seahawks and Cardinals managed to both fail to win the game and ended in a 6-6 tie. Neither game had much of a highlight reel, and yet, I had very different feelings about both games. Continue reading “The Best and Worst of Football”

Our Stanford Football Traditions

This past weekend, college football season returned, and as a loyal Stanford football fan, I had my season tickets to show up to our 45-0 walloping of UC Davis in sweltering heat (by our Northern California standards) with 49,000 fans in attendance. It’s exciting to be back.

Maybe it has always been like this, but it seems like college football is currently under a lot of scrutiny for policies, including NCAA abusing its privilege, unionization and pay for student-athletes, corporate interests and structure of post-season bowl/tournament play, concerns over the health of players, and more. As a guy who just wants to root for his own team, however, I scuttle past that just to enjoy the experience. When I interact with a limited number of people on a daily basis, it’s a big change to have a regular event in the fall to participate in something bigger.

Furthermore, sports breed traditions, rituals, and superstitions. From the individual to the local group to the community levels, we construct our own experiences, and I thought I would share a few from my group of game-attending friends.

Not Tailgating

Maybe this will change this season, but we don’t tailgate. As a student, I was never a member of a group that did tailgate, so that tradition never carried over for me. Seeing as it’s a great American tradition, however, I wonder whether our gameday experience would be enhanced by it.

The Michael Thomas Play of the Game

Michael Thomas is a recently-graduated Stanford alumnus who now plays as a safety (defense who stands in the back) for the Dolphins. He’s made it to play in the NFL, and he was good for us too, but what I best remember from him was his penchant for running with dead balls. In football, the defense can pick up dropped balls and run in the opposite direction to score, but only if the play isn’t already declared over. There’s a little bit of wiggle room, but Thomas had a generous interpretation and would take off with balls on obviously dead plays. It worked just often enough (see Stanford-UCLA 2010) to reinforce this belief, but it often looked ridiculous. As such, we have come to naming the “Michael Thomas Play of the Game” when a Stanford defensive player picks up and runs with an obviously dead ball.

Imitating the Quarterback Audible

When the offense sets their formation, the quarterback will often take a look at the defensive formation and may choose to change the play at that time. This is called an audible. Different quarterbacks indicate it differently, but our favorite comes from Stanford, when the quarterback yells something like, “Kill kill kill!” and does a strange sort of chicken flapping action with elbows and arms tucked in, hands pointing out from the shoulders, then poking outwards.

Tacos El G Season

I have started to refer to college football season as “Tacos El G” season since we transitioned into a post-game tradition of going to Taqueria El Grullense after games. The restaurant is a dive, but the food seems good and authentic. The wet green/red burritos are quite popular among us, and if it was a hot day, I will usually get horchata as well.

Now that I enumerate a few of them, perhaps there aren’t as many as I thought there were. Perhaps I’ll count season tickets as a tradition in their own right. What really seems to matter here is the regularity and the comfort and cohesiveness that the activity brings. Maybe football (and sports as a whole) are ridiculous, but at least I’m participating in something bigger.

Crumbs

I have a few things to share that I considered writing full posts on. When I thought through the result, however, the result would likely be tedious and overanalyzed, so I’m bunching them instead.

Return to Baldur’s Gate

My favorite video game series is Baldur’s Gate, and the first game has been re-released as “Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition” by a new team doing an overhaul. The updates are minor, though, and the real benefit is a reason to play the game again. It’s a roleplaying game based on the rules of Dungeons & Dragons where you control an adventuring party of humans, dwarves, elves, and the like to go on quests, kill monsters, and follow along the main story.

A lot of my enthusiasm for the game is nostalgia, but the game is works differently than RPGs being developed today. One trend recently has been more towards action RPGs, which rely more on twitchy reflexes to hit monsters or trigger abilities. Another trend has been towards open worlds and customization, where you can freely explore expansive planets and countrysides and play the game as you like. For me, both of these changes result in less interesting gameplay. Action RPGs often become repetitive as you find one way to kill monsters and do it over and over. Open worlds tend to have more bland interactions since the game can’t refine a particular path to something unique.

I would describe Baldur’s Gate more, but I think it would be more meaningful if you just found a gameplay video online somewhere if you really care. Definitely give it a shot if either of my thoughts above resonates with you.

Superstition at the Pac-12 Championship Game

Stanford football will be returning to the Rose Bowl this season after a hard-fought game against UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship. Thanks to my friends who are better fans than I am, I did end up attending the game, which was nerve-wracking enough to make it worth watching in-person.

We had just played UCLA the week before and won by a large margin, but this game was more back-and-forth. Through the first 3 quarters, I became very superstitious. Somehow, I determined that things were going better for us when I had my raincoat on instead of off. Then I determined that my raincoat just favored the team on offense, so I was taking it on and off a lot. Then I determined that I had actually gotten it backwards and needed my raincoat off.

At some point in the second half, I realized that my sudden superstition was really just me exhibiting anxiety about the game. In a scary situation where we might have come so close to the Rose Bowl and then lost it, I was trying to find something that I could control and change the result in my favor. Until then, I didn’t trust the team to do it on their own, and that was a problem, so for the rest of the game, I left my raincoat on and put my confidence in the team. That was confidence well-placed.

Benefits of Living Alone

My place is still mostly unfurnished at the moment, which means that I’m not in a position to be welcoming roommates yet. It’s strange, but it’s also liberating to be entirely and only responsible to myself in my living space. Here are a few things I have been able to do that I would be able to otherwise:

  • Leaving candy wrappers on the floor because no one else is around to step on them or get annoyed
  • Moving an end table into the washroom for 10 minutes so I can use my laptop while on the john
  • Never closing my bedroom door, even when I’m sleeping
  • Dragging my mattress into my living room to lie in bed and watch StarCraft being projected onto a blank wall, then going to bed

Overall, it’s not that bad, though I may become very eccentric if left alone for too long.

Digging into the Stanford-Oregon Outcome

(I started this Sunday but didn’t finish it until today)

Before the football game started yesterday, I was certain that #13 Stanford was going lose to #2 Oregon. I had watched our team go into the Oregon game with high hopes the two previous years and been flustered by their strategy and burned by their speed. Despite promising play from Kevin Hogan, our new quarterback, and solid defense all season, I didn’t see anything to make me feel significantly better about our chances than previous years. I was certain we would lose big. Just as certain as us losing to USC earlier this season.

If you were unaware, I was completely wrong about this as we won in overtime, 17-14. This was one of the best games I have watched, and it has a much larger impact than just adding a win for our team. It changes the possibilities for the national championship game. After then #1 Alabama lost to Texas A&M las week, the remaining three undefeated teams (Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame) became the frontrunners for one of those 2 slots to go to the national championship game and win it all. After ‘Bama lost, there was outcry about the rankings among them since the #3 team presumably would be left out.

That thinking was premature as Oregon lost to us and Kansas State lost to Baylor. Notre Dame slid up to #1, and the championship berth is their’s to lose. More surprisingly, ‘Bama is back at #2, which is a tremendous turnaround from the belief that their dreams were over after the loss to Texas A&M. I’m honestly somewhat disappointed to see a SEC team (‘Bama) back in the championship game because the SEC is an overrated conference, in my opinion. Although they’re the best, I don’t think the PAC-12 gets the respect it deserves in conversation. Still, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. There are still 2 weeks of games left, and this all is only big news because we made assumptions about how the rest of the games would happen.

Setting aside the national impact, this game was huge for Stanford because it was an upset. Since I had already assumed that Stanford would lose to Oregon, our only shot at Rose Bowl would be a win over UCLA this upcoming week and the good graces of BCS organizers to pick Stanford for the Rose Bowl (in that scenario, Oregon finishes undefeated and goes to the national championship game). Now, we “control our own destiny” and can make it to the Rose Bowl by defeating UCLA this upcoming weekend and then again in the PAC-12 championship game the week after. The season after our star quarterback Andrew Luck left, it’s quite surprising to see us in the hunt again.

It’s been a rough season for Stanford fans, but as my friend George points out, it’s only because we’re extremely fair-weathered fans. 2 games into the season, fans were down about the prospects of the season, despite having won both of those games. We were reenergized after beating USC, then feeling terrible again after losing to Washington. We’re now quite excited after beating Oregon, but a loss soon could lead to a lot of disappointment despite a very good season. This fickleness shows that our fan base is neither strong nor mature. It’s surprising when a now top 10 team can’t fill the stadium. For homecoming.

There are the usual excuses. Stanford excels in athletics, but its students are largely more academically focused. Palo Alto doesn’t have the composition that leads to great devotion to local sports teams. A few years of mediocrity before our recent rise kills a lot of spirit. Being a fan, however, is sticking through all of that and appreciating the results as they come.

Even more narrowly than the team is the best part of the outcome: redemption for our sophomore kicker, Jordan Williamson. Williamson went into the Fiesta Bowl last season 13/16 (81%) on field goals. At the Fiesta Bowl, under the most pressure, he went 0/3, including critical misses at the end that would’ve won us the game. For his final kick, I still had complete faith he would make it since he had been “lights out” all season. He didn’t, and we lost.

Prior to this game, he was 12/20 (60%) this season. For the fans, it has felt far worse, and an unreliable kicker is extremely stressful. It’s even more stressful for the kicker, and given his performance last year, it seemed like he was still carrying the guilt of the Fiesta Bowl loss, and it has costed us a game this season. Still, there’s nothing else I could do as a fan than offer complete support in his ability. In overtime, Williamson lined up for a game-winning field goal, and I knew he would make it. And he did.

Not everyone has forgiven Williamson for the Fiesta Bowl, but I did a long time ago, and that kick demonstrated that he can kick under pressure. In a game-winning situation in one of the toughest stadiums (Autzen Stadium) against the second best team in the country, he delivered, not only for the team, but for himself. Placekickers in football are only placed in often unexpected, but almost always high-pressure situations, and mental preparedness is key. I hope he can carry on and returns to his old form again.

I’m not an athlete, though I played and play many sports. I’m not a face-painting, die-hard fan, but I certainly feel the ups and downs. In some ways, following sports is somewhat pointless: the same things happen year after year, there’s a lot of thought spent on something that doesn’t meaningfully progress the world (at a high level), and it tends to bring out the worst in us. However, sports also show us how assumptions can lead to the wrong places, what the meaning of devotion is, what redemption can mean, and more. Sports are an opportunity for us to face the challenges of real life in a safe environment, and maybe the lessons can help outside the sidelines as well.

My Stanford-USC Game Day

It’s 8AM, and I don’t want to get up. I’m supposed to be at the Band Shak between 9 and 9:30, so I should leave and bike to Stanford by 8:45. It’ll take maybe 10 minutes to get ready, so I should be done with breakfast by 8:35. And I have oatmeal in the fridge, so maybe another 20 minutes to eat breakfast and digest, which puts me at 8:15. I set my alarm for 8:05 and flop back into my pillow.

I park my bike near the stadium since I know there are spots there and am uncertain whether there are more any closer to the Shak. As I walk over, I check the time and see that I have plenty of time, and other band members still haven’t left for rehearsal. Walking past the bike parking spots beside the Band Shak door, I head up to the second floor to put my backpack down and grab a sousaphone. None of the other “toobz” are there, so I wait to take my instrument off the hook and relax after my bike ride and before the morning rehearsal.

The morning rehearsal is mostly the same as the first rehearsal I went to on Wednesday. We warm up by playing another chart that I have difficulty finding in the flip folder I was given. So far, the music hasn’t been too tough. Playing tuba is actually quite lucky in this circumstance since tubas often get repetitive bass lines, so once I learn the fingerings and rhythms of 2 bars, I can play more than half of a song. A very nice bari sax player keeps me

Giancarlo, the director of the Wind Ensemble, next rehearses the national anthem with us. I witness the trumpet soloist having his focus tested in a very disturbing manner and am only somewhat comforted to know that I have now seen a band tradition happen. We play the national anthem, which mostly goes well. Giancarlo singles out the tubas as slowing down through one measure, insisting that we need to “watch [his] hands, not listen”. Garrett, the section leader, is very confident that he was watching, and from where I am, I agree. Maybe there are some phasing issues since we’re at the back of the band. After he runs through the measure a few times with us, we play it one last time, then move on to rehearsing the show.

Well, almost. The saxes are currently following our drum major around the practice field while seeming to improvise a little diddy. Ben, a former roommate and longtime band member, wanders over and wonders out loud whether they plan these sort of distractions. For coming together spontaneously, they sound really good.

Rehearsing the field show goes roughly like how I remembered. We receive printouts of the formation and move between them as necessary. The obvious difference from high school is that the LSJUMB is a scatter band, not a traditional marching band, so we don’t need to practice marching between the formations as much. Even so, we move, play, move, play, and run the show over a few times to work on details. We get some direction from the guys on top of the tower about staying together as we play, moving people around to make the formations look better, and other details. It all feels pretty familiar.

That is probably also helped by the marching we actually have in this show. The USC Trojan Marching Band is a traditional marching band with all of the unnecessary flourishes. Their band can cover the whole field (and even has reserves because there are so many), sometimes marches knees high, and is led by a guy dressed in armor. As part of our show, half of the band participates in the “Spirit of Stanford” band, which marches onto the field, knees high and instruments swinging, in a box while playing our own take on “Tribute to Troy”. I not very reluctantly offer to participate in this half of the band.

The last run-through is a little rough. We’ve been rehearsing for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, and I’m remembering all of the aches of playing. My lips are tired, and I’m cracking more notes that I can’t quite hang onto. I’m trying to keep the sousaphone rested on my right shoulder as much as possible so that it hurts the least while playing. I’m skipping most of the playing by now, only playing when it’s an exposed part.

We break and are told to come back in 2 or 3 hours for pre-game activities. I head over to Ike’s to meet up with my usual football-going gang. Although this game is certainly all sold out, we all have season tickets and are very excited for the game. I’m convinced we’re going to lose. More convinced than perhaps ever before. When we weren’t as good when I was an underclassmen, any game could be a pleasant surprise. When I was an upperclassmen, we were good enough to challenge any team. This year, however, we seem to have taken a step back into the 10-25ish range, while USC has a Heisman-hopeful QB and two of the best wide receivers around. We’re good, and I think we’ll challenge them this game, but I don’t see us pulling through. Still, my eggplant sandwich is very good.

Having already picked up my vest after rehearsal, I only need to get a hat and tie to complete my uniform. Garrett hands me an extra tie as I button up my white shirt. The tie has dollar bills printed on it. Did I mention we’re playing USC today?

We walk over to the Alumni Center where we rank up. I expect the toobz to move to the back of the band, but instead, my section seems to be in front of everyone. The bari sax player explains that we give everyone high fives as they march past, then form up behind them. I get lots of high fives, fall in, and move towards the stadium with the rest of the band. This also is very reminiscent: although we aren’t all marching in pairs and precisely in time, there are lots of cheers and small dance moves as we go. Suddenly, Garrett starts counting down, and the section scatters. I begin running too, vaguely following some of the others who are darting in-between (mostly) stopped cars. I keep looking around, hoping I don’t miss the cue to rank up again. I make it back without injury though slightly out of breath.

We form arcs just outside some of the tailgaters and begin playing. The next song is indicated with a signal, often cryptic, just like the flip folder titles. Although I can only find about a fourth of the songs, I manage to make it through anyways by watching the fingers of the other toobz. This, however, becomes much harder when we’re supposed to wander into the crowd. It’s also much harder to improvise my part when there are 5 others around me playing over my mistakes.

We play at another couple tailgates, and it all goes by in a flash. There was another song where we needed to wander into the crowd, though I figured out that part pretty quickly. I miss a lot more notes and play in a few places when I’m not supposed to. I’m beginning to see why the band doesn’t always sound great: people like me legitimately don’t know what’s going on half the time. I guess I can’t complain too much about it, though, now that I’m the problem. Besides, were the band stricter, I couldn’t have joined on a whim and perform a few days later. Amidst all of my confusion, the other toobz help me out a lot, and it’s a ton of fun. There’s a lot of dancing going on, and I try to copy, though I don’t think I quite have all of the moves figured out as the rest of the section does. There’s a lot of energy, and it’s great to be playing again.

After a break, we’ve entered the stadium. The national anthem goes fine, and the Trojan band performs their pregame show first. Watching them on the field, I’m actually not very impressed. Their formations and marching aren’t difficult, and they don’t actually look very good from the sideline. And given their size, their not the wall of sound I was expecting. Meanwhile, the band around me is heckling them. I don’t really get into that but am amused anyways.

We run on for our pregame show. This experience is actually one of the calmer parts of the day because for 10 minutes, I know exactly what is supposed to happen. I actually still don’t know what the show was about, but I get everywhere I’m supposed to be and play the right cuts.

The game is finally starting. After years of lazy days leading up to game time, I can’t believe how much I have already done before kickoff. The first quarter goes by, and it feels fine. The offense doesn’t look great, but our defense appears to hold well, and we’re tied. In the meantime, I think I’ve missed almost every song we play in the stands. I actually have missed at least the beginning of most songs today. The song gets called out, then I need to ask someone what it is, then I put the sousaphone on, then I fish my mouthpiece out of my pocket, then I unsuccessfully look for the music in my flip folder, and look at that: we’ve already 10 bars in. I guess I’ll just watch the fingers of the guy next to me and listen to figure it out.

It’s halftime, and we’re on the field again. There’s another uninspiring performance by the Trojan Band, and then it’s our turn. I march on with the “Spirit of Stanford” band, trying to high step (though I was later told by my friends that I wasn’t doing it close to the same degree as anyone else). At the beginning of the next song with a loud opening for the 3 toobz on the “Spirit of Stanford” side, I horribly crack one of the notes. My lips don’t feel bad, but I’m definitely tired after the morning rehearsal and pregame shenanigans. I resolve to play the rest of the notes with sforzando.

I scatter at the end of the last song, then remember that I was supposed to skip off the field. Whoops.

We form up around the tunnel as the football team reenters the field. The “William Tell Overture” is next, and it’s actually really hard as we’re moving quickly to our corner, and I can’t see our drum major or hear anyone. In the future, I’ll reserve all criticism for how it sounds.

We get food vouchers after half-time, and I get food. While eating the garlic fries, I feel like a normal fan for a few minutes. The game appears to be going well, though it’s been very low scoring.

We have the ball back with about 8 minutes left on the clock and up by a touchdown. The clock cannot possibly count down fast enough, but we’re definitely burning up the rest of the time. We get a few first downs, though we do stall. The Trojans get the ball back deep in their own territory with just a few minutes left.

Sack. Sack. Incomplete pass. I, along with most of the stadium, is freaking out. What I thought was an unwinnable game is looking to end with us on top. So much for Matt Barkley looking for revenge. It’s hard to believe that a class of Stanford students went through 4 years without having lost to USC.

We start playing the victory mix of “All Right Now”. Thankfully, it’s not a hard piece, and I can play it without music. It’s the end of the day, so I’m playing full volume since I don’t have to save it for anything else. We play the alma mater next, then play another set of songs.

Meanwhile, the crowd is on the field, though I don’t really notice them. I’m either trying to watch someone else’s fingerings or fumbling through my flip folder. It does look like there’s a big party going on, though, and I’m absolutely a fan. Right now, though, I can’t imagine a better way to party than playing tuba and dancing as part of a band.

It’s over. Security begins ushering people off of the field, and the band ranks up to leave the stadium. My friends wander over to meet Ben and me and plan our escape. We decide to skip ranking up and head straight for the Shak so we can move on to post-game food at our usual dive.

We’re sitting around, and most of us have burritos. I myself am not very hungry and just have the largest cup of horchata they have and to rehydrate. I had forgotten how much playing takes out of you, though I’m still very amped about the result of the game. We talk over all the details: the amazing scrambles from Nunes, the USC wide receivers, stats from the game, results of the other games, and where might end up in the rankings.

After hanging out a bit longer, I’m back home past midnight. Although I’m quite gross after a day of running around and playing, I can’t quite settle down, so I surf the web. My ears are ringing a bit, and I still have a couple of my parts stuck in my head. Getting a chance to play with the band was amazing after being away from an ensemble and the instrument for about 3 years and away from marching for almost 6 years. With the surprise win over USC, this is definitely one of the most personally fulfilling days I’ve had.

I’m glad I decided to come back to tuba for this one game and have no regrets about it. Maybe this will be a one-and-done experience. Over dinner, someone asked me whether I would do band again. “Maybe,” I said. At the moment, I’m not thinking I will, but having used just about every excuse and reason to avoid it for the 5 years I was still a student at Stanford, maybe is non-zero.

My Life in Sandwiches

Last week, Julie and I got around to visiting The Melt, a startup grilled cheese restaurant. Well, the “startup” claim might be a stretch: I think their claim to the title is their fancy grilled cheese making machine invented especially for this purpose that makes their preassembled sandwiches a breeze to prepare. And having tasted 2 of their offerings (Julie and I go halfsies on all meals), I have determined that it was probably all just a bunch of hype. If you want a grilled cheese sandwich in the Bay Area, the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is in SOMA and is far better.

I have actually ended up at a lot of sandwich places in the area. For a summer, George and I made a dedicated effort to try the pizza places in Palo Alto. For a few years, Julie and I have made a dedicated effort to try the sandwich places in Palo Alto because she’s always excited to try and never forgets the opportunity for a new sandwich.

Not to say I’m opposed. In some ways, I feel like my life was destined towards sandwich enjoyment. For 12 years, my regular school lunch was a sandwich packed by my mom. In retrospect, the offering was somewhat simple: it was usually a single thin slice of some cold cut and a piece of romaine lettuce between 2 slices of bread, once homemade but then store-bought once we moved to Houston. On good days, I would also get a slice of cheese, usually havarti. In that time, I became a huge fan of corned beef, but came to dislike turkey (since it was often kind of slimy).

The summer after my freshmen year, I became aware of other sandwich methods as George would use more meat and sometimes put Kraft singles in his sandwiches, too. I became a fan of the former, if not the latter, but more importantly, I realized that sandwiches could have more variety than I had eaten before. The summer after, Leland added cured meats to his sandwiches in addition to the primary meat, which added another dimension. Last summer, I started making vegetarian sandwiches, and tomatoes, which I had once disliked (probably why my mom’s sandwiches for me were so simple), became a mainstay. And this summer, I started regularly adding mayo to my sandwiches. After 12 years of almost daily sandwiches, I think I’m far beyond ever getting tired of them, and clearly there are always new things to change up the experience.

In case you’re ever on campus for the day, or maybe if you’re tired of Stanford Dining, I made a map of the sandwich places I’ve tried. Most are heartily endorsed, so let me know if you ever need a companion to go along!


View Sandwiches around Stanford in a larger map

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.

Trick-Or-Treating

The last Halloween I remember partaking in was 3rd grade when I was still in Toronto. I am faint of heart with neither the constitution nor desire for scary movies or haunted houses, so the opportunities of coming face-to-face with zombies at a party or being ambushed on private property aren’t particularly prized. This year, however, I ended up dressing up under the condition that I wouldn’t need to work to hard to make it happen, and I would not sacrifice my warmth on a chilly and potentially rainy day. I decided to go as a “news flash” by taping newspaper to my shirt, putting on a robe on top, and occasionally opening up my robe for a moment. Visual puns shoot for the groan: nothing more, nothing less.

Most of the Halloween parties on-campus were Saturday night, which I decided to skip since they are composed of “Halloween” and “parties.” On Sunday night, I went trick-or-treating in the faculty ghetto with Julie, her roommate, and her roommate’s boyfriend. Given my uneasiness with Halloween, this choice makes even less sense given that I didn’t really want the candy that much, either.

One candy-giver asked us if we weren’t too old to be trick-or-treating. And I kind of thought he was right. My effort in costume-making alone deserved no candy. If I really wanted the candy, I can buy the candy on my own, which probably means that I’m too old now. At one house, an elementary age girl dressed as a cat handed out candy to us. In all, I feel a little guilty about the whole experience, and it’s not quite clear why I enjoyed it so much.

I have quickly ruled out nostalgia simply because as a kid, I seriously just wanted the candy. Otherwise, I don’t see much being inherently good about Halloween. New Year’s is a time to reflect and blow things up, Thanksgiving has the food and company, April’s Fools has fun pranks, and Christmas has the spirit of giving if you incorrectly think that presents aren’t intrinsically good. I accept that costumes and candy might be a big appeal for others, but I wasn’t feeling it.

We had Unspecial Dinner in our House on Saturday night. Special Dinner is a tradition in houses around here to have a themed, dress-up classy dinner, so Unspecial Dinner was costumes and unclassy dinner of In-N-Out and Taco Bell. We had candy at the table, too, and the experience wasn’t particularly significant to me. Take away the costumes, candy, and food, and I think dinner would have been about the same to me.

But not Sunday night. Take away the candy and costumes, and my night was still different than it would have been otherwise. Without those formalities, trick-or-treaters wouldn’t have much reason to be ringing doorbells all evening, but it certainly would be something different. I can’t imagine any other reason I would have been walking around faculty housing with a troop of friends.

Strangely, we ended up at the homes of 2 psychology faculty members, one of whom I see on the stairwell regularly but awkwardly never speak to, and the other who I have talked to once when he was trying to figure out how to arrange furniture in the office he would soon be taking from me. In the latter case, I tried to hide in the back, feeling guilty about the whole experience. But maybe not. Were I to pop into his office randomly and see a bowl of candy, I would have absolutely taken a piece or two. Assuming I had a reason to be there.

Sunshine

The return to campus for spring quarter also brings along great expectations of beautiful weather. As PhD Comics notes, it isn’t all radiant warmth and blooming flowers, though I can’t complain too much about the allergies. The primary culprit is the rain and chilliness, just barely enough to keep reactions tepid.

I thought about it last night, and I think we tend to overstate Stanford’s case for perfect weather. I find that I often make excuses to visitors for the weather, from the rainy season during the winter to some hot days in the summer. On the whole, the weather certainly is nice, and it beats just about everywhere else I can think of. I’m just impressed by how well we’ve managed to average weather conditions in our minds into a perfect, constant climate.

Not to say that we don’t react to the weather changes. Campus never necessarily feels down about the weather, but spirit picks up when the sun comes out after the rain. It took 2 days at the end of last quarter to trade all of their hoodies and rain boots for sundresses and denim shorts. One day, only the most die-hard graduate students would head out for soccer, yet the next, the Oval was filled with toddlers running wild, ultimate frisbee, and sunbathing.

Among my friends, the new quarter and new season has brought about sand volleyball, a triumphant statement that we’re going to take any chance to enjoy the outdoors, regardless of how wet the sand is, how windy it is, and how untalented we are. We spend just as much time retrieving the ball when it lands outside of the court, but we’re slowly improving. I’m looking forward to being able to set up a bump-set-spike.

So until problem sets give us an excuse to find other ways to procrastinate, we’ll be trying to stay active for as long as possible. By then, hopefully the beautiful Stanford weather we know will shame us into heading back outside.

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.