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 ( 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.

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