When most people think of Stanford University, usually the first things that comes to mind is something like "a super smart school that's almost impossible to get into." What most people don't realize is that Stanford is also one of the best athletic schools in the country and has won a national championship in 40 consecutive years, with the men's soccer team continuing that streak this year.
And a key part of that success is in football - when Stanford suits up to play Iowa in the 102nd Rose Bowl on January 1st, that is something that Stanford knows very well.
Rewind 114 years back to the very first Rose Bowl. On one sideline, you had undefeated Michigan who was coached by Fielding H. Yost who coincidentally left Stanford after the 1900 season to come to Ann Arbor. On the other sideline was the school Yost left. Stanford was only 3-2-1 in the 1901 season and never really had a shot at beating Michigan as Stanford lost 49-0. Michigan's Neil Snow had 5 touchdowns while the Stanford offense had 5 first downs. Even though Stanford was beat down, they played in the very first Rose Bowl. In the next 22 seasons, Stanford would go on to have 52 total wins, 6 different coaches, and zero championships. On the other hand, Yost would not lose a game at Michigan until the last game of the season in 1905. Michigan had eight undefeated seasons, nine conference championships, and six national titles under Yost. To think what possibly could have been for a Stanford program had Yost stayed.
While Stanford was trying to stay afloat in the football world, Stanford hired Glenn "Pop" Warner before the 1924 season and boy did Stanford find a gem. Warner would lead Stanford to an undefeated regular season and its first conference championship. Stanford was headed back to the Rose Bowl to face Notre Dame. While the sidelines were filled with future legendary players and coaches, Stanford once again came up short and Notre Dame won its first national championship. Even though Stanford was 0-2 in Rose Bowl games and those losses led to two teams winning national championships, the football program was turning into a brand name.
Pop Warner would take Stanford to the Rose Bowl two more times in the next three years and during the 1926 season, Stanford would go 10-0 in the regular season and had a date with fellow undefeated squad Alabama on January 1st in Pasadena. The winner of this game would be crowned national champion. You would have thought it was the Stanford and Alabama defenses of the present that played in that game as the score ended in a 7-7 tie. Stanford and Alabama shared the national championship and although Stanford was still winless in the Rose Bowl, this tie was much more of a win.
While the following season didn't go according to plan, Stanford did just enough to get into another Rose Bowl game. Stanford was playing in its 4th Rose Bowl in 14 years. No other team had accomplished that feat until USC made its 4th in 1933. And talk about history repeating itself, Stanford would go on to play the Pittsburgh Panthers, the school previously coached by Pop Warner before he took the position at Stanford. This time, the shoe was finally on the other foot for Stanford as they held on by the narrowest of margins to win 7-6. Warner had finally taken Stanford to the promise land. A national championship the year before was great but finally getting that Rose Bowl victory was great for the Stanford program. Warner would not make another Rose Bowl appearance with Stanford but he would leave with 71 victories and 3 Rose Bowl appearances.
Stanford would go on to play in 4 more Rose Bowl games from 1934-1941 going 2-2 in those games. While Alabama was able to redeem their tie game from 8 years ago, Stanford capped off the 1940-41 season in style going undefeated and winning the Rose Bowl 21-13 and claiming their 2nd national championship in 14 years. Stanford had just played in its eighth Rose Bowl in just 27 years. USC was 2nd with six trips to Pasadena. Now, Stanford may have only had 3 wins in those eight appearances but just getting to those games put Stanford on a pedestal. This was a program that should be respected by schools all over the country.
Stanford would go on to 4 more Rose Bowls and go 2-2 in those games but this time, those 4 appearances would be during a 60-year stretch. Stanford just couldn't sustain its football prowess and it wasn't for a lack of trying. Stanford had Bill Walsh as a coach and John Elway as a player among other good coaches and players.
Now we enter the David Shaw Era. Shaw has a 53-14 record going into this Rose Bowl game. He has won 3 conference championships in 5 years. He is 1-1 in Rose Bowl games. This game is very important for David Shaw and for Stanford football in general. Christian McCaffrey has a chance to show why winning just the AP Player of the Year award was a slap in the face. Kevin Hogan has a chance to show why he is that fourth head on the Mount Rushmore of Stanford quarterbacks. David Shaw can etch his name in Stanford lore, tying him with John Ralston for Rose Bowl victories. This is Stanford's 15th Rose Bowl appearance. That is more than every Pac-12 and Big-10 school besides USC and Michigan. A victory versus Iowa would only make Stanford 7-7-1 in the Rose Bowl but at least it would show that they have always been a brand name and a brand name is what they shall stay.
15 appearances in 102 years for a school that is "for nerds" is pretty good if you ask me.