Posted 7:30 AM, November 28, 2015 - You could only see it for a second, and maybe only if you were standing right next to him, and maybe only from the right angle, but I'll swear there were tears in Kevin Hogan's eyes.
From last November to this, it's been the most difficult year of Hogan's life. He lost his father to cancer a year ago, but he stood resplendent on Saturday, feeling the adrenaline high of beating Notre Dame - his dad's alma mater - to finish an undefeated regular season in his final game at Stanford.
"It really is a dream come true," the typically solemn Hogan offered in his postgame press conference.
This dream season for Stanford hasn't been all about the redshirt senior quarterback, but more about the team rallying around him, the central figure of the Cardinal in 2015. Sure, Christian McCaffrey and Devon Cajuste and Austin Hooper had seasons that landed them as award finalists and All-Pac-12 performers, but the only thing to which I can compare Hogan's 2015 was Russell Crowe in Gladiator.
It began in game three of the season at USC, where the stolid Hogan rallied Stanford from down 10 by refusing to be denied on an 8-yard rushing touchdown. The mighty roar he sent skyward after the score served the purpose of supercharging the young defense on the sideline, which then intercepted a Cody Kessler pass and sent the Trojans careening to their gruesome 4-loss season.
The newly-confident defense shined in back-to-back home wins over Arizona and UCLA, which vaulted the Cardinal into the top 10, a spot it hasn't relinquished since. (Solomon Thomas and Peter Kalaymbayi terrorized the young Anu Solomon and the even-younger Josh Rosen. I'm sure neither is particularly thrilled with the prospect of facing this team for years to come.)
What followed was the most impressive game of the season for the Cardinal, and for Hogan. It was not the new kid in school - Vernon Adams - but Hogan, the guy most college football fans said "He's STILL in school?" about, who won the day. A year after Oregon nearly broke its own foot kicking Stanford's behind, the Cardinal returned the favor. Much was made of the "Stanford problem" that Oregon "solved" a year ago, but it appears to not be fully behind them. I like to imagine the surprise in Eugene is like that of the first person to look at the sky and think the moon was gone, only to find it returned in full a few days later.
The undefeated Cardinal then turned their eyes to Notre Dame, which itself was having a season that seemed to have it marked for the College Football Playoff. Their 9 wins to 2 losses looked good enough to set up the Golden Domers for a berth in the Final Four should they defeat highly-ranked Stanford on the Farm.
(Let me go back. I suppose it's necessary to mention that the Big Game occurred this year. There have been reports this season that Cal actually has players who play defense, but I cannot confidently report such a thing. I cannot bear witness that a single tackle was made by the Bears in Stanford's 48-17 romp.)
When all was said and done, the Cardinal could not be contained in Hogan's final home game, leaving their mark on the field and on the Irish - surely Malik Zaire will need a few days in the cold tub after enduring a lucky seven sacks. (I call it lucky because he avoided at least five more.)
Now, Stanford wears the Pac-12 North title belt again, with a chance to claim the conference crown against Arizona State a week from now. The Devils may have survived the mutually assured destruction of the Pac-12 South, but now they cross the road, like a turtle or a possum, of a Cardinal team angling for its spot in the College Football Playoff.
With what Hogan has led them through already this season, who can say they'll be denied?