The Bay Area is home to world champions both on and off the field. The Bay Area is home to billion-dollar companies like Facebook and Oracle and billion-dollar franchises like the San Francisco Giants, San Francisco 49ers, and the Golden State Warriors. Then you have Stanford University. The best university not only in the Bay Area but in the world.
Stanford is the alma mater to great minds and great athletes. Heck, many people don’t realize that without Stanford, Nike co-founder and chairman wouldn’t have got his business degree to actually create his own billion-dollar empire. Now back to point, since 2010, the Bay Area has taken off to new heights and from a sports standpoint, the world has tipped on its axis. Since 2010, the San Francisco Giants have won 3 world championships, the Golden State Warriors have won one championship with a Finals appearance loss, The San Francisco 49ers and San Jose Sharks have made it to the championship in their respective sports and Stanford has gone to 3 Rose Bowls with 2 victories, won an Orange Bowl, and had a Fiesta Bowl appearance.
Now while we celebrate the championships with pride and humble ourselves with championship losses, let’s never forget that just 10 years ago, Stanford football was the Enron of college football. While we should enjoy every moment of our current success, never forget where we started.
10 years ago, Stanford football was heading into its second season under Coach Walt Harris. Harris had taken his previous team, University of Pittsburgh to the Fiesta Bowl just two years prior and while he knew Stanford was in total rebuild mode, he had shown some progress in his first season on the Farm. It started in week 1 with a road victory at Navy. Stanford had only won 2 road games in 3 years under Buddy Teevens and scored 40 points on a team not named San Jose State for the first time in 4 years. And when I stated he showed some progress just two sentences ago, I meant to say after game 1; it went down the drain for the next 22 games. The following week, Stanford lost to UC Davis; a loss that 10 years later almost seems unfathomable. Stanford finished the year 5-6 and for a team that hadn’t gone bowling since 2001, it SEEMED like progress. Fast forward to 2006 and 2005 would go on to feel like a dream.
Stanford opened up the season at ranked Oregon and while Stanford lost 48-10, they put up a fight early on to make you think that while losing isn’t great, it was a good team and we should be able to fix some problems down the road. Enter another week 2 Walt Harris special. Stanford was actually forced to play AT San Jose State as Stanford was still rebuilding the stadium. Stanford had been treating San Jose State as a little brother in the series and was dominating the series. Stanford would go up 27-7 in the game and into half 34-21 and it was looking like another blowout was going to happen. Instead, Stanford turned it over twice deep into SJS territory and would give up 14 unanswered and lose 35-34. It was their first victory over the Cardinal since 2000 and last one since. That loss would linger into the following week where it should have been a grand time as the new Stanford Stadium was open. After the jet flyover, it was the last loud thing you heard as Stanford crawled into a ball and lost 37-9.
The next 3 games would determine the 2006 season and if Stanford showed life that it could possibly play for a bowl game or hope the worst doesn’t happen and go winless. Stanford would go on to lose all 3 games in ugly fashion. They were outscored 43-3 in the first halves of those games, 98-20 overall, and were shutout in one. And to keep the honesty about how bad Stanford football was, the following week against Arizona looked like something even the Cleveland Browns don’t see. Stanford didn’t just lose 20-7 that day. Stanford scored their only points of the day on a pick-six. Stanford was shutout just two weeks prior and had more of an offense that day. Starting quarterback Trent Edwards went down with an injury early on but I know some middle-school kids who could have found a way to do something. I WILL PUT IN CAPS TO ILLUSTRATE THE OFFENSE: 4 FIRST DOWNS….FOUR!!!! 52 TOTAL YARDS AND THAT IS BECAUSE THE 58 PASSING YARDS WERE ENGATED BY -6 RUSHING…. When you see Christian McCaffrey running the football this season, REMEMBER THIS. Stanford was 0-7 at this point and would go on to lose to Arizona State and USC by a combined score of 80-3 in the following weeks.
A true fan and maybe even just any real person in life doesn’t forget the time or two that they were thrown under the bus. Just 5 years earlier, Washington Coach Tyrone Willingham was the head coach at Stanford. He was the head coach for 7 years at Stanford and while there, won 44 games, single-handedly beat Cal 7 times and STILL owns the record for most consecutive wins in the Big Game, and went to 4 bowl games including the Rose Bowl in 2000. He was on top of the world but in 2001, he left Stanford in the middle of the night to accept the position of Head Coach at Notre Dame. He didn’t just leave it at that as while at Notre Dame, he faked a punt on Stanford in 2003 while already having 50 points. It was the ultimate sign of disrespect.
Again, fast forward back to 2006 as 0-9 Stanford rolls into Washington as Willingham and Co. have lost 5 straight games but this should be the game to change that. It was a brutal game to watch as it went scoreless in the first and 3-3 into half. With just under 7 minutes to go in the third, Stanford had scored a touchdown on a pick-six and Stanford had a lead a game for the first time since September against San Jose State. A little over 465 minutes of tied or trailing football for Stanford was over. Early in the 4th quarter, Richard Sherman caught a 74-yard touchdown pass and Washington put up a second-half goose egg and lost 20-3. Tyrone Willingham was never really the same and would eventually go 0-12 just two years later. That was the end of hating Tyrone Willingham.
Unfortunately for Stanford, that victory, like the Navy victory in week 1 of 2005 was all for nothing as Stanford would lose their home finale against Oregon State 30-7. From a fan point of view, Stanford went right down the field on their opening possession and scored a touchdown and looked like a football team. The next 3 ½ quarters said otherwise as that was their only scoring possession. It also was Stanford’s first season since 1960 where it went winless at home. Stanford would limp into the season finale against a Cal team that featured players such as Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, DeSean Jackson, Alex Mack, among other future NFL players. Anyone who is a fan of the Big Game knows anything can happen and while Stanford never had the lead at any point, Stanford was down by 6 or less for over 50 minutes in the game and had a chance. That chance was taken away with a field goal by Cal with 58 seconds remaining to go up 9 and seal the game 26-17. Stanford would finish their worst year since the 1983 Stanford team that also had 1 win.
Harris was fired two days later and while Stanford was truly debating on going into Division II, they waited it out and hired Jim Harbaugh…. The rest of that story is history. So the next time you see someone stroll into Stanford Stadium and they just assume Stanford will win, remind them we all don’t get to take day trips to Paris. Some of us have endured loss after loss and we should enjoy every minute of our championship runs in the Bay Area because you never know when the other show might drop.