There's no denying Stanford has been one of the best football programs in the country over the past decade. But how can we label the recent run of success? Would you say it's a dynasty? Is it a fluke? I would define the past few years as a blessing, and I would love Stanford to take another leap and become a dynasty. To do so however, I believe we must build the program beyond the onfield success by engaging a bigger and more passionate fanbase.
In 2015, Stanford finished the year by routing Iowa in the Rose Bowl and many realized the Cardinal deserved to be in the playoff. However, two regular season losses kept them out, and we all know that loss versus Northwestern was a complete fluke.
Playing early in the morning and on the road, Stanford appeared lifeless in Evanston. The team wasn't inspired, but the blame shouldn't be pointed solely at the players; it's extremely difficult for a team to get motivated without any fan support.
I was at the game. I traveled from LA to Chicago just to see a disappointing and costly loss. I remember being one of very few Stanford fans and noticing the ecstatic Northwestern section. I remember Stanford only scoring six points and thinking Stanford had a long season ahead.
The same thing happened against San Diego State this season. I was once again one of very few Stanford fans, and this time, the opposing team's fan section dominated the scene. Aztec fans intimidated us, and the student section even chanted, "F**k you Stanford."
Last week, I went on a trip to Notre Dame and Vanderbilt and I got to thinking about what it means to have a strong fan base. I attended the Vanderbilt vs Georgia game in Nashville, where the visiting Bulldogs fans gave Georgia a home field advantage. At least three quarters of the stadium was filled with Georgia fans, and my hotel was crawling with them. This was even Vanderbilt's reunion weekend, and Bulldog fans still managed to take over the stadium.
This is definitely not a rare occasion for Georgia fans. Weekly, they show up at away games in mass numbers.
Away games become home games, and that provides the Bulldogs with a huge advantage. If Stanford had this following, I believe it’d be a massive advantage over today.
However, Georgia is a much bigger school than Stanford. They have almost 30,000 undergraduates compared to Stanford's 7,000. Georgia has significantly more alumni than Stanford, so it's tough to expect such a big following.
Instead, Stanford fans should model themselves after the Fighting Irish faithful. (Painful to say, but hear me out.)
I also visited Notre Dame, and it was extremely obvious that football was a huge part of their culture. Students never sit, scream the many cheers, and dance the Irish jig. Touchdown Jesus overlooks the stadium. Players touch the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign as they walk towards the field.
Meanwhile, I struggle to think of any truly unique traditions at Stanford. The team walks into the stadium as the band plays, and they also sing following victories, but almost all college football teams have those two traditions.
In my opinion, traditions have a huge impact on a football program. Traditions demonstrate passion, and players and recruits must love seeing a passionate fan base ready to cheer them on.
Ultimately however, Stanford's biggest issue is the fact that they struggle to fill up Stanford Stadium. Like I said before, football isn't a part of Stanford's culture. Some alums could care less about the team's success. For example, some of my dad's fraternity brothers rarely show up to games, and some haven't gone to a game since college.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe current students care more now. Prior to this run of success, Stanford was, well, average. Now, they're far above that. Still, I don't think football is a huge part of student life. Against UCLA, the student section was completely full, but against Arizona State, the Red Zone was much quieter. Meanwhile at Notre Dame, the student section is packed for every game.
I'm not saying that Stanford fans aren't passionate for their team; I'm just saying that there isn't enough support, and there needs to be some proactive solutions to help fix that. Rarely does the stadium fill up, and from a player's perspective, I'm sure it's discouraging. From a recruit's perspective, it's probably alarming. I believe that for Stanford to jump into consistent national contention, they'll need more team spirit.
So I propose that we work together to build new Stanford traditions, but it's important to note that you can't just create a tradition out of nothing. Students and alums need to be able to relate to each tradition, and each tradition needs to somehow connect to the school.
Maybe all students wear nerd glasses at games. Maybe all fans touch a tree planted outside the stadium ahead of the game. I'm just throwing out ideas. Feel free to share your own.