Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Stanford Cardinal

Stanford vs UCLA – Trees trounce timid Bruins…

While in years past, hitting a few games on a weekend meant a quick hop into the Jetta and a few hour jaunt down some winding county roads, this year things are different. While living the expat life in Paris certainly has its advantages, keeping my usual pace on the college football chase is a challenge. As such, any precious time back in the USA during the fall involves meticulous planning in order to maximize my gridiron intake. With a week long trip scheduled for mid October, I had planned to squeeze five games in the course of seven days, beginning with a triple header weekend on the west coast. This opening frenzy would take me to Stanford on a Thursday night, Fresno State on Friday night, and close out at San Jose State on Saturday evening.

Fortunately, my sister had recently moved to Palo Alto, which meant a roof over my head and easy staging for the weekday Stanford contest. While I had already visited Stanford Stadium before, the smashmouth Cardinals of 2015 vintage sported a lofty #15 ranking, and were hosting the #18 UCLA Bruins in what promised to be one of the bigger Pac 12 match ups of the season. Sister reluctantly in tow, we trotted off on foot, making easy work of the short walk to Stanford Stadium located only steps from her front door.

We stop for a quick bite at Kirks Steakburgers, a landmark burger joint that’s been slinging them out to scholars at “The Farm” since 1948. Located in an upscale shopping court across the street from the stadium, the original location is long gone, but the place is still hopping a few hours before kickoff. After a ten minute wait in line, I order one of their signature bacon cheese steakburgers and a pile of steak fries. Cooked over charcoal, the burgers have a hallmark grilled flavor that sets them apart from their fried counterparts and gives Kirk’s its namesake. The burger itself, however, is mediocre on a busy game day. Overcooked and dry, it’s a hockey puck between two buns, further insulted by lifeless and soggy steak fries. After 67 years in business, I’m sure Kirk’s reputation is well deserved, but today wasn’t one of them.

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From there, we amble across the street and into the Stanford Arboretum as tailgaters revel in the last few rays of a pristine afternoon. The arboretum is, quite simply, a breathtaking tailgating venue. Shaded by dozens of massive Eucalyptus trees, some of them over six feet in diameter, the natural beauty of the space is rivaled only by The Grove at Ole Miss. Generously spaced maroon and white tents line the natural promenades formed by the great trees, while the effervescent, minty twinge of eucalyptus fuses with grill smoke into an intoxicating alchemy wafting through the air. It’s a distinctive aroma, tailgating perfume, and completely unique among the college football landscape. Stanford should bottle and brand this scent…

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As dusk settles, I track down a pair of tickets for twenty bucks a pop, the market surprisingly soft even with a marquee Pac 12 opponent in town. Despite a half decade of sustained success extending back to the Jim Harbaugh era, evidently the Cardinal faithful are still getting used to big time football in Palo Alto. Settling into our seats as the final minutes of pre-game warmups are completed, I school my sister on the finer points of the disheveled mob of ragamuffin misfits comprising the Stanford University Marching Band. A motley assortment that remains, unrivaled, as the worst band in all of college football.

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Although billed as a competitive game on paper, once the football is kicked, however, the contest turns ugly in a hurry. The Cardinal decimate the hapless Bruins, stuffing them into a locker like a schoolyard bully with their signature brand of punishing, physical football. Watching the juggernaut Stanford offensive line blast the Bruins five yards into the backfield on every snap is a thing of beauty for purists of the traditional power game.

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The standout for the trees on the day is running back/kickoff returner/athlete extraordinaire Christian McCaffrey, son of Pro-Bowl NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey. The blisteringly quick McCaffrey racks up 243 yards (a Stanford rushing record) against four touchdowns on the ground, while darting for another 122 yards of kickoff returns. Stating a strong case for his Heisman candidacy, McCaffrey was completely unstoppable on this night.

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While McCaffrey stuffs the stats box, its wide receiver Francis Owusu that steals the highlight show. He has only one catch on the night, but it’s a circus grab. At the opening of the third quarter, on a reverse -backtoss gadget play, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan unloads a 41 yard rainbow into the endzone. As the ball spirals down towards Owusu, he leaps into the air with the cornerback blocking him and proceeds to catch the ball with his arms bear hugged around the back of the defender, while still clutching the football to complete the catch as the duo tumbles into the turf. The incredulous grab draws barely an audible cheer from the crowd, as nobody in the stands realized exactly what had happened until they saw it replayed from several angles on the jumbotron. Without a doubt one of the most magnificent grabs I’ll ever witness…

Check out the catch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDzfvVwJ1qI

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In the end, it was an impressive, dominating win for the Stanford squad and further cemented their position as the team to beat in the Pac 12 conference once again this year. Their tough, physical brand of football is truly a delight to watch in the age of ADHD inspired, basketball on grass, spread option offenses. With a looming date on the calendar in late November with Notre Dame, the result of that contest could likely determine one of the final four playoff spots. Let’s hope that McCaffrey sleeps through his alarm on that day….

Special thanks to my sister for hosting me for the weekend, and (reluctantly) agreeing to come along for another year on the PigskinPursuit!

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Cal vs UCLA – Berkeley Battle of the bears…

Continued from Stanford Post here:

Racing out of Stanford Stadium still amped from the overtime thriller, I mash the accelerator on my rental silver Ford Focus.  Thanks to egregious California rental taxes, for two days this little go-kart cost me $153, and I intend to get my moneys worth.  The feeble engine whimpers, sputtering up the ramp to Interstate 880.  Fifteen seconds elapse to reach cruising speed at 60mph.  I zip northward briefly, before the inescapable clutch of California traffic sucks me into its soul crushing vortex.   The forty mile drive up to Berkeley is not going to be an easy one.  I’m crawling my way to Cal to see the Golden Bears host UCLA in a night tilt, the tail end of a Saturday Bay Area doubleheader.

After an hour lumbering up the interstate, I pull into downtown Berkeley.  With its ample stop lights and narrow streets, the town is ill equipped to deal with the influx of game day football traffic.  I scour a few side streets for free parking, shoehorning the tiny rental into a spot on Piedmont Avenue, a few blocks east of the infamous Telegraph Avenue – an icon of 1960’s hippie culture.

Changing my crimson polo for a navy t-shirt, I walk a pleasant tree lined side street up to Cal Memorial Stadium.  Strolling past handfuls of dingy frat houses, students spill onto the sidewalks clutching red solo cups, the Korean K-Pop viral sensation “Gangam Style” wailing away over loudspeakers perched on second story windowsills.  A few street food vendors line the avenue, manning stainless steel carts billowing aromatic steam.  Opting for a few small tacos, chicken and beef, they come garnished with fresh cilantro and onion, far better than any Sysco crap found in the stadium.

When I thrust a lone finger into the air, a few scalpers swarm me.  It’s a big game for the Cal Bears against a heated in-state rival, but tickets are still plentiful.  We haggle for a bit, but when I walk away the grizzled trader relents, agreeing to my $20 offer.  From the outside, the stadium gleams with new glass louvers, the white limestone façade glinting shades of pink and orange with the setting California sun.  Originally carved into the Berkeley hillside in 1923 as a tribute to World War 1 veterans, the historic stadium underwent a modern facelift for the past two years.  Tonight was the official rededication.

After some extra pre game ceremonies, the two bears take the field as a brisk evening chill fills the air.  A sloppy game ensues.  Although both teams move the ball well, racking up nearly 900 yards of offense together, there are nine turnovers between the two, UCLA guilty of six of those.  Cal takes advantage of the mishaps, with quarterback Zach Maynard slinging four touchdowns and 295 yards.  At halftime, the 57,643 spectators all remain seated.  Each seat comes outfitted with a colored square of card stock.  As part of the rededication ceremonies, Cal has a card stunt planned, a phenomenon they claim to have invented back in 1910.  Spelling out “Memorial Stadium” in Yale Blue and California Gold, the fans have good reason to stand, as the Golden Bears would later walk away with a 43-17 victory, and a chance to turn their dismal season around.

It’s a lot of work catching two games in a single day, and logistics have to be well planned to make it happen.  But hitting a couple of Pac 12 games gave me yet another glimpse into college football on the left coast, and spending an afternoon in the temperate climate of the Bay Area is always a pleasure.  Like any major metropolitan area, both of these teams take a back seat to some of the bigger professional spectacles in town.  On this particular weekend, both the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s were in baseball playoff games, and the San Francisco 49ers had a home game.  While college football is simply overshadowed in that environment, both teams still enjoy the ardently passionate fan bases that make college football so unique.

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Stanford vs Arizona – Doubling up in the Bay Area…

Rust colored masts emerge in the distance, piercing thick early morning fog, soaring into a crystal blue sky above.  Thin strands of cable drape gracefully from the stacked towers, woven into steel webs, shrouded in white mist rolling off the bay. Gawking at an engineering marvel, fumbling for my camera, and dodging eighteen wheelers, now isn’t the time for multi tasking behind the wheel.  It’s my first trip across the Golden Gate Bridge, and I’m swerving like an asshole in six lanes of traffic.

It’s a brilliant Saturday morning in San Francisco, and I pick my way South down highway 101 to Palo Alto for the front end of a Pac 12 doubleheader.  Stanford has a noon kickoff today against Arizona, and, following that, I’ll shoot up to Berkeley for a night game with the Golden Bears of Cal.

Stopping only once, I grab breakfast at the Palo Alto Creamery downtown.  Occupying the same street corner since 1923, it’s a throwback diner, gleaming with stainless steel and dishing out traditional breakfast fare.  Though the feel is classic, the prices are contemporary Californian, I gaspingly shell out twenty five bucks for some eggs and a chocolate shake.

I find free parking on a side street, throw on my best crimson polo and head over to the Stanford Campus.  Passing by a Trader Joe’s and upscale designer furniture store, the socio economic status of the school is evident.  Built by railroad tycoon Leland Stanford, the campus is exquisite, easily among the finest in the country and befitting a school of Ivy caliber.  Circling around Palm Drive, I ascend slate steps onto the pristine main quad, surrounded by the symbolic battery of arched promenades.  Blonde colored Stanford Sandstone, quarried from the nearby Santa Teresa Hills, shimmers flecks of gold in the morning sun.  The stalwart Romanesque stone buildings are connected by airy arcades, all capped in red clay tiles, typical of California mission style. It’s a magnificent campus, which, coupled with the reputation of the school, commands reverence.

With kickoff fast approaching, I drag myself away from the resplendent architecture, and trot towards the stadium.  It’s homecoming weekend at Stanford, and I pick through white tents and rows of catered buffet lines.  Nametags abound, along with class years ’62, ’72 etc.  The older the class, the nicer the food and wine.  True Stanford tailgating, however, I discover across street from the stadium.  Shaded beneath a grove of majestic Eucalyptus trees, the Cardinal faithful lay their spreads out.  Emerging from the trunks of boxy Mercedes G-Wagon’s and sleek silver Porsche Cayenne’s, elaborate picnics are set on tablecloths, complete with Napa wines and artisan cheeses.  Welcome to Palo Alto.

Tickets prove easy. For forty bucks I land a choice seat staring down the 50, a great view given the cozy confines of Stanford Stadium.  The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (or LSJUMB), a disheveled collection of rag tag musicians, take the field for pre-game ceremonies.  For those unfamiliar, the LSJUMB is one of the more unorthodox and controversial bands in the college landscape, having been banned from several campuses over the years for profane, offensive hijinks.  An alumni friend once described the band as “doing whatever entertains them (the band), without giving a damn what the audience wants or thinks”.    Entirely student led, the “band” eschews uniforms in favor of hobo couture, sloppily dressed in costume, drag, and button festooned fishing hats.  They avoid traditional band music, formal marches and almost any discernible organization whatsoever.  It’s like an Occupy protest with brass.

On the field, it’s a contrast of styles.  On one side stands the head butting Stanford style, a hard nosed, physical gauntlet cut from the mold of former head coach Jim Harbaugh.  Opposing them are the revamped Arizona Wildcats, powered by a quick tempo, run and gun offense, the hallmark of new head coach Rich Rodriguez.  Surprisingly, Arizona lures the conservative Cardinal into a shootout.  Against an imposing front seven of the Stanford defense, the Arizona aerial attack takes to the skies, throwing for nearly 500 yards on the day.  Stanford chews up the turf, feeding the ball to clydesdale tailback Stephen Taylor and connecting deep play action passes to massive tight end Levine Toilolo.  With over 1200 yards of total offense, the game is a track meet.  Holding a comfortable 48-34 lead with only 9:00 remaining, the Arizona squad sputters.  Brutalized by four quarters of a Stanford grind, they give up two touchdowns in the final six minutes to let the Cardinal knot the score at 48, sending the contest into overtime.  In the extra frame, the Wildcats are exhausted, squandering their only opportunity with a costly interception.  Stanford pounds in a 21 yard rushing touchdown, winning the contest with an exclamation point.

After the nailbiting finish, I hustle out of Stanford Stadium, elbowing my way through the crimson herd to get on the road quickly.  I’ve got the tail end of a doubleheader to hit up at Cal Berkeley, and the California traffic gods can be merciless to those in a rush…

Continue to Cal post here…

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