Friday, January 14, 2011

Culture: Good Times at the Farm

Students played Ultimate Frisbee at Roble Field on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, California on 9-January-2011

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA - It's not immediately obvious walking around campus on a Sunday afternoon, as I did last weekend, but it's a good time to be on the Stanford University campus, colloquially known as "The Farm." A smaller number of students than I typically remember was playing Ultimate Frisbee on Roble Field, and the path around the former Lake Lagunita was nearly empty, but there was a certain vibe on campus that was undeniable.

The reason was obvious only when heading to the upstairs area in the Stanford Bookstore where athletic gear was sold. The mood had started to become super-enthusiastic when the Stanford women's basketball team defeated the University of Connecticut on 30-December-2010, ending the Huskies' record-setting 90-game winning streak. While the victory was at Maples Pavilion walking distance from here, it wasn't particularly close--71-59, and by all accounts, it felt better than that for the Cardinal. Interestingly, the last UConn loss had been to Stanford as well. Within days, the bookstore here had been stocked with t-shirts proclaiming "All Good Things Must Come to an End."

The biggest reason for the good mood, though, comes from the performance of football team. The Stanford team may have a long history, with its first Rose Bowl appearance in 1902, but for most of my life, it's been at best a mediocre team, overshadowed in the strong Pac-10 conference by contenders for the National Championship like the University of Southern California, the University of Washington, or this year, the University of Oregon. Their last Rose Bowl appearance was under coach Tyrone Willingham in 2000 (a loss); their last season ranked in the top 10 was 1992 under coach Bill Walsh.

This year, under coach Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal (remember, that's the color) had its best season in terms of win-loss record since 1940, losing only to Oregon. I was amazed to see the team creeping up in the rankings, and ultimately qualifying for a Bowl Championship Series bowl, the Orange Bowl. On my second night back in the Bay Area, the game was played, and after listening on commercial radio for a time, I realized that I really should have been listening on Stanford's own radio station, KZSU at 90.1 FM. By that time, the outcome of the game was not in doubt, and the announcers had become somewhat casual. Stanford would win the Orange Bowl 40-12 over Virginia Tech, its first bowl victory since the 1996 Sun Bowl.

As students were just gathering on the Farm to start winter quarter, this was quite a way to begin a term. I can only imagine the celebrations in the main quad. Of course, it didn't take long for the Stanford bookstore to come up with Orange Bowl champion t-shirts--but by the time I was on campus about a week later, that would be the only tangible evidence of the accomplishment.

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