First, a housekeeping matter. I apologize for not providing the readership with a column last month. I had smashed my middle finger on my left hand in an ill fated attempt to repair my malfunctioning garage door and was unable to do production level typing for two weeks. I am fully healed now, so here we go.
This Saturday sees the next battle with what I view as the oddest rogue in the Ducks’ menagerie of divisional foes, the team hailing from Leland J. Stanford Junior University. The Color. The Tree. The Team Formerly Known As The Indians, And Then The Cardinals. Yes, the first iteration of their politically correct name was pluralized, and nowadays you get corrected by the one or two Stanford fans you ever encounter if you are not up on their latest pretentiousness.
The problem, and I don’t think I am being too bold in speaking for most Ducks fans — save perhaps for Phil Knight himself and precious few others who have been graduate students there — is that there is just not an emotional connection there with the program in Palo Alto. There’s nothing to build an excellent rivalry upon.
We can’t “hate” Stanford the way that we disdain Washington because it is like unseemly bullying. We can’t patronize them as “little brother” like we can with OS(u) because they are a world class institution, not a land grant cow college with a stolen engineering program. We don’t have the recruiting battles and recent shared program history with them like we do with the Golden Bears. Finally, we cannot simply ignore them like everyone does Washington State.
Stanford is something else entirely. They have become the alleged threat to our dominance of the Pac-12 North, but they do not play the role very convincingly. It’s as if their collective hearts aren’t really into being our foil. No doubt part of that is the fact that they consider the Bears and the Trojans the same way we regard the beavises and the doogs. There is a subtext to Stanford’s role in the North. It’s like they don’t belong. They simply aren’t like the other programs in the division. In fact, they are quite alien. Frankly, they are collectively like the Drac in 1985′s Enemy Mine, a cult classic sci-fi movie starring Louis Gossett Jr., and Dennis Quaid as mortal enemy pilots who bond after being marooned together.
Stanford’s otherworldliness makes the week leading up to a game with them extraordinarily boring, like listening to a Drac lisp on about Shismar’s ancient teachings in the film. Wait, that’s a bad analogy because the truth of the matter is even worse; not even the folks in Palo Alto are that passionate about Stanford football. This phenomenon plays out fully on the internet. Stanford is the Enemy of No One because no one can be bothered to even care about Stanford football.
Yes, there is an ESPN football blog dedicated to Stanford football, presumably because either Ivan Maisel won an embarrassing bet with a drunken big wig, or because blogger Kevin Gemmell has compromising pictures of someone in power in the Disney entertainment empire, maybe even of wrinkly Barbara Walters it is rumored. Stanford also has three electronic ghost towns dedicated to its athletic pursuits. In no particular order, they are The Bootboard on the Scout network, The Rule of Tree at SBN, and the independently run CardBoard. I have purposely not linked them here, as next to no one visits them anyway — and certainly no one remotely interesting or even knowledgable about football.
I daresay that last bit because it’s true. Over the years, the few Stanford fans I have encountered have predicted that Stanford will beat Oregon. Their spiel has always centered on how the Ducks cannot withstand their superior “physicality.” That has worked out to plan exactly one time, in 2009, for a very fluke victory by the Indians. The Ducks have taken the other nine contests out of the last ten, most of them by multiple score margins.
To get back to the Enemy Mine theme of this column, at the outset of the movie the Drac had the upper hand on humanity, rather like Stanford owns the all-time record against the Ducks. However, after being shipwrecked for a few years together on some desolate planet, it becomes apparent that humanity has turned the tide, albeit in the unsavory form of illegal miners enslaving Drac civilians to do their dirty work. Again imperfectly, the Ducks have been working Stanford pretty hard of late, despite the Indians’ loftier standards of civilization, higher tech fighters, prettier home base, and their individual physical superiority. For whatever reason, the rough and tumble humans are giving it hard to the nerdy Drac.
In the end, the main characters of the movie have come to an understanding and mutual respect. When the alien dies in childbirth, the human promises to raise its offspring in the Drac tradition so that it might take its proper place in their society.
Is there any hope for an actually heated or meaningful rivalry with a color? I’m sanguine about the prospect. For all of its legendary academic status, Stanford’s student body is dwarfed even by Oregon’s own modest number of students. There simply are not very many future Masters Of The Universe produced down there annually.
Besides, the Ducks have already sent an ambassador to the Ivory Tower in the South Bay. Despite spending a number of years in Palo Alto and presumably absorbing the alien culture down there, not even Phil Knight gives any evidence of caring one whit for Cardinal football.
That makes an otherwise extraordinary man a rather ordinary Stanford alum.