FLYOVER COUNTRY—Epic Clashes That Enrich The Pac-12
You might recall the last time I mentioned the Stanford Cardinal because I certainly do. I gave short shrift to Stanford Cardinal football, and after they beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl I will eat my words, along with a serving of crow.
I apologize to Stanford fans everywhere. Despite the Ducks having drilled your team in 2010 and 11, at this late date in my online fandom, I should know better about past results guaranteeing current outcomes. Your program is indeed an interesting rival. I would not have said that before our fateful date last November, because even in 2009, you won playing a shootout. This past game is where your team imposed their style of game upon us. That effort carries with it nothing but total respect from me.
As I watched Stanford beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and then watched the Ducks dispatch K-State in the Fiesta, I had an epiphany about our newly hard fought rivalry, which will undoubtedly mark another “event” game next season. What struck me is that for the Pac-12 to have consistently elite programs apart from non-Kiffin led USC squads, Stanford and Oregon rather need one another in the Northern Division.
I started to feel the stirrings of this symbiotic relationship in 2009. Both programs beat USC handily. The Ducks went onto play THE Ohio State Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl and the Cardinal
took on Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl. I felt then that despite the Ducks having lost to the Cardinal that year, we were able to keep it close with the physically superior Buckeyes due in part to having the experience of dealing with a physical team. As the Cardinal faced the Sooners without the assistance of Andrew Luck, my notion of mutual benefit was shelved.
The next season marked the serious intertwining of our football fates. The Ducks killed USC and Stanford had to fight them until the bitter end. Though the game came early in the season, our match at Autzen marked the Pac-10’s last de facto “conference championship game.” I feel that the come from behind Oregon victory tempered the Ducks to face the eventual adversity the team withstood in the NCG against Auburn. I also like to think that the tough loss for Stanford helped to make the Orange Bowl the cakewalk it became against Virginia Tech. After, all if your program could punch Oregon square in the kisser, what challenge could the Hokies possibly represent?
The Oregon versus Stanford game in 2011 brought another match for effectively all of the conference’s marbles, but it didn’t really live up to the hype. I do think some honing was still achieved. The Ducks gained the road moxie that allowed them to win the Rose Bowl in front of a Wisconsin majority crowd and a Badgers team featuring a future NFL-playoff quarterback. The pressure of facing off with Andrew Luck, who had come back to solve his “Oregon Problem” had to be of help psychologically when the Ducks were faced with all of the added pressure from the program’s Rose Bowl and two consecutive BCS defeat monkeys riding on their backs in the back and forth game.
For Stanford’s part, again dealing with the speedy Ducks had to help the team feel that they could deal with Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cardinal nearly pulled it off against the Big-12 champion, too.
Of course, without belaboring the obvious, both teams also gained from this year’s Stanford victory at Autzen. Marcus Mariota had his first real day of adversity and hung in. Kevin Hogan got the big game victory to cement his status as the starter. This time we both took our BCS bowl games.
Though Stanford fans might prefer some historical analogy like the Romans versus the Germanic Tribes, or Portugal and Spain in the race to conquer the Americas, what is going on between Stanford and Oregon is really akin to the boxing rivalry of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Much like Pac-8/10 football has had most colorfully since the days of Keith Jackson, boxing features “story lines.” The Ali/Frazier trilogy of fights contained a superimposed script. Ali, the unconventional non-conformist, was said to mythically represent the counter-establishment. Straight laced Joe Frazier, the quiet family man, stood in for the Silent Majority. The thought of two black men representing wide swaths of America while the country was in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Era, sounds absurd—almost as absurd as Stanford and Oregon being the yin and yang of the Pac-12—but both have happened.
Frazier/Ali gripped the world three different times, all for the highest of stakes in their sport.
We can call 2010’s game the first of the three epic contests. The 2012 one recalls Ali/Frazier II, which was panned as the least compelling of the three. Let’s face it, a 17-14 defensive slugfest looks rather like a boxing match with a lot of punches thrown but not cleanly landed.
Therefore, I again apologize for not giving Stanford football, and their fans, the proper measure of respect. Ali and Frazier were both great individually. Fighting one another, they became legendary.
As Cal, WSU, OSU, and Washington all cannot, in any foreseeable near term, command the national
respect that Oregon and Stanford are already commanding — and with USC being dragged down by head rot — we have to continue our epic clashes with one another. Here’s hoping that we have the equivalent of the Thrilla in Manila next season down on The Farm.
That is, as long as you remember that the anti-establishment’s hero scored the 15 round technical knock out.
Air kisses, Cardinal. See you next season. I love our rivalry now and I hope you do too. Do us Ducks a favor though? Can you drop losing to UW like a bad habit? It’s embarrassing.