Stanford Duck Syndrome–It’s Worse Than You Think

Alan Lohner Humor

What do you call players and fans of the football team at Leland Stanford Junior University? Cardinals? No, do not do that, or you’ll make Stanford people very angry on social media. “We’re not Cardinals!” they will tweet in your face, maybe even going into lunatic all-caps mode: “WE ARE THE CARDINAL!” Whatever. Personally, I don’t think that anyone in Palo Alto gives dos centavos about sports.

Don’t believe me? One year the student body voted to nickname its athletic teams the Robber Barons. Of course, the Faculty Senate shoved a dagger through that idea faster than you can say, “Orenthal James.” Still, the students had a good, long laugh at the school’s athletes.

The ‘New’ Stanford Stadium–Less is Less

Who “upgrades” its football stadium not by adding seats but by ripping them out? Stanford, naturally. Can you guess how many fewer seats there are in the new stadium versus the old? 5,000? Not even close. 10,000? You’re farther off than Saturn. Try 40,000. Yes, that’s how much those uppity eggheads at Stanford really care about football.

But this still begs the mascot question: what is an individual Stanford player called? And you, rare Stanford fan, what do you call yourself?

You can’t answer, because there is no answer.

Unlike a Stanford athlete, this has a name.

A Horse With No Name > A School With No Mascot and No Name

It’s elementary. Nothing is dumber or drearier than a team with no mascot and no nickname, like Stanford. And no, the tree is not the Stanford mascot–that whole dopey tree thing, including gyrating around like a druggy on meth, was concocted by the juvenile delinquents in the Stanford band.

Cardinal is a color, an abstraction, like a quantum mechanics equation. In that sense, I suppose it’s the perfect thing for Stanford. It has no personality, no flair, and is as fun as doing those quantum mechanics equations.

On the other hand, we are not only fans of Our Beloved Ducks. We are Ducks. We quack, we waddle, sometimes we even squabble like ducks. But we can also soar. We have substance. We’re flesh and blood. We are real.

Stanford, and this can be confirmed by any Cal fan, is an aggregate of nothing but fetid air blowing through the scraggly needles of a decaying redwood tree.

After Last Year, We’ll Be Shocked if They Show Their Faces

That football team from Stanford dares to tiptoe into Autzen Stadium this weekend to challenge our Ducks, and I’m not calling this a revenge game, but think about how you’d react if the drummer who ran off with your teenaged daughter a year ago suddenly showed up on your porch with her–and she was wearing shabby clothes, no shoes, and looking very, very pregnant.

No, it’s not revenge you’d seek, but VENGEANCE to where you’d knock that scuzzy drummer off the porch, chase him deep into the woods, and let the bears and the vultures take care of the rest.

Stanford–and those perennially deaf, dumb, and blind Pac-12 referees–did the Ducks wrong last year, and now it’s payback time. Drubbing those pompous know-it-alls by six touchdowns is a good beginning, but after the game, I’m all in favor of chasing the whole Stanford entourage out of Autzen Stadium and into the Willamette National Forest.

The joy of being a Duck tops the joke of being Stanford.

Money, Money, Money–What Else is Important? Money

Those who have oodles of cash believe that this impresses those who don’t, and sorry, Stanford, if you’re going to be the snobs of the universe, try to give us some good reasons for your snottiness.

We’re not impressed that Stanford has stockpiled an endowment of nearly $38 billion–more than the GDPs of 10 third-world countries. We know what Stanford does with all of that icky money. The gasbag trustees parade that figure around like a trophy wife and then brazenly ask for more.

For all of its academic hoohah and the idiotic notion that it is the “Harvard of the West,” the honest truth is that Stanford is more dysfunctional than the Addams Family. We feel genuinely bad for bringing Morticia, Gomez, and Uncle Fester into this, but The Farm is most assuredly the Funny Farm.

Unlike the massive legions of Trojans and Huskies who are simply debauched, dishonorable, and depraved, Stanford, in its infinite lunacy, has actually concocted a special name for the bizarre blend of schizophrenia, mass psychosis, and pathological lying that afflicts the entire Stanford population.

All is Not Well–Every Hour, Every Minute, Every Second

You may not have heard of Stanford Duck Syndrome, because you do not have the privilege of shelling out $56,169 a year to help pad a $38-billion university endowment. You may surmise that a duck syndrome is the trepidation of playing football against Oregon, and that is a reasonable supposition, but we are not dealing with rational members of Homo sapiens at Stanford.

Imagine that you ask a Stanford student how things are going, and now imagine that the response you receive is: “Terrific!” That sounds, well, terrific, doesn’t it? In any other location on Earth, it would indeed be terrific, but not at Stanford. This student is lying. In fact, the scope of the lie would make Pinocchio blush in everlasting shame. Jiminy Cricket–the great conscience prodder–would drop over dead.

You can scour every nook, cranny, and stable on The Farm, but no one is doing terrific at any point in time. However, everyone on this loony pasture will say, “I’m doing terrific.” Chances are you’re sick to your stomach over midterms and research papers and finals, and there’s a definite possibility that you’re going to flunk chemistry, but these are little nits and gnats, when stacked up against real overwhelming terror–not having your startup fully funded and ready to launch.

A Stanford student wears many hats.

Not a Trillionaire by 25? Shame On You, Slacker

If your startup doesn’t make the Fortune 500 by the time you’re 19 years old, you are a FAILURE, but you dare not whisper a word to anyone that there’s nothing but Tootsie Pops, unicorns, and rainbows on the horizon.

“Hey, Gretchen, how’s your startup looking?”

“Terrific, Dylan. How’s yours?”


This, friends, is Stanford Duck Syndrome in action. Gretchen’s most recent beta test was a bust, and her startup will never get off the ground. Dylan’s presentation to venture capitalists was a disaster. He’ll never get funded.

Stanford Duck Syndrome keeps you from acknowledging for even one nanosecond that your world is in chaos and you’re at the edge of a cliff facing impending doom. You pretend everything is fine, just like everyone else is pretending. You may look as calm as a duck floating on a pond, but beneath the water, where no one can see, you are panicked, paddling furiously to keep moving forward and not sink.

If the intense heat and pressure felt by all Stanford students could be crystallized biologically, they would be defecating diamonds. And surely, some enterprising first-year student would initiate a startup that would figure out a way to mine for gemstones in sewer pipes. And yes, even an incoming freshman in the first week of the first quarter is expected to be working on a startup.

Cal’s Victory Equation–November 20, 1982

Where does football fit into all of this? It doesn’t. You can sum up all of Stanford’s memorable history in two words: “The Play.” It turns out that Cal has some Brainiacs too, and after intense study of the effects of Dark Matter and Dark Energy on the Weak Force, they devised “Kevin Moen to Richard Rodgers to Dwight Garner back to Rodgers to Mariet Ford back to Moen > Trombone Player,” which was inserted into the playbook for the 1982 Big Game.

“The Play” in simplified form.

“The Play” worked to hilarious perfection. Forty years later we’re still howling with laughter when we watch the replay, especially when Moen piledrives that clueless Stanford trombone player in the end zone. The dented trombone wound up in the College Football Hall of Fame, an eternal reminder of Stanford ineptitude.

Someone who is not laughing–he’s still crying that Cal cheated–is college football analyst Rod Gilmore, a cornerback on that 1982 Stanford team. He’s telling a lie, of course, something that Stanford people are quite good at, as we have seen. The cheater in that Big Game was Stanford.

On that last-second, expertly designed kickoff return, Cal was using only 10 players, and you can look all of this up. Meanwhile, Stanford had at least 172 players* on the field during “The Play,” and probably more, and to make matters worse, most of these players were carrying percussion, woodwind, and brass instruments, which is strictly prohibited by the NCAA.

I have some advice for Gilmore. The next time that he’s asked about “The Play,” he needs to take a deep breath. He needs to smile. He needs to look calm, as calm as a mallard on a millpond, and say, “That was terrific.”

After all, that’s the Stanford way.

Alan Lohner
Tigard, Oregon
Top photo by Jody Confer on Unsplash

* It is ridiculous to conceive of 172 opposing players on a football field, but this is absolutely true, and what’s more ridiculous, it is a conservative estimate. According to Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia that nobody trusts and everybody reads, in addition to Stanford’s legal 11 players, all 144 members of the Stanford band ran out on the field, along with “several Stanford cheerleaders, assorted spectators, three members of the Stanford Axe Committee” and “at least 11 illegal players who had wandered onto the field.”

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