Ratto: Orange Bowl victory ushers new Stanford era

January 4, 2011, 6:41 am
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Jan. 3, 2010

Its always enriching to see folks who didnt see Stanford this year, see Stanford this year. The sense of goggle-eyed wonderment is, to us scabby old Stanford-watchers who have seen this for four months, delightful.Andrew Luck won the nation. Jim Harbaugh won a few extra job offers. Shayne Skov and Coby Fleener may have won NFL scouts hearts. The Cardinal won their 12th game, 40-12, over a typically shell-shocked opponent, this one ACC champion Virginia Tech, and it could have been 42-7 if not for one hilarious play, one misjudgment and two missed extra points.
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Frankly, there was the slack-jawed amazement of discovery throughout the Orange Bowl. It was what Stanford plays for, even if the players dont cop to it that look on the opponents faces when the light goes on and the realization hits that its never going to get any better, and can only get worse.And typically does.That this was a team that cant be duplicated, so it may as well scatter and remember these days for what they were. That was the point they all tried to make in their subtle (and in a few cases, not so subtle) way, that this was too good to brush aside in a burst of career advancement.I just ask you to respect the game and the process and respect these players, was Harbaughs stocksnippy response to all inquiries about his future. This is about them.Well, yes, but so many of them have reached their collegiate crescendos that its hard not to ask.I want to enjoy this, talk to my folks, and make a decision in the next couple of days, Luck said in response to the same question.Translation: Bye-eeee.Secondary translation: What more could you possibly want from us?I dont want to be rude, Harbaugh said later, But Id rather enjoy this moment, every minute with these guys. This team. Something thats never been done in exactly this way in the history of Stanford football.The Cardinal, looking as brutally clinical as they have most of the year, dismantled the Hokies the way a snake eats slowly, methodically, and comprehensively.And in doing so, they not only set a new water mark for Stanford football, they hastened its new era new coach, new quarterback, new everything. There is more than this, true, but the difference is so small that only a fool would see the old gang trying to do it one more time.This was, in short, more than a beatdown. It was a goodbye-to-all-that party. Graduation Day, if you must.Luck finished 18 of 23 for 287 yards and four scores, for a quarterback rating of 258,929.26. Running back Stepfan Taylor gained 114 yards in 13 carries, and Jeremy Stewart 99 in five. Fleener caught six balls for 173 yards and three scores. Skov, the sophomore linebacker, finished with eight tackles, three sacks and said, I missed about four or five others. Owen Marecic, the two-way player of national renown, was the two-way player of national renown again. And on, and on, and on.In short, this was pretty much your standard Stanford performance feet to the floorboards, the imbalances between the two teams growing with every series. The players all pointed to the two-play, 97-yard drive early in the second half as the deal-breaker the 56-yard counter by Taylor, and the 41-yard post to Fleener on the next play but it had already begun before that.This was the New Stanford Experience, only not one that the rest of the nation had fully comprehended. They saw the scores, they read the stories, but their most intimate memories of the Cardinal came in the 52-31 loss to Oregon, the game they would all like to have back even now.
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I think were better, Harbaugh said. I think weve gotten better and stronger as the season has gone on, and thats a character of a very good football team. Thats part of what I meant when I said they really respect the game and respect the process. You are allowed to get better as the season goes along. But now there is no more season, only career choices for the fortunate few. Starting with waiting for the first falling shoe -- Michigans decision on Rich Rodriguez. It will help Harbaugh see just how many jobs he will be eligible for starting Tuesday.One of those is with the Denver Broncos, whose new boss, John Elway, heartily approved of what he saw as he stood on the field after the game. Pretty impressive, is how he put it. Very impressive.Another is with the 49ers, though the general feeling is that that is probably one of his fallback positions. It is believed that Jed York would eat all the stucco and fixtures in a burning building to get Harbaugh, but other gigs will either pay more or offer more power or more sensible structure.
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And Luck? Hes the new richest Carolina Panther ever, because they lost their way to the top draft choice and would not seriously contemplate Denvers logical (we assume) offer of Tim Tebow and the second pick for the first pick. Luck came off Monday as one of those natural superduperstars just waiting for a contract to sign, and he has nothing left to show anyone on this level.Nor, truth be told, do any of the Cardinal. What happened this year cant be repeated, because sports simply doesnt work that way. Theres a time to show and a time to go. Stanford showed Virginia Tech, and a skeptical nation wanting to be awed, Monday night. They were. You could see it, and you could hear it. The process was respected.Now it will be completed.