Ratto: Orange Bowl victory ushers new Stanford era


Ratto: Orange Bowl victory ushers new Stanford era

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.
REWIND: No. 9 Stanford fades, No. 4 Oregaon wins
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.

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

So the Oakland Raiders are good, but not magical, let alone soaked in destiny. So they can make every game a hard slog for the opponent, but they are not invulnerable. So they can be inefficient, and too sure of themselves, and terribly wasteful when they’re cold.

In other words, they are part of the National Football League – no longer too good to be true.

Their performance against the Chiefs in Kansas City was a pyramid of blown opportunities, opportunities made necessary by a terrible start. A week ago, against a borderline playoff team, they could get away with it. Thursday, on hostile ground, against a team that has lost three of its previous 23 regular season games and has a defense that specializes in standing on your chest until you whistle Yankee Doodle through your navel, they couldn’t.

The result of the 21-13 loss in a game with 12 more points than degrees of temperature is that the Raiders are now the fifth-best team in the American Football Conference rather than the first-best team with four more chances to change that position.

In other words, Thursday’s defeat only provided this much wisdom: The Raiders are a good team vulnerable to other good teams with an iron-plated sense of purpose, stubborn defenses that can apply and maintain a chokehold for hours on end, and offenses that don’t feel compelled to imitate Oakland’s offense by getting into a shootout.

And also this: There is nothing that would necessarily prevent them from beating the Chiefs in case of a third match, even though Kansas City held them to fewer points in two games than they scored in every other game save one. They are still, as the pedants say, “in the argument.”

But they have flaws to be exposed against the right team in the right situation. Kansas City has been that team twice, and New England probably is, but there the list probably stops. Nobody in the AFC North or South seems terribly capable of matching them in neutral conditions, but here’s the other bone spur:

The playoffs are not about neutral conditions.

The Raiders have come a long way in what most people think is a long time, but in fact in terms of team construction, you can throw out everything before 2013, and almost everything before 2015. They are just now getting a full understanding of the hardest part of becoming a Super Bowl contender – the other Super Bowl contenders.

Yes, Kansas City has an indifferent playoff history under Andy Reid, but it is clear that under current conditions the Chiefs are serious players. And while we have no link to how the Raiders would fare against new England, we are pretty sure that they wouldn’t want to play the second weekend of January arse-deep in snow in Foxborough.

The point? Now they get how hard this contender stuff really is. They could not have learned that lesson any other way – not anyone they’ve played yet save Kansas City.

Their next lessons come in Weeks 16 and 17, when they face the frantically desperate Indianapolis Colts in Oakland and then the Broncos in Denver the week after. Desperate teams can be very difficult indeed, especially to teams that are safe and dry and home, playoff-wise.

And then there are the actual playoffs, which if they were played today would have the Raiders traveling to Houston for a very winnable game against the stultifying Texans. The week after, they could be either in Kansas City again or in New England, getting a gut full of visiting field disadvantage.

But as a learning experience, the Raiders may have come out very well indeed. They now know in very real and personal ways the real difference between where they think they should be and where they are, as well as how many ways this can go terribly wrong between now and then.

And also how well it can go, if they learn what the Chiefs taught them again Thursday.

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets had one of his greatest games ever against the San Francisco 49ers two years ago and remembers almost none of it, because, as he told reporters Wednesday, he was cloudy-minded on painkillers.

This admission is one more reminder that sports are not necessarily good for one’s health, in large part because the culture of health in sports really doesn’t exist.

There is, rather, a culture of ordnance, and the players are the weaponry.

Marshall’s acknowledgement that he was masking pain from a high ankle sprain that should have kept him out of action for “four to six weeks,” by his own estimation but had him returning to action 10 days after the original injury.

“I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills, so . . . I took a couple of pain pills to mask the pain,” he said on a conference call with CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. “I really wasn’t supposed to play. So I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. That was pretty much it.”

We now re-enter the culture of playing when it isn’t prudent, either out of a misplaced sense of bravado or employer-based pressure to perform (there is no direct statement from Marshall saying that the painkillers were given to him by the team). The sense of bravado, which most athletes have, probably can never be legislated, and the culture of downward pressure to perform no matter what the infirmity has proven immensely difficult to conquer.

But there is another factor here, and that is the general lack of efficacy of painkillers. Warriors coach Steve Kerr took to using a form of medicinal marijuana because the painkillers he was taking for long-lingering symptoms from his back surgery were doing more harm than good. He said he found the marijuana was equally lacking, but he had enough concerns about the deleterious effects of Vicodin, OxyContin and other standard medications assigned to athletes in pain.

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr told CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

He later expanded on that after the initial “Kerr Is A Sparker” headlines hit the Internet.

“Having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery, a lot of pain, a lot of chronic pain, I had to do a lot of research,” he said. “You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet . . . NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous, the addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long-term health risks. The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.

“But I understand that it’s a perception issue around the country. The NFL, the NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking, ‘These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That’s what it is. To me, it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you and the stuff that they’re banning is fine.”

It is instructive, then, that when Marshall was asked for his position on the NFL’s stance not to include marijuana as a permissible substance for pain management, substance, a Jets public-relations employee who could be heard in the background of the call saying that Marshall “knows better than that.”

But Marshall did answer the question, saying in essence that he fully intends to know better, period.

“That is something that I actually want to research more this offseason when I have time,” he said. “I’m not a guy that knows about the benefits of what it can do for pain and other things. But I’d like to hear others’ opinions and really research the effects it can have on us – positives and negatives.”

In the meantime, sports soldiers on, using increasingly debunked methods for dealing with the pain their businesses inflict upon their employees and issuing warnings about breaching the silence of the workplace. But tales like Marshall’s will continue to surface until the businesses that require him and his like come to grips with the toll of their shortsightedness and, in some cases, neglect.