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.
RELATED: Stanford 40, Virginia Tech 12
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.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.