Gaining perspective on Cardinal’s huge upset |

Gaining perspective on Cardinal’s huge upset

To put Stanford’s win over USC into the proper perspective, you should know that the Stanford Tree mascot woke up the next day with a raging hangover, empty tequila bottles strewn about his apartment and a pair of pants dangling from his upper branches. OK, that just meant it was Sunday. For real perspective, how about this e-mail I received yesterday from a Stanford grad:

“I keep thinking I should be conflicted over all of this, given that Stanford’s victory allows Cal to get to No. 2 (almost No. 1 if not for LSU’s big comeback).”

Yep, the 24-23 win at USC was so stunning, Cardinal supporters are worried about how it affects their arch-rival. God, they don’t even know how to properly celebrate. Having grown up in the Bay Area, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Unlike Texas or Oklahoma, where football is religion, the Bay Area is by comparison a sleepy backwater. In the great department store of college football, they are the casual wear department.

But that doesn’t make Saturday’s result any less significant. Even if no one else is saying it, can I call this what it is? The biggest upset in college football history. USC opened as a 41-point favorite, and by game time the line was at 39-40. If the point spread is the standard, then this beats the runner-up, Oregon State (+36) over Washington, 21-20, in 1986.

Other fun facts:

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— Going into the game, Stanford was 2-14 since the start of last season and had been outscored 72-3 in the previous six quarters.

— It was the first start for quarterback Tavita Pritchard, who had thrown three passes in college.

— Stanford’s defense was allowing 47 points per game in Pac-10 play.

— The Cardinal trailed 23-14 in the fourth quarter.

But things like this just don’t happen without being part of some bigger picture. The fact that Stanford was even in a position to win it at the end means that this program has turned some sort of corner. The Cardinal played harder, made the the big plays when they counted and may have had a bit of divine assistance when Mark Bradford pulled down Pritchard’s pass in the left corner of the end zone for the winning TD.

It’s kind of a neat moment, too, for Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, who played high school football across the street from Stanford- at Palo Alto High – before becoming the quarterback at Michigan (after Stanford admissions had turned him down). While at “Paly,” Harbaugh was so famous for locking his keys in his car during football season that teammates built him a jimmy device in shop class so that they wouldn’t have to continually drive him home. It’s that singularity of purpose that leads one to believe that he just may have a future in this football business.

Actually I’m just relieved that the Stanford band didn’t march onto the field prematurely and ruin this one. That very easily could have happened.

– Rick Chandler is an entertainment writer for Lake Tahoe Action and is the associate editor of the sports blog Contact him at (530) 541-3880 or at

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