Stanford football is a bit of a puzzle. Even more than archrival California, its campus, its surroundings natural gifts, even its history and founding, are the end result of Manifest Destiny. The school’s location is as perfect as any in the nation. They are positioned as a suburb of nearby San Francisco, just a short fifteen-minute freeway drive from San Jose, easy bridge-crossings from the East Bay (Oakland and Berkeley). They are in the middle of the famed Silicon Valley, one of the world’s economic and intellectual juggernauts. They are located on a stretch of land known as The Farm, which is big enough to expand campus facilities and is a town in and of itself (Stanford, California 94305, as opposed to nearby Palo Alto). They are within hailing distance of San Francisco Bay with all of its vistas and views, but geographically located where the famed fog and wind gives way to temperate warmth. Two freeways make it accessible. Famed surfing beaches are a half-hour away. Affluent residential communities surround the area, but unlike UCLA and Cal, it is not congested with traffic. Stanford is safe, filled with bike paths and natural trails, unlike USC (surrounded by urbanity). Stanford is close to happening nightlife, including the hot spots of San Francisco (known as The City), with major corporations and shopping all within hailing distance. Despite its rustic nature, Stanford University is located in the heart of the Bay Area, a population of some seven to eight million people and one of the greatest producers of athletic talent on Earth. Nearby Serra High School in San Mateo, for instance, is one of the all-time great prep sports dynasties, having given the world the likes of Barry Bonds, Tom Brady, Jim Fregosi and John Robinson among many others.
Colors: Cardinal and white
Nickname: Indians (1930-1971), Cardinal (1972-present)
Stadium: Stanford Stadium (opened: 1921; capacity: 50,000)
All-time record (1891-2006): 543-412-49
Bowl record: 9-10-1 (through 2006)
National championships: 1905, 1926, 1940
Pacific-10 Conference championships: 12
Heisman Trophy winners: Jim Plunkett (1970)
First round NFL draftees: 19
Notable alumni: President Herbert Hoover; Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day
O’Connor, William Rehnquist, David Breyer, Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor; California Governor Gray Davis; U.S. Senators Max Baucus, Jeff Bingaman, Kent Conrad, Mark Hatfield, Ron Weiden, Dianne Feinstein and Alan Cranston; Secretary of Defense William Perry; Secretary of Transportation Claude Brinegar; Health, Education and Welfare Secretary John Gardner; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Carla Hills; Secretary of Education Shirley Hufstedler; Secretary of State Warren Christopher; Watergate figure John Ehrlichman; astronauts Mae Jemison, Sally Ride and Steve Smith; Guatemala President Jorge Serrano; U.S. Poet Laureate Richard Hass; Hewlett-Packard co-founders William Hewlett and David Packard; Yahoo co-founders David Filo and Jerry Yang; Bank of America President/CEO Samuel Armacost; Nike president Philip Knight; Mondavi Wines’ founder Robert Mondavi; Charles Schwab & Co. founder Charles Schwab; Ford Motor Co. chairman Donald Peterson; Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Maxwell Anderson; Tony Award-winning writer David Hwang; authors John Steinbeck, Scott Turow and Ken Kesey; Internet pioneer Vincent Cerf; Academy Award-winning actor Jack Palance; actors Sigourney Weaver, Richard Boone and Ted Danson; producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown; screenwriters Colin Higgins, Waldo Salt and Ron Bass; University of California president Clark Kerr; Yale University president Richard Levin; Lehigh University president Peter Likens; Brown University president Vartan Greforian; Harvard University president Derek Bok; network news anchor Ted Koppel; Sunset magazine publisher Bill Lane; Los Angeles Times chairman Otis Chandler; Miss America Gretchen Carlson; San Francisco Giants’ president Peter Magowan; Stanford University baseball coach Mark Marquess; baseball players Bob Boone, Mike Mussina, Jim Lonborg and Jack McDowell; Stanford University basketball coach Howie Dalmar; basketball players Adam Keefe, Robin Lopez and Hank Luisetti; Stanford University tennis coach Dick Gould; tennis players John McEnroe and Roscoe Tanner; golfers Tiger Woods, Charles Seaver and Tom Watson; figure skater Debi Thomas; swimmer Summer Sanders; Olympians Janet Evans, Eric Heiden and Pablo Morales
Its facilities are all state of the art, built out of one of the largest endowments in the nation. Stanford’s academics are second to none. That includes Harvard, MIT or any of the “small” or “liberal arts” colleges. Among the top tier academic universities, it is with the possible exception of Duke the only one that truly competes at the highest level of inter-collegiate athletics. As a private school, they can manipulate their entrance requirements to allow “blue chip” prep stars in who otherwise might not make the grade. Excellent student-athletes are drawn to the Stanford challenge. More are likely to stay in school through graduation rather than move on to professional ball. It is a modern school yet steeped in tradition.
Stanford was founded by Leland Stanford, one of the original “robber barons” who built the trans-continental railroad. Its existence is a literal and figurative result of that amazing accomplishment; the end of the line. The “pot at the end of the rainbow.” The promised land.
Stanford’s all-around athletic programs are ranked with USC and UCLA as the best in the nation. These three schools have produced the most NCAA championships. Stanford women’s sports are second to none. Despite their academic emphasis, Stanford promotes and supports its sports with as much fervor as any other school.
But the success of Stanford baseball, women’s basketball, and to a lesser extent Stanford basketball, has not been matched in recent years by Stanford football. There is no legitimate reason for this. Coach Mark Marquess built a baseball dynasty with far more disadvantages than the football program. The football team is able to provide full ride scholarships to all their key players. Scholarship limitations in baseball forced the program to divide them, meaning they must compete with a certain number of “walk on” and partial-scholarship players. Furthermore, any football player must play in college before he goes pro. In the vast majority of cases he must compete for four years. A high school baseball star has the option of signing after high school. If he is any kind of prospect he will almost always leave college after his junior year.
Stanford, like California, allowed itself to become a haven of campus radicalism in the 1960s, but unlike Berkeley they still thrived in football. Its band embarrassed themselves by performing a “Tribute to Chairman Mao” during the height of China’s Cultural Revolution, when Mao was murdering some 35 million human beings. A cultural-political “war” with the University of Southern California marked the late 1960s and early 1970s. Trojan coach John McKay despised Stanford’s liberalism, which he saw as utter hypocrisy in light of the fact that conservative USC was giving the most opportunities to black athletes. The “elitist” Stanford students yelled “the most vile, foul racial epithets I’ve ever heard in all my years in coaching,” said McKay.
Stanford certainly had the chance to establish itself as a college football powerhouse on par with USC, Notre Dame and Alabama. They had a “head start” over those schools. California allure brought Walter Camp to Stanford, where he coached in the 1890s. Fielding Yost was there for a year (1900) before moving on to Michigan. Stanford played in the first Rose Bowl, a 49-0 loss to Michigan’s “point a minute” team in 1902. In 1905 they won the national championship and had a lively rivalry with cross-bay California.
Good weather, bustling nearby San Francisco, and post-war demographics favored Stanford. They decided to make their bid for a Rose Bowl “franchise shift” to Stanford Stadium when it was built in 1921. Pasadena’s successful building of their stadium in the Arroyo Seco, along with the simultaneous erection of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, stanched Stanford’s efforts. This eventually led to USC establishing clear dominance. UCLA eventually replaced Stanford and California as USC’s main rival.
With California’s “Wonder Teams” dominating the early 1920s, Stanford knew they had to do something spectacular. They did. After building Stanford Stadium, coach Glenn “Pop” Warner was brought in for the 1924 season. Warner was 71-17-8, responsible for such innovations as single- and double-winged attacks, leading to halfback reverse plays. Warner introduced the “huddle” and a numbering system for plays.
His greatest player was Ernie Nevers. He played his senior year of high school in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, then compiled a remarkable collegiate career. Nevers, a member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, was also a great baseball player who threw two home run pitches to Babe Ruth the year he hit sixty homers (1927). In 1962, Sports Illustrated named him the greatest college football player who ever lived.
Despite Warner and Nevers, Stanford lost to the “Four Horsemen of Notre Dame” in the 1925 Rose Bowl, 27-10, awarding the national championship to the Irish instead of Stanford. In 1926 Stanford was 10-0-1 with a 7-7 tie against Alabama in the Rose Bowl, earning them their second national championship. In 1927 they were 8-2-1 with a 7-6 triumph over Pittsburgh in the Rose Bowl. Consensus All-Americans in the 1920s were Jim Lawson, Nevers, Seraphim Post, and Don Robesky.
Stanford’s Associated Press Pro Football Player of the Year
John Brodie, San Francisco QB (1970)
But Warner’s teams could not beat Howard Jones and Southern Cal, which was reportedly the reason Warner left after the 1932 season. Following the 13-0 loss to USC in 1932, Stanford’s freshmen, who were not yet eligible for varsity play, got together and “vowed” never to lose to the Trojans again.
The next year, Stanford’s sophomores beat USC, 13-7 to advance to the Rose Bowl (a 7-0 loss to Columbia). In 1934 they again knocked off the Trojans, 16-0 en route to a Rose Bowl appearance against Alabama (who beat them 29-13). In 1935, they were seniors. When Stanford defeated USC, 3-0 they became known forever as the “Vow Boys.” That team was 8-1 with a 7-0 victory over Southern Methodist in the Rose Bowl. Consensus All-Americans of the 1930s were Bill Corbus, Bob Reynolds (later a founding owner/partner with Gene Autry of the Los Angeles Angels), Bobby Grayson, and Hank Moscrip.
In 1940, Clark Shaughnessy took over at Stanford. He created the T-formation and was as revolutionary a coach as Warner. Led by two-time consensus All-American quarterback Frankie Albert, the Indians were 10-0, beat Nebraska by a score of 21-13 in the Rose Bowl, and captured the school’s third (and last) national championship. Albert went on to great stardom with the San Francisco 49ers. Shaughnessy left Stanford after the 1941 season and they never ascended to those heights again. He became a successful coach of the Chicago Bears, ironically figuring out how to stop coach Red Hickey’s 49er “shotgun” offense in 1961.
Chuck Taylor was a consensus All-American at Stanford in 1942. In 1951 he was named head coach. In his first year Taylor led the Indians to a 9-2 mark, but they were beaten badly by Illinois in the Rose Bowl, 40-7. Consensus All-Americans of the 1950s were Bill McColl and John Brodie. Brodie was one of the 49er quarterbacks stopped by Shaughnessy when he solved the “shotgun.” Brodie went on to a Hall of Fame career with San Francisco.
The greatest athlete in Stanford history, and possibly the finest all-around athlete ever, was Bob Mathias. He starred as a running back for Taylor. As a central California schoolboy, Mathias won his first Olympic decathlon gold medal at London in 1948. He repeated the accomplishment at Helsinki in 1952. Mathias played for the Los Angeles Rams and became a U.S. Congressman.
Stanford All-Centennial Team
Chosen by fans, 1891-1991
OG Chuck Taylor
OG George Buehler
OT Bob Reynolds
OT Blaine Nye
C Vin Lindskog
TE Bill McColl
WR Gene Washington
WR James Lofton
QB Jim Plunkett
RB Ernie Nevers
RB Darrin Nelson
PK Rod Garcia
DL Paul Wiggin
DL Pete Lazetich
DL Pat Donovan
DL Garin Veris
LB Jeff Siemon
LB Gordy Ceresino
LB David Wymans
DB Dick Horn
DB Benny Barnes
RB Randy Poltl
DB Toi Cook
P Frankie Albert
John Ralston took over at The Farm in 1963. Between 1968 and 1970, Stanford was led by one of the finest collegiate quarterbacks of all time, Jim Plunkett. In 1970 Plunkett won a pitched battle for the Heisman Trophy during what came to be known as the “Year of the Quarterback.” He led the Indians to a 27-17 upset of Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, which goes down as one of the biggest upsets ever.
The following season, Stanford’s defense was called the “Thunder Chickens.” They managed an equally improbable upset of Michigan in the Rose Bowl behind quarterback Don Bunce, who was no Plunkett but efficiently led his team to the promised land.
In 1972, threatened by a lawsuit from native American groups and in pseudo solidarity with Indians who orchestrated a “hostile takeover” of nearby Alcatraz Island, Stanford changed their name to the Cardinal, which they been known as prior to “Indians” (1930-1971). There was and even remains confusion over the name, which is the color Cardinal (no “s”), as opposed to the bird Cardinals (plural). Their cheerleaders once looked darn good wearing Indian headdresses. Their mascot became . . . a tree.
As great as Camp, Warner, Shaughnessy and Ralston were, perhaps Stanford’s greatest coach was Bill Walsh. In 1977 he led them to a 9-3 record with a 24-14 victory over LSU in the Bluebonnet Bowl. The next year they capped an 8-4 campaign with a 25-22 win over Georgia in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Walsh left to take Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl triumphs in the 1980s. He returned to Stanford in 1992, leading his team to a 10-3 record, including a 33-16 victory at Notre Dame and a 24-3 win over Joe Paterno and Penn State in the Blockbuster Bowl.
Consensus All-Americans in the 1970s were Jeff Siemon (All-Pro at Minnesota), Pat Donovan, Guy Benjamin and Ken Margerum. The greatest Stanford player ever was consensus 1982 All-American quarterback and three-time Pac-10 Conference Offensive Player of the Year John Elway. Elway went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Denver Broncos, which included Super Bowl championships in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
Stanford’s Super Bowl MVPs (2)
Jim Plunkett (1984), John Elway (1997)
Brad Muster was a consensus All-American running back in 1986, then starred for the Chicago Bears. In the 1990s Bob Whitfield and Troy Walters were consensus picks.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism