At about 8 a.m. last Saturday, a wide, grassy clearing on Stanford University's campus called the Oval, which is normally reserved for reading and relaxation, was filled with hundreds of cheering collegians. They had gathered for ESPN's College GameDay, and would serve as the program's backdrop while waiting for the no. 4 Cardinal to play no. 7 Oregon later that evening. Students had been there since 6 a.m., holding signs with messages like, "The Oregon Fail: You Have Died of Dysentery Andrew Luck." Just a few years ago, it was hard to give away Stanford game tickets. Then Andrew Luck happened.
The challenge of making football matter at Stanford, and the rarity of that morning's scene, is multifaceted. Over the years, the school has been known for its sterling academics, its long roster of students who also happen to be Olympians, and celebrity students such as Chelsea Clinton and Tiger Woods. It has not been known for football. From 2002 to 2006, the Cardinal won a combined 16 games, and in 2006 went 1-11. The team didn't matter on the national stage, so it didn't matter to students, either. When former Stanford center Chase Beeler first got to Stanford in 2007, the year Jim Harbaugh became head coach, teammates used to refer to Stanford Stadium as "The Library." "It's quiet," Beeler says, "you come in, get your work done, and you leave."