Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why college football is more fun than the NFL

During the reunion weekend, TLOML and I went to a football game. Stanford have had an unusually strong start to the season, due in part to their star quarterback who will apparently be 'Number One Draft Pick'. The draft is when the NFL teams select from all the college football players who want to go pro, with the worst NFL team getting to choose first. It's kind of a redistribution of talent.

The fact that Stanford football would produce the number one draft pick, Luck, is getting the alumni all confused and excited. Apparently when TLOML and his moron-bowl drinking buddies were at the Farm, they were a bit rubbish at football. Not anymore.

Campus was all a-buzz about the game.

It even made the front page. Admittedly, of the Stanford Daily.
The Bookstore, with a Stanford athletics merchandise section bigger than most Footlockers.

The queue at the Bookstore, two hours before the game.
The stadium, which holds over fifty thousand spectators, was sold out. It was packed with rabid red-t-shirted students, plus a bunch of alumni, their offspring, and me in my brand new Stanford letter sweater.

Stanford beat the Washington Huskies 65-21, in an avalanche of rushing yards (read that somewhere... must get TLOML to explain it to me) and exciting running and throwing. I loved it.

Almost as much as the football, I liked the entertainment. I gather the Stanford game show  is a little unusual.

Let's start with the mascot. Washington have their husky, Berkley has its bear, Texas have their longhorns, Clemson have their tiger, and Miami have their hurricanes. The theme is usually fearsome forces of nature. And Stanford? Well, Stanford's official position is that there is no mascot. They are the Stanford Cardinal (never Cardinals) and cardinal is... well, a colour. They do however have an unofficial mascot, which is a tree.

And the band. Marching bands are another feature of US university life that I find a bit puzzling. They are part of the cheer effort, and do a jaunty, spirit-lifting half time show.

The Stanford band - or, to give them their full introduction and title, the one, the only, the truly incomparable Leland Stanford Junior, University Marching Band - are a little different. They bring a sense of irony and a spirit of chaos to the whole shebang. The show we watched had a few members of the band in Star Wars costumes, for reasons that remained obscure. They specialise in doing songs and forming letters designed to offend their opposition. Apparently they were banned from playing at Notre Dame, a college with plenty of students with Irish Catholic roots, for doing Riverdance and a gag about the potato famine.

As well as their mascot tree, the team are cheered on by the Stanford Dollies. Like all serious (since they are now serious) athletics departments, Stanford has a cheerleading team. They're the tanned girls in the skimpy outfits forming human pyramids. And those 5 rather less athletic girls twirling around and doing the can can in the corner? They are the Dollies. They come with the band.

I'll leave you with one more video treat. This is the last 4 seconds of the '82 Cal vs Stanford game where the band, thinking Stanford had won, flooded the field. Meanwhile, Cal dodged through the band to score the winning touchdown. Check out the trumpet player being thumped to the ground. Ouch! Apparently the band leadership is passed on with 4 seconds to play at the Cal vs Stanford game every year, in honour of this occasion.

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