In the past five years, Stanford football has fought its way from mediocrity to the top of college sports. Monday’s 40-12 romp over Virginia Tech culminated that remarkable run. Yet in the midst of this hard-earned Orange glory, however, I ran into a frightening number of students who neither watched the whole game nor even knew who we were playing. I might not be somebody whose group of friends and acquaintances constitutes an accurate cross section of the entire Stanford populace, but I was hardly the only Stanford fan who encountered this situation.
And it’s not necessarily going to improve. Coach Jim Harbaugh is very likely leaving for the NFL. QB Andrew Luck has many incentives to go pro. Owen Marecic, the Cardinal’s versatile linebacker/running back, is an outgoing senior. In sum, Stanford Football may lose some of the vital star power that has caused its fan base to grow, and even in these fruitful times the extent of that base’s support remains unclear. If next year is successful but slightly less glamorous, will Cardinal fans rise to the occasion?
Part of the problem is our size. With 6,887 undergraduates and 8,779 graduate students, Stanford has a substantial population compared to its academic rivals, but pales in comparison with giants like Alabama, Michigan, or Ohio State. The normally-packed Red Zone only constitutes a small portion of our relatively small 50,000-seat stadium, which we filled just once this past season in our game against USC. Stanford alumni doubtless love watching Cardinal games, and the Stanford Fund experiences major spikes in donations whenever the football team has a big win. But their loyalty does not necessarily manifest itself on campus.
As a result, Stanford runs the risk of joining a club where it does not belong. How can we be a Top 5 Football team, a truly envied position of power, and have no idea what to do with it or how to appreciate it? To the vast majority of America that does love college football, that fanatically lives and breathes it whenever fall season comes around, our condition seems like elitism at best and hypocrisy at worst. Nobody would debate our team’s skills. This is purely a debate about the school behind them, about how much we deserve our team and whether or not we have incorporated their achievements into part of our fundamental identity.
A cheeky poster in the Stanford section on Monday proclaimed, “Revenge of the Nerds!,” complete with a Stanford Tree as the “S.” The poster also hit a little close to home. Vehemently loyal Stanford fans can be found on campus and abroad, and hundreds of them showed up yesterday at Maples Pavilion to welcome back the victorious team. But the fact remains that much of Stanford has exhibited little more than casual interest in this week’s monumental triumph. If we are to embrace our football team the way they have so forcefully embraced the pursuit of success on the field, our school’s collective attitude needs to change. Otherwise, we will be no more than a stepping stone for the Harbaughs and Lucks of the sports world, who make good use of our fabulous facilities, draw on our extensive resources, bring tremendous honor to our athletic program, and leave behind a school that prefers to hit the books while our country’s favorite college game moves on.