Stanford completes season for the ages
PASADENA, Calif. -- There are few moments in sports as special as the Rose Bowl trophy ceremony. Amid cardinal and white confetti falling around the most famous stadium in college football, David Shaw embraced the moment Tuesday evening and shared the spotlight with a Stanford fan base that had been through thick and thin to reach it with him.
As he scanned the cheering crowd that was celebrating the Cardinal’s first win in the game since 1972, Shaw was all smiles in the wake of a 20-14 win over Wisconsin. There was one face however that he couldn't get past: his father Willie.
The two looked at each other beaming, sharing a special connection that was the culmination of a dream the two shared both as father and son as well as coaches.
“I was perfectly fine until I saw my dad. Then I cried,” the younger Shaw admitted. “I thought about how hard he had worked in the Pac-8 and in the Pac-10. The support he’s given our staff. He’s a guy that’s an expert and given out advice. This meant so much to him and I’m so happy for us to get this victory and for him to be part of it.”
“Three times I almost got here with different teams. To see him do it and get the win, that was just awesome,” an emotional Willie Shaw said. “This isn't just special because he’s my son but because it’s Stanford. We've been Stanford people for a long time. It’s been a long, long journey and to see it happen like this has been amazing.”
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The Cinderella run to the roses concluded in appropriate fashion for Stanford. They shutout Wisconsin in the second half with a suffocating defense that contained a bruising running game ranked 12th in the country. The Cardinal offense jumped out to a two-touchdown lead early in the 1st quarter but pounded away behind their big offensive line and kept the field position battle in their favor as they held on late in yet another nail-biter.
In doing so, the Pac-12 champions capped off something that many had considered impossible when the season began, and became a team that will go down in school history as one of the best ever.
“I tried not to think about it until the ref said it was over,” said quarterback Kevin Hogan, who moved to 5-0 as a starter. “I took the final knee and asked him if it was really over. I hope a smile came across my face. I ran over to Stepfan [Taylor] and gave the ball to him because it was a great career. I said, ‘It was fun playing with you.’”
Named the Rose Bowl offensive MVP, the award capped off a remarkable game and career for Taylor. Already the school record-holder for career rushing yardage, he took shot after shot from Wisconsin’s tough front seven while running between the tackles for 89 yards and a touchdown.
When the Cardinal needed a 1st down with just a minute left on the clock to seal the game, there was little question who the ball was going to. A workhorse with a quiet demeanor and a flashy alter ego - Kulabafi - Taylor burst up the middle for a five-yard gain that brought the 45,000-plus Stanford fans to their feet in celebration and appreciation.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be a physical game,” Taylor said. “We knew at the end of the game that we needed that to get that first down to win the game. So we got that and then won the championship.”
[Related video: Stanford vs. Wisconsin highlights]
They nearly sealed the deal the series before with a time-consuming drive that milked more than six minutes from the clock in the 4th quarter. Hogan’s pass to tight end Levine Toilio in the back of the end zone sailed high on 3rd down and, clinging to just a three-point lead, Shaw sent out Jordan Williamson to attempt a 22-yard field goal.
The sophomore from Texas missed a clutch kick last season in the Fiesta Bowl but rebounded this year to nail the game-winner in overtime to beat Oregon and came up big once again for the team at the end of a game.
“It was like every other kick; I was preparing mentally and visualizing the kick,” Williamson said of booting it through the Rose Bowl uprights. “I’m sort of used to it. I still get nervous every now and then but I’m sure it’s common.”
With Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez on the sidelines and plenty of time on the clock, there still was an opening for Wisconsin to end past misery and capture a victory in their third straight trip to Pasadena. After crossing midfield, down six, Badgers quarterback Curt Phillips made his first major mistake of the game when he threw over the middle and right to Stanford nickel corner Usua Amanam.
The defensive back, who had played sparingly up to that point in the game, immediately dropped to the turf before popping up to celebrate with a raucous sideline.
“I got the pass key from offensive lineman so I just sat there and dropped,” Amanam said. “I think a d-lineman or linebacker got a hand on the ball and just happened to be right there. It just fell in my hands. I don’t think very much was going through my mind then to be honest.”
There wasn’t much going on with either team during a lackluster 3rd quarter that saw the teams trade punts on seven straight possessions. Badgers running back Montee Ball became the first player in history to score touchdowns in three different Rose Bowls but was held to just 13 yards after halftime and was a big reason why Wisconsin kept things close but ultimately couldn’t get much going against Stanford’s defense.
[Related article: Stanford wins a new way: With defense]
“We really tried to simplify what we were doing; they were getting us out of place a little (in the 1st half),” Gardner said. “We tried to just go back to basics and play our base defense. We limited our errors and felt like we could control the line of scrimmage.”
The battle in the trenches harkened back to Rose Bowls from years, if not decades ago. The teams combined for just 37 pass attempts and ran the ball 80 times. The second longest pass play for the Cardinal came off a double reverse early in the 1st quarter that later set up their touchdown.
The defenses were stiff, the offensive lines large. Below the majestic San Gabriel mountains there was a good old-fashioned pound-the-ground game of football.
“We were defeated by a very good Stanford football team,” said Alvarez, who moved to 3-1 in his career in the Rose Bowl. “They didn’t surprise me how they played. As you saw on film, they’ve been very consistent all year. They’re a physical team, well-coached and they deserved to win today.”
Stanford improved to 12-2 on the year and extended its winning streak to eight games as the Cardinal closed the year as one of the hottest teams in the country. They won at least 11 games for the third year in a row (a school-record) and capped off a magical 2012 with their second BCS win in three years.
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For a team that was just 1-11 in 2006, it is hard at times to come to terms with the fact that a bunch of self-proclaimed “nerds” stood on top of college football Tuesday to embody what a true turnaround is and how hard it was to become champions.
“It means the world, especially from a recruiting standpoint,” running backs coach Mike Sanford said. “It means a ton to honor these seniors and the foundation they’ve laid. It was special to have all the NFL and former players here on the sidelines who had a hand in this. They all laid the foundation for this and where we’re going to continue to go.
“The fact that we’ve won the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1972, I don’t think it’s truly set in for this program. It’s been a long time.”
[Related video: Condoleezza Rice congratulates Shaw]
It was a long time coming for the Cardinal’s head coach as well. A former player and longtime coach who was raised on The Farm from a young age, Shaw understood how special this team and this school are.
“Stanford University is about excellence in everything we do," Shaw said. "It’s in basketball, biology, mathematics ... we want to be the best at what we do and today we held up our end of the bargain.”