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Football Bridges the Generational Gap

Alumni ties are often manifested in the boardroom, particularly if the school in question is Stanford, one of our country’s flag-bearing academic institutions. Graduating from Palo Alto puts you in a very exclusive club; it’s a key to closed doors, a talisman carried with pride that separates one individual — a potential employee, for example — from another. And that’s not in a Skull and Bones sort of a way, but in a far more merit-based fashion: you worked your way through Stanford, so here’s looking at you, kid. When you’re a Card you’re a Card all the way, and so on and on.

Does that mean Stanford is different than the rest? Not really, and especially when it comes to football. Former Sooners litter the sidelines in Norman on key Saturdays, just as former players do at U.S.C., Alabama, Texas and the rest of the nation’s elite. The past connects to the present through football.

But when it comes to football, Stanford differs from that group in one key regard: while those powers have long dominated the national scene, Stanford’s heyday is occurring right under our very nose. The Cardinal have never put together quite this sort of extended period of success — not since Pop Warner, at least.

That puts the disappointing conclusion to Tuesday night’s Fiesta Bowl in perspective. What long-time Stanford fan is going to bicker over a missed field goal, regardless of the stage, when the program is five years removed from Walt Harris and the 1-11 disaster? Maybe a current undergrad, though here’s guessing that Mr. or Ms. Valedictorian has bigger fish to fry. You’ll be my boss soon, sir or madam, so let’s be friends.

This is a roundabout way of getting to an open letter penned by former Stanford running Mike Dotterer to current Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson, he of the three missed field goals in the Fiesta Bowl loss. Dotterer, who played for the Cardinal from 1979-82, was more than ready to put things in perspective.

“My freshman year,” wrote Dotterer, “I went the wrong way on the last play of the Big Game which many believe cost us a victory.” Stanford lost that game, 21-14, to the hated Golden Bears, and went 5-5-1 in Rod Dowhower’s lone season as the program’s head coach.

“The next season with John Elway as our quarterback, we again lost the Big Game and did not get invited to a bowl game. My junior year we finally beat (California) but again did not get invited to a bowl game. Then my senior year (1982) our band came on the field for the famous ‘PLAY’ game. Again, we did not get invited to a bowl game and I graduated from Stanford that spring in 1983.”

Dotterer closes his message with this: “Jordan, I’d give every touchdown I scored (23) and gladly never play one down for all four years to have the ring that you won last year with your Orange Bowl victory! I know you’ll come back next season stronger than ever!”

Actually, Dotterer capped his letter with a quote from Napoleon Hill, the famed self-help guru whose 1937 classic “Think Big and Grow Rich” is one of the best-selling books of all time. “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

This is brotherhood of a different sort. It’s not Billy Sims whooping for Oklahoma’s next Heisman winner; it’s not Patrick Peterson calling Tyrann Mathieu the next great one on Twitter. It’s a former Stanford player, one who suffered through four disappointing big games — or Big Games — giving a surely heartbroken sophomore some much-needed perspective.

And it’s not entirely special to Stanford. It’s just special, period. Through the years, from 1979 to 2011, the tie of college football, and of Palo Alto in particular, bridges the generational gap.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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  1. Papa John says:

    Thanks for this article, Paul. But both you and Dotterer neglect to mention that Dotterer played baseball at Stanford and Dot, as he was known back then, did go to two College World Series. I’m not sure that Jordan Williamson will have such an outlet this spring.

    Nevertheless, here’s hoping that Williamson overcomes this adversity and has a great career at Stanford.

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