Ray Ratto

Stanford faces future with roses at their feet

953787.jpg

Stanford faces future with roses at their feet

David Shaw will wake up Saturday morning. He will see roses in vases scattered about his kitchen. He will stroll through his house the conquering hero, awash in adulation and safe from the mundane cares of family life.

David Shaw will think how best to position himself and the snack table for the Big 10 championship game Saturday evening.

What I will do is put up the Christmas tree, he said with a wry smile.

He knows his Christmas will be spent in a hotel in Southern California preparing for either Nebraska or Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, so pre-holiday chores are not his to avoid. Not every day is a parade, and Saturday belongs to Kori Shaw and the kids. The Christmas tree? Hell be lucky if he isnt on the roof stringing lights, too.

He loses his Saturday because his Friday Stanfords Friday was so rewarding. In beating UCLA, 27-24, in the Pacific 12 Conference championship, the Cardinal cleared the electrified wire they could not in 2010 or 2011. They lost to Oregon twice, perceived both times to be the inferior team, so they were intent on not being the inferior team thrice.

And though UCLA came close (the Bruins got ginormous games from running back Johnathan Franklin and quarterback Brett Hundley, which they hadnt a week ago, and they even held a touchdown lead with 11 minutes to play), the Cardinal dealt swift, sure blows to make yet another close game their own.

They won the way they won the other 10 times the way an anaconda eats. Slowly, methodically, but comprehensively. They never dominated the Bruins as they had the week before, but they controlled them when it mattered so they could strike when it really mattered.

I had told them this morning that they had played every kind of game this year, Shaw said in the dark of the landing area outside his team's locker room. We won big, we won small, we won ahead late, we won behind late. I told them there wasnt anything we hadnt seen, and anything we hadnt done. So nothing was going to surprise us.

So, down 24-17, they commenced to eat. First, on a grinders march of 63 yards in which quarterback Kevin Hogan converted three third downs, including a third-and-15 from the UCLA 26 by finding Drew Terrell open and carefree on a fade in the right corner of the end zone.

We ran four verticals and Zach (Ertz) on a shallow route, Shaw said, and when the play started I was saying to myself, Hit the shallow, hit the shallow, hit the shallow. And then I saw the safety (Andrew Abbott) go with Zach and I started to open my mouth to say, Hit the fade, but Kevin already saw it.

The score, with 11:21 left, allowed Stanford to play a slightly less aggressive defensive posture. He could play for a winning field goal, which required less in the way of field position, and Jordan Williamsons foot would not have to be challenged as UCLAs Kaimi Fairbairns would at games end.

If he hadnt gotten Drew, we were going to kick the field goal there, so it really was the safe play, Shaw explained with that gentle professors tone he is mastering.

But the defense was sufficiently inspired to shut down the Bruins for the night. They were buried deep with the ensuing kickoff and holding penalty, and Stanford got the field position it needed for Williamsons 36-yarder with 6:49.

With UCLAs next life, it got three quick first downs then stopped dead again. And one exchange later, the Bruins got to the Stanford 34 before stalling. Fairbairns 52-yard attempt from inside the left hash fell maybe two yards short.

The Bruins were close enough to believe, but as Shaw said, the Cardinal had been here before. They played an unspectacular but methodical game, never letting the Bruins get enough ahead to think it had Stanford cornered, and Stanford with room to maneuver is Stanford standing on your sternum while you writhe and think of the good old days when you could breathe.

So now, Rose Bowl invitees for the first time in 13 years, beyond the one hurdle that had hooked their laces the previous two seasons, the Cardinal face a future this school has not known since 1972. A future with roses in their teeth, and perhaps if they show what they have done so many times this year, at their feet.

And David Shaw? Hell be the one on the step ladder trying to make the angel that sits at the top of the tree not lean over like a drunken pinecone. Hey, youve got your day of well-earned rest, and hes got his.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Bortles the worst QB in the NFL? Yeah, he doesn't care

bortles-ratto.jpg
AP

Bortles the worst QB in the NFL? Yeah, he doesn't care

Blake Bortles of America’s Jaguars represents something new and dangerous in American sports, and no, it isn’t because he is the national punch line who punches back.

Rather, the Jacksonville quarterback who is preparing for the AFC Championship Game against the New England Monolith, is dangerous because he seems genuinely not to care at all that he is routinely savaged as the worst quarterback in the National Football League. Not just passive-aggressively so, but actually and completely.

Have you any idea what this does to the smack-talking industry? If this catches on, our generation of semi-malevolent athletic parrots are stuck without a reason to talk that trash.

Of course, Bortles is unusual in this regard, in that he has been mean-mouthed not just by players but by regular citizens. He has been used as a prop for the Why-Isn’t-Colin-Kaepernick-Working movement, he has been compared unkindly to Ty Detmer, the previous low water mark in championship-level quarterbacks, and essentially disparaged almost universally.

Put another way, a case can be made that he has been savaged in his idiom as aggressively as the President.

And what does he do? Well, win, sure, but he has help, as all quarterbacks do. We always seem to forget that in our only-one-position-matters depth of understanding about the sport.

No, what he does is say with all sincerity that he doesn’t care one way or another, and that he never claps back at anyone for their more pointed views re: his skill set. If this is so, he is not only the owner of a rhinoceros hide, but he may be the living embodiment of a movement toward, “Oh, I suck? Yeah, okay, whatever. You’re probably right. You have yourself a good day.”

Andrew Luck does that after receiving a big hit. Bortles seems to do it on command, and if this is the future of sports in America, we are heading for a fascinating new world of relative silence.

But we know better. Bortles is an outlier, again, and this will not catch on. There’s no putting the mess-talk back in the tube. But if it helps, Bortles has another round of grief awaiting him this week as he is compared to Tom Brady . . . as a compost heap is compared to the Taj Mahal.

Only with more F-bombs.

Let Steve Young's brilliant Monday Night Football idea come true

steve-young-ap.jpg
AP

Let Steve Young's brilliant Monday Night Football idea come true

Steve Young recently told KNBR’s Tom Tolbert that he still wasn’t interested in replacing new Raiders coach Jon Gruden in the Monday Night Football analyst’s chair – “still,” as in he’s been approached before and declined, for the only legitimate dodge left on the books -- family reasons.
 
“I cannot take a job where you disappear for four days a week for five months,” Young said, later adding, “If I could do it from my backyard, sure, I’d do it.”
 
And therein lies an idea – a brilliant idea, if I do steal and say so myself.
 
Let Young do the games from his backyard. Put a camera back there and let him work from a lounge chair beside what I imagine is a pool. He should have a beer and snacks at hand, and his kids should be allowed to run in front of him and make noise like they would normally, because that’s how most of us watch the games. Maybe he can bring the neighbors over for a little ‘cue, as long as they don’t F-bomb through his pregame chat with Sean McDonough.
 
After all, these are not grand secrets he will be imparting. He is not going to be able to articulate the secrets of the bubble screen or the two-deep zone any more cleverly than any other analyst – he will just sound more agreeable and less cartoonish doing it. And if the payment for that sense of informality is him in a Tommy Bahama shirt, cargo shorts, flip-flops and a frothy IPA, well, what’s the harm.
 
I mean, it’s not like he would be torpedoing ratings momentum. This has been another year of diminishing viewership for the NFL, which continues to struggle with the “F” in its acronym – football. Catches aren’t catches, fumbles aren’t fumbles, holds aren’t holds, first down measurements need office supplies, and nobody can explain why the overseer on the Planet Replay is no better at getting calls right than the guys on the ground.
 
So why not Young lounging in his backyard? Or his garage? Or the hardware store? Or the local tavern? If McDonough needs company in the booth, there is a vast wildlife preserve of ex-players roaming the hills and flats just waiting to share insipid tales of jet sweeps and momentum shifts while Young sits working the business end of a pina colada and providing the big picture the sport is so weak at providing. Frankly, I'm stupefied that it hasn't been done already.
 
This has been A Tramp’s View Inside The Television Garbage Fire, and I will happily accept the standard consultants fee when this is universally adapted.