Stanford doubles down on upsetting No. 1 teams


Stanford doubles down on upsetting No. 1 teams

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) During the football team's most recent ``movie night'' held before every game, Stanford coach David Shaw quieted his players to announce that the women's basketball team had beaten top-ranked Baylor. The room erupted in excitement, and Shaw shushed everybody again to make one more statement.

``I said, `OK, now it's our turn,''' Shaw said. ``It was just kind of like, `OK, yeah.'''

The trend started on the Hawaii hardwood, moved onto the football field in Eugene and finally floated all over Twitter, where Stanford players put the perfect label on an unforgettable weekend: Revenge of the Nerds.

Tara VanDerveer's team ended Brittney Griner and the Lady Bears' 42-game winning streak. Shaw and his players outsmarted No. 1 Oregon 17-14 in overtime Saturday to complete a dramatic double, and ``Nerd Nation'' - as athletes across all sports on this quant Silicon Valley campus call themselves - enjoyed a giant I-told-you-so celebration.

The victories went well beyond the Cardinal getting payback on the programs that ruined each team's national title hopes last season. Both showed that success can still be reached well after Andrew Luck and Nnemkadi Ogwumike - the No. 1 overall draft picks in each sport - have left The Farm.

``I think it was special,'' Shaw said Tuesday. ``You could draw a parallel to say that the women's basketball team lost one of the best players in the country, but they want to prove that they're a good team. We can say that we fall into that category also, whereas we lost the best player in the country in our sport, and we also want to prove to ourselves as well as to other people that we're a good football team that can compete against anybody.''

Consider it done.

Along with losing Luck to the Indianapolis Colts, three other Stanford players were selected in the top 42 picks in April's NFL draft, and both starting safeties and wide receivers are also on NFL rosters or practice squads now. Taking down the previously undefeated Ducks at amped-up Autzen Stadium has surprisingly put the Cardinal (9-2, 7-1) in control to host the Pac-12 Conference championship game - something a Luck-led team never did - if they can beat No. 15 UCLA on Saturday.

VanDerveer is still learning how her team will play over the course of the season after losing Ogwumike to graduation and the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks. The Hall of Fame coach has talked to her team since training camp about what the football program has been able to accomplish long after its leader left, citing examples of defense and unselfishness that go beyond any one player.

The women's team got even more pumped up when they were informed over the public address system during pregame warm-ups against Hawaii on Saturday that the football team had upset Oregon.

``When they did it, they could hear us cheering from Hawaii,'' said VanDerveer, whose Cardinal (5-0) beat Baylor 71-69 and eventually captured the Rainbow Wahine tournament in Honolulu to become the top-ranked team in the latest Associated Press poll. ``When we won, we could hear them cheering from Oregon.''

The rigorous academics, adjacent facilities and shared dining halls naturally bring Stanford athletes closer together. The football and women's basketball teams, however, have grown even tighter behind the rallying cry of Nerd Nation.

``It's sort of like a conspiracy,'' joked junior forward Chiney Ogwumike, the younger sister of Nnemkadi.

Football players first began to embrace the stereotype when former coach Jim Harbaugh brought a more physical, run-first style to the program and opponents often teased that a team full of future venture capitalists, engineers and even politicians couldn't be tough. The women's team took it a step further last season, when the Ogwumike sisters created a spoof video called ``Nerd City Kids'' that included football players. The video went viral all over YouTube and social media.

Ogwumike said she has even lobbied for a banner to be placed at the campus' entrance that reads: ``Welcome to Nerd City.''

``It's having a little chip on our shoulder, but also acknowledging that the culture around here for athletics is a little bit different and embracing that,'' Mohawk-wearing middle linebacker Shayne Skov said.

Players for each team said the departure of their transcendent teammate drove players to prove the program went beyond any one player - a sentiment both Luck and Nnemkadi Ogwumike used to share with anybody who would listen, though few often did.

Now more than ever, no longer can anybody - including coaches - be complacent. No longer can the team depend on its most dominating player to steal a victory, and nobody's talents - or flaws - can be covered up.

``Knowing that people are kind of like, what are you going to do without Neka? Everybody just kind of like comes together,'' forward Taylor Greenfield said. ``We have so many more and so many different weapons this year and so many opportunities for other people to step up, so I think people are more excited.''

Past failures also have pulled the programs together.

The Stanford women's basketball team has reached the Final Four the last five years - losing to Baylor in its latest appearance - and never won the title. VanDerveer - not one to mix words - said her team is showing stronger signs of progression in November than it did in recent seasons. For instance, she said none of the players even knew they were No. 1 until she told them.

The football team's only regular-season loss the previous two years had come against Oregon. Beating the seemingly unstoppable Ducks after two years of torment has made the victory even sweeter - perhaps especially for those no longer around.

``Great game by the Cardinal in Eugene,'' said former Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby, now the Big 12 Conference commissioner. ``Sure fouled up the national championship picture.''


Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at:


AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this story.

Quick Links

Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

ESPN Fantasy Football expert Matthew Berry was at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere last weekend in Los Angeles, where he got the chance to interview the three Redskins rookies in attendance: Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin, and Bryce Love. 

Berry, who was a guest of JP Finlay's on the Redskins Talk podcast on Thursday, has been a fan of the Burgundy and Gold since he was a kid, so he was eager to talk to three of the team's newest players and learn more about them.

It was during those interviews where Berry got a quick glimpse of a side of Haskins that now has Berry really excited.

"I thought what was really cool was... When I was interviewing McLaurin, Dwayne Haskins came in and interrupted the interview to give him some crap," he told Finlay. "It was really a wonderful moment to see. Obviously, they know each other very well from Ohio State, but just the fact that they felt comfortable enough and he wanted to come over and mess with him a little bit and have some fun, I was impressed with that."

Once Haskins left, Berry explained how he asked McLaurin about the interaction. Redskins fans will like McLaurin's answer.

"That's Dwayne, Dwayne is being a leader," McLaurin said, per Berry. 

Haskins did something similar to Love during Love's interview as well. Berry even caught up with Colts receiver Parris Campbell, who also played with the QB at Ohio State, to inquire about the 15th overall pick. 

"I asked him, 'Listen, I'm a diehard Redskins fan, what am I getting?'" Berry said. "He couldn't have been more effusive. 'You're not only getting a guy who puts the ball where you want it, but you're getting a leader. You're getting a guy who makes sure everyone in the huddle is included.'"

You can be skeptical of how much these little moments mean, and that's fair. Ultimately, how quickly Haskins picks up Jay Gruden's playbook and how accurate his arm turns out to be will factor more into his success in the NFL than being able to joke around a bit with some of his guys.

But you can also hope that these little moments are hints of a bigger personality and approach, a look into an athlete who can get a football team to buy into him. That's the side Berry is on.

"I thought that was really cool, and just showed somebody who's very comfortable in the leadership position and who's trying to be inclusive of everyone," he said. "It's early in the process, but I have yet to hear somebody on or off the record say something bad about Dwayne Haskins."


Quick Links

WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

USA TODAY Sports Images

WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

For Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics, last season's heartbreak in the WNBA Finals is only fuel for another potential postseason run in 2019. 

"That's something I don't think I'll ever let go," Washington's star forward told Chris Miller on the latest episode of the Wizards Talk podcast. "It's always tough when you get to that Finals and you can't finish it off. But I think it's something that can fuel you. You don't want to let it just bring you down and depress you and make it so you can't get over that hump."

"If you use it as fuel and motivation, it can help you get better. I think that's what we're all gonna do."

The Mystics reached their first WNBA Finals in franchise history in 2018 but ultimately lost to the Seattle Storm. Delle Donne, recently named in's GM survey as the favorite to win league MVP, is back for her third season in Washington and headlines a strong team that has the talent to compete for the title again.

Her status for Saturday's season opener against the Connecticut Sun is up in the air due to a left knee injury, but Delle Donne believes the Mystics will have another great season given the continuity on the roster from last season and the return of All-Star forward Emma Meesseman. 

"We feel great. We've got our core back," said Delle Donne. "And to be able to add a superstar like Emma to that roster is pretty scary. Especially with her style of play and the way that our team started playing last season, where it was such positionless basketball. Spreading the floor, just spreading it, making it easy for one another to attack, get some threes. She's just gonna add so much to that."

NBC Sports Washington will be broadcasting 10 Mystics home games during the 2019 WNBA season. For the full regular season schedule, click here.