Stanford Football Joins the Modern Era
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 31, 2006

WITH YESTERDAY’S progress report on the new Stanford stadium comes the concurrent question: Will this help bring back Stanford football?

It may sound strange for an Old Blue like me, but I hope it does. I remember fondly many afternoons at Stanford football games in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the football was good and the pre- and post-game tailgating even better.

Cal football has made it to a level unmatched in its mostly bad football history since the Pappy Waldorf glory days of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. If Stanford football could also reach that level, it would be great for college football in the Bay Area. And the Big Game might mean something to even casual fans, with significant bowl bids on the line.

The playing part of that for Stanford depends in large part on how flexible the admissions department will be. Standards have apparently been tightened, one of the reasons Mike Montgomery left to take the Warriors job. Football recruiting seemed to be fine under Tyrone Willingham, but the Buddy Teevens era has taken its toll; there wasn’t much talent on the field last season, with Walt Harris in his first season.

Harris is a good football coach, as he’s proved at previous stops. He was at the news conference yesterday and on the media tour of the construction site, and he said he was pleased with the recruits he and his staff are bringing in. We’ll know more tomorrow, which is the national letter of intent day.

The new stadium will be an important factor in bringing back a strong football program. Harris said he has used it in recruiting, showing potential recruits the schematic drawings for the facility, and emphasizing the fact that it will be a grass field. Ray Purpur, senior associate athletic director who is overseeing the project, said players and coaches had been asked whether they preferred a grass or artificial turf surface. “I’d like to think I was the deciding vote,” said Harris. “Grass is way, way better. The new artificial turf surfaces are much better than the old ones, but nobody playing on them would say they’re as good as grass. We’ve had the best grass playing field anywhere, and there’s no reason we can’t have the same now.’’

The old Stanford Stadium had some big moments, not all of them for football games. Those of us who were lucky enough to see the 1962 US-USSR track-and-field meet will never forget it, not just the competition itself but the way athletes from the two countries embraced each other at the end of the day. We were naïve enough to think that it might make a difference in the world which, of course, it didn’t.

The stadium seemed all right for football then, when crowds of 70,000-plus were not uncommon, though it never was as good for watching as Cal’s Memorial Stadium.

But as Bill Walsh noted yesterday, fans have different needs now. They want to be much closer to the action than the old stadium, with the running track around the field, allowed.

Coaches want that, too. After being involved in very noisy road games, such as the one against Navy in Annapolis, Harris had to warn his players that it would be much different at home games, because the crowd was so far removed from the field.

This season, he said, he’ll be looking forward to much more crowd noise and a much more natural home game environment. If Stanford reaches its ticket-selling goals, there will only be a 3,000-seat section for fans of the visiting team. There will be another 8-10,000 temporary seats which can be added for the Big Game, and possibly, other important games.

In recent years, about half the stadium has been Cal supporters, and the last two Big Games have sounded like Cal home games. That won’t be true for Big Games in the new stadium, though the two schools may work out an agreement which will provide for more tickets to be available to Cal season ticket holders than those allotted under the plan revealed yesterday.

IN COLLEGIATE and professional circles alike, the “small is better” concept has taken hold in the Bay Area.

It started with the Giants, as they moved from the nearly 70,000 capacity at Candlestick Park to the barely over 40,000 capacity at PacBell – and thrived. With fewer tickets available, the Giants were able to sell many more season tickets than before. That, in turn, created ticket scarcity for other games, and the Giants shot to the top in attendance in the National League.

The A’s are trying the same concept for the 2006 season, closing off the entire third deck at the Coliseum, which lowers the capacity to slightly under 35,000. That will cost them some revenue when the Red Sox and Yankees come to town, but they hope to sell many more season tickets, full and partial plans, because fans can no longer assume they can walk up the day of the game and get a seat, even for the biggest games.

Ironically, the Raiders could benefit from the same kind of downsizing. Al Davis complained about the lack of seating, just over 52,000, in the original Coliseum, before he moved the team to Los Angeles, so the stadium was expanded to its current 63,132 to lure the Raiders into returning. We know how often the Raiders fill their stadium. They’d have more sellouts, which would mean more home TV of games, with a smaller capacity, and their average attendance would probably be at least as high, because they wouldn’t have those crowds that are announced as 40-41,000 but are more likely in the 30,000 range.

Now, Stanford is trying to do what the Giants did so successfully – indeed, at one point yesterday, Walsh referred to the Giants model – in filling the stadium with a smaller crowd. That automatically adds to the excitement of the game. It isn’t the total number of fans that makes a game seem important but the percentage of filled seats.

Like the Giants, too, Stanford is shying away from the label “Personal Seat License.” The Giants called them “Charter Seats”. Under the Stanford plan, five per cent of the seats can be purchased only with a yearly donation. Those seats, of course, are the very best available.

This year’s plan also allows for students to get in free, though that may change in years to come, and allows for family plans, as well as a “family fun” area.

It’s coming together so quickly because John Arrillaga has not only made his usual huge contribution but is overseeing the entire project. Double shifts are being used to speed up the project and, reportedly, Arrillaga is often out there at 10-11 at night. (He’s also taken Harris on a tour of the site, though Harris said he’s otherwise been monitoring progress on the computer.)

This project could only be done by a small, private university. Reportedly, Ned Spieker wanted to do something similar with the Cal stadium project, but a private individual would not only face the daunting prospect of navigating through the university bureacracy but then have to deal with state agencies which have their own agendas. Couldn’t be done.

THE NEW stadium is a great idea, and I wish the Stanfords well. I think the football program will be much improved with the new facility and Harris in charge, and I look forward to a revitalized team.

Of course, I can afford to be magnanimous because I know, with Jeff Tedford in charge, Cal will still win the Big Game.


TOMORROW: John Madden started with the Raiders in 1967, the same year I started on the beat for The Chronicle. Now, he’s been nominated for the NFL Hall of Fame, largely because of the efforts of Ira Miller. Tomorrow, I’ll be writing on Madden’s coaching career.

WELCOME: For those of you who learned of my website while reading my account of the 1981 season on the 49ers website, welcome aboard. I’m into history this week and will compare the 49ers Super Bowl teams in a column later this week. Much more fun than looking at the current mess.

LETTERS: I’ll be updating this section with new e-mails later today.


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