(This article was published in 2004).
Buffalo Bills fans know it all too well. Philadelphia Eagles fans have been beaten down by it. If you’re a “Phil Mickelson guy,” it’s become intrinsic to your fanhood.
Now, on the brink of seeing my team make history, like those other fans I know this to be true: the Stanford Cardinal men's basketball team has to choke.
Just like the Buffalo Bills in the early '90s, who went to (and lost) four straight Super Bowls, you just know Stanford’s going to blow it.
Just as Phil Mickelson, one of the greatest golfers of the last decade, has never won a major, I know Stanford, who will make its 11th straight tournament appearance this month, will screw it up in the end.
I suppose I could mention the Boston Red Sox, but there’s a key difference. Every May I get a phone call from my brother, a diehard Red Sox fan (is there any other kind?). He tells me, every May, that this is the year they finally put away the curse of the Bambino and win the World Series. Red Sox fans actually believe, truly believe, every season that this is the year. Every year.
Eagles fans know better; Cubs fans feel the cold ever October; Stanford fans are just a bit smarter than that.
The Cardinal have exceeded everyone’s expectations. On the precipice of history, riding a record of 25-0, Stanford has toppled Arizona twice (once with possibly the greatest finish of this year’s basketball season: a steal with three seconds left and an off-balance 30-foot jump shot with no time on the clock) and beat #3 Gonzaga right before Christmas. They are two wins in Washington away from becoming the first Pacific-10 team to go unbeaten.
When was the last time a men’s college basketball team started the season 25-0? Oddly, it was last Wednesday when the second-ranked St. Joseph’s Hawks won a road game at Massachusetts.
Stanford and St. Joe’s seem to be headed to a showdown in the finals of March Madness. It’s just too poetic. The big powerhouse team coming from the West; the smaller Atlantic 10 team coming from the East. Plus, oddly, one of the common opponents of #1 Stanford and #2 St. Joes: #3 Gonzaga.
Fans of St. Joe’s should be praying that this is the match-up in the finals. Because, more sure than if they faced 16-seeded Coppin State, they can be sure of a victory as Stanford will choke.
Stanford will choke.
They have to choke. It’s the tradition of the team. But, it wasn’t always that way.
In the mid-1990’s, Stanford was known as a perennial Cinderella. As a No. 6 seed, they beat Tim Duncan’s Wake Forest to go to the Sweet 16. They even made an unlikely run to the Final Four a year after Brevin Knight went to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That was the year that Mark “Mad Dog” Madsen scored a last-minute lay-up to come from behind and beat Jim Harrick’s University of Rhode Island Rams in the round of eight. Madsen’s ensuing dance – which quickly went down in college basketball lore – left sports fans cringing.
Since that game, Stanford has become a choking dog. Year after year since that terrible dance by Madsen, they have failed to go as far as their seeding would have predicted. The low point came when, as a No. 2 seed several years ago, they lost to 10th-seeded Gonzaga (which put the small Washington state college on my shit list right up there with the Green Bay Packers). It continued last year when, as a No. 4 seed, they were ousted by No. 5 seed Connecticut.
I suppose there is hope. Mark Madsen was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA offseason. Now that Stanford will gear up for its first tournament run with Madsen away from Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, there may be hope.
But, my money is on Matt Lottich suddenly shooting 2 for 14 one game leaving Stanford fans like me shaking our heads for another year.