Dec. 29, 1999
STANFORD, Calif. - The basketball team is ranked No. 1. The school has produced Tiger Woods, John McEnroe, John Elway and dozens of Olympic champions. No college has won more sports titles the past five years.
So, for a Stanford football team making its first Rose Bowl appearance in 28 years, it's simply a matter of keeping up school standards.
And not just on the playing field. Stanford boasts four of the current nine Supreme Court justices and five U.S. senators, as well as alums ranging from Sigourney Weaver to Ted Koppel. Chelsea Clinton is a Stanford student.
"We have one of the finest overall sports programs in the country, and everyone feels excited that football is joining the school's other champions," coach Tyrone Willingham said. "I think that feeling is heightened by the fact that we are fortunate enough to have alumni across the country in every sector."
Stanford has won 59 NCAA team championships in the past two decades, most in the nation. The Cardinal have won national titles in sports ranging from baseball to volleyball to women's basketball in recent years.
At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Cardinal athletes won 19 medals - 10 of them gold. Only eight countries had more gold medals. And at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Stanford athletes won 16 gold medals.
The school has won five straight Sears Directors' Cup titles, awarded to the nation's top overall athletic program. This fall, the water polo and women's volleyball teams made it to the national championship game.
Until recently, the football and men's basketball teams did not share in that success.
The football team, which had not won an outright Pac-10 title before this season, struggled for years against conference rivals such as UCLA, Washington and Arizona State - public schools with much larger enrollments.
And when Stanford began this season with a 69-17 loss at Texas and then lost four games later at home to lowly San Jose State, a Rose Bowl bid seemly ludicrous. But the Cardinal went 7-1 in conference play, and made it to Pasadena - something Elway never did during his tenure as Stanford quarterback in 1979-82.
The basketball team's rise to No. 1 has been just as stunning. It graduated four starters last season and the only returning starter - power forward Mark Madsen - missed eight of the team's first nine games this season.
"Everyone thought Stanford would be down a bit this year, losing all those seniors," said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, whose Bulldogs lost 76-56 to the Cardinal last week.
While the entrance to the idyllic Stanford campus has a billboard celebrating the Rose Bowl appearance, there is little of the hoopla that normally would accompany such football and basketball success at most universities.
Instead, the university's focus is on its laboratories that have served as incubators for technology-driven Silicon Valley and where many of the school's 15 current Nobel laureates work.
A perfect example of the mix of athletics and academics at Stanford occurred Nov. 21 at a women's basketball game against Iowa State. During halftime, 1996 Nobel prize winner Doug Osheroff was awarded a basketball signed by the team.
Osheroff is a physicist whose calculus-based entry-level physics class has included some Stanford women's basketball players over the years. He was awarded the Nobel prize for his discovery of three superfluid phases of liquid helium - a key find in the field of superconductivity.
Standing at center court, he eyed the basketball with the same kind of bemusement most people would reserve for a container of liquid helium.
"Of course, I like to see Stanford win, but sometimes I get concerned there's too great an emphasis on athletics and it's a distraction for the students," he said. "But I will be completely honest with you: If I had more time I would love to go to more of those basketball games."
By ROB GLOSTER
AP Sports Writer