Dec. 6, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. -
For only the fourth time since 1970, the Stanford football team is Rose Bowl-bound. Jim Plunkett and Todd Husak quarterbacked their respective teams in Pasadena - Plunkett in 1970 and Husak in 1999 -- and have unique perspectives on the game, the atmosphere and the similarities between their clubs and the current Cardinal squad.
"No. 1, going to the Rose Bowl was our goal when we got to Stanford," said Plunkett, who engineered a 27-17 upset over Ohio State and was named the game's MVP. "They'd been absent for 16 years when I got there. That's what we set out to do. Guys like Bob Moore, Jack Lasater, Randy Vataha, John Sande, and list goes on and on. We were all a year apart and trying to make Stanford a better football program. We worked hard, set our goals, and were very fortunate to achieve them."
What was the New Year's Day experience like?
"Up to that point, it was the most exciting day of my football career," Plunkett said. "I can't tell you how excited I was to be there playing in that game against a great Ohio State team. I keep telling this story, but if we had played them 10 times, they would have won nine of them. Our guys played as well as we possibly could. We weren't to be denied that day."
Plunkett played for John Ralston, who would coach Stanford to another Rose Bowl win the following year against Michigan behind the late quarterback Don Bunce. Husak played for Tyrone Willingham.
"For me, it was playing in a game that I had watched on TV every year," said Husak, a Southern California native. "It was a tradition. Not just for my family, but I think families around the country. I think that's why it's so special for a lot of Stanford guys from the East or Midwest who probably did not attend the game, but might have been home in the snow watching it, seeing the sunny skies and beautiful California weather. There is so much history and a tremendous atmosphere with the fans. To walk out in front of that crowd is special and something I will always remember."
Husak's Cardinal team put up a strong fight against heavily-favored Wisconsin before falling, 17-9.
"We were such tremendous underdogs going into that game," Husak said. "It will be a little different this time around. Wisconsin was a strong team with a Heisman Trophy running back in Ron Dayne. I think people expected them to come in and roll over us. There wasn't the pressure or focus on Stanford as a team."
This year's team has been characterized by a power running game and stout defense that leads the nation in sacks and tackles for losses. It has proven resilient, winning many tight games, and athletic sophomore Kevin Hogan has emerged as a clutch quarterback who finds ways to win. He is unbeaten in four starts.
"As far as offering advice to a guy like Kevin Hogan, I'm sure he gets enough advice from the people around him," said Plunkett, who, in 1970, received Stanford's only Heisman Trophy. "I've seen him keep Stanford in the game time after time with his play.
"At times, he's electrifying the way he can run around and make big plays when they're needed. And that's what it takes. Sometimes you get outplayed and face a team that's doing a pretty good job, but you fight and scratch and find a way to come out on top. That's what's important."
Husak, who works with fellow Stanford graduate Dave Flemming on all Stanford football radio broadcasts, said the only advice he would give Hogan is to soak up the Rose Bowl.
"Enjoy being a part of all the events and focus on preparing and winning the game," he said. "As great as that experience was for me, losing that game left a sour taste in all the mouths of all the Stanford guys that played in it."
Like Husak, Plunkett will attend the game and root hard for Hogan and the Cardinal. Both are unabashed in the pride they feel for Stanford football.
"These guys worked hard and accomplished a great deal in the last three years, starting with (Jim) Harbaugh and David Shaw (Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football)," said Plunkett. "I feel tremendous pride in the job these guys have done. Now, if they don't win a game or if it's even close, you kind of say, `What's going on?' You expect them to go to a bowl game every year and that's a good feeling."
Said Husak, "They did something no other team in Stanford history has done: beat four straight ranked teams to clinch the Pac-12 championship and go to the Rose Bowl. Not just that, but what the program has done is re-set the bar. Now the expectations are so high each and every year, it's become a top-five program in the country."
More importantly to Plunkett, Stanford hasn't taken any shortcuts or compromised its high academic standards.
"It goes to show you what can be accomplished here at Stanford," he said. "There's a bunch of good kids out there and they do a great job of representing Stanford. We (wife, Gerry) live vicariously through Stanford football and all the other sports they have at Stanford. I couldn't be prouder of a bunch of guys."
"As Coach Shaw said the other day: Kids don't have to choose football over education," said Husak. "You can get the best education in the country, win a conference championship and play in a BCS game. I think that's an incredible achievement by everybody involved."
-- By Mark Soltau, Stanford Athletics
Palo Alto native Mark Soltau has spent his whole life and much of his career around Stanford sports. A sportswriter for 35 years, Soltau spent 16 (1981-97) at the San Francisco Examiner, where he covered not only the Cardinal, but all five 49ers Super Bowl-championship teams. Golf always has been his passion and Soltau served as the golf beat writer for the Examiner, as well as the national golf writer for CBS Sportsline, and contributing editor to Golf Digest. He has been the editor of tigerwoods.com since 1997.