Sixth Man: Off the bench

Feb. 16, 2010, 12:54 a.m.
Sixth Man: Off the bench
Even with a low Sixth Man enrollment this year, the student section is still a noisy presence courtside. (MICHAEL LIU/The Stanford Daily)

Just two minutes into Thursday’s men’s basketball game against Washington State, a WSU player falls off the basketball court and into the crowd, forcing a couple of cameramen, Dollies and unsuspecting fans to all frantically scramble out of the way.

To members of Sixth Man, the student cheering section, the opponent’s fall is no positive sign for the Stanford Cardinal.

“C’mon, your parents are watching! Pick it up!” yells a fan in a rather weak attempt at motivating his team.

Pointing to a Stanford player on the court, one athletic-looking but rather brash student asks, “Am I better than him, by the looks of it?”

“Yeah, dude, I think so,” responds his friend.

The insults directed at the opponents are no less biting.

“Look at the Washington State coaching staff. They look like such a ragtag group,” mocks one home team supporter. “Is that one wearing a blazer with a v-neck?”

After one of Stanford’s players pulls off a Jordan-esque slam dunk, the decibel level in Maples Pavilion rapidly intensifies. Students begin chanting, “Here we go, Stanford, here we go!” and alumni and non-students follow suit. It doesn’t hurt that the band never fails to fill every moment with music, drumming and expert heckling.

The noise level peaks when the overhead screen zooms in on Sixth Man’s most prominent member — Robin Lopez, a Stanford alum and professional basketball player for the Phoenix Suns.

By the end of the first half, Stanford is down 18-33, but that doesn’t stop fans from cheering on the Stanford Soul Line dancers, first up for the halftime show.

Even as some students wonder, “Who are these people?” some are less particular about their choice of entertainment. One enthusiast screams, “I see you!” as Soul Line’s middle and old-aged dancers bust out moves from dances like the electric slide and the “Stanford bounce.”

“Next up is Sixth Man Marco Polo!” booms the announcer. A blindfolded student, proudly sporting his black Sixth Man shirt, steps onto the court. Assisted by the cheers of the crowd, he wanders over to the Tree, who embraces the victorious seeker with a giant tree — not bear — hug.

At the start of the second half, a few pessimists take the chance to express their views of the game.

“I want to sit down,” complains a student, as he returns from the concession stand with a loaded hotdog and a 24-ounce lemonade. “I wish we had seats.”

The rest of Maples Pavilion, however, is just beginning to get into the game. Sixth Man members take the lead with enthusiastic “Nays!” whenever WSU makes a shot and “Yays!” whenever Stanford does.

Even the older spectators across the court are standing on their feet and jumping in rhythm with the student section, as if evoking memories of their college basketball experiences. One white-haired man can be seen swinging a white Stanford towel above his head. In the student section, a tall, jumpy freshman is following suit.

The Cardinal is down 48-52 with five minutes left in the game, having bridged a 15-point gap since halftime. The crowd responds to every basket, foul and miss. They are united by chants of “Let’s go Card!” and “On your feet!” as well as spastically nervous movements reminiscent of an eight-year-old waiting in line for the bathroom.

At this point, no one has a sure guess at the outcome. But when a Stanford player dunks to tie up the score, Cardinal fans smell victory.

“I’m going to be late to my meeting,” moans one fan, the typical hustling-and-bustling Stanford student. “But that’s okay. I just need to know what happens.”

For the die-hard fans that stay until the very end, the final moments do not disappoint. With five seconds to play, Jeremy Green hits a two-pointer. The winning score of 60-58 generates smiles and cheers all around. Everything is “All Right Now.”

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