Zimmerman: A column four years in the making

May 30, 2012, 1:30 a.m.

I’ve told the story a hundred times. Applying to college in the fall of 2007 with the limited guidance of an overworked public school counselor, I decided to make a funny and conclude my paragraph on why Stanford was the right fit for me by saying, “I fully support any school that embarrasses USC on the football field.” I like to think I made it in because Dick Shaw has an incredible sense of humor.

In truth, my application was anything but conventional or ideal. But the way I answered that final question was representative of everything listed on that digital form. I was being completely honest. Stanford was my top choice for a million reasons, but mostly because it had kickass sports. Other highly regarded academic institutions didn’t.

Fast-forward to the present. After following Cardinal sports for four years, this is my final column. I’ve been a writer and a fan, an eternal optimist and a remote-throwing pessimist, a student who has routinely delayed last-minute assignments to attend early-season games against mid-major schools that I still can’t locate on a labeled map.

In a few weeks, I’ll be graduating with perhaps the greatest college quarterback of all time; the nation’s biggest number of past, present and future Olympians; dozens of national champions; and the smartest fan base in the country. We’ve all endured our fair share of disappointment–wide lefts, “rebuilding years,” losses to Cal, etc.–but it would be a crime to say we’re leaving disappointed.

If not for any other reason, I’m proud of the way things have been accomplished. In the current collegiate athletics climate, going four years without any sort of relevant controversy is praiseworthy in itself. Doing it while maintaining the top all-around program in the nation puts Stanford in a league of its own. Every school has its imperfections, some more public than others, but the fact that there hasn’t even been a hint of significant negative speculation for a school that undoubtedly has a target on its back is truly remarkable.

I shouldn’t use what few words I have left to convince you to enjoy sports on the Farm as much as I do. I’m crazy. I wouldn’t be able to properly survive at some D-III school that arrogantly boasts three conference championships in ice hockey since 2003. I laugh at that. Stanford has turned me into a sports elitist, and a damn proud one at that.

What I can do is relay stories of friends who came to Palo Alto without a clue that a football had laces and now exit as diehard opponents of the Wildcat formation. Sports at this institution serve several purposes, but none more important than as refuge from the frightening realization that we’re being counted on as the future of this planet. It’s a task most of us are aware of and relish, but it’s also one that can get a bit overwhelming. There’s nothing better than knowing that when life is kicking your butt, you can head over to the southeast corner of campus and watch your team kick someone else’s.

The incoming freshmen will graduate from Stanford with a completely different sports landscape than we have today. Players will be paid, conferences will be condensed and admission standards across the country will continue to decrease. It’s a sick and twisted reality that has been a long time coming, but one that will hit the Farm long after some of the more controversial universities.

My only hope is that when that time does come, this athletics program will still have enough appreciation from the student body to thrive. I pray that kids leave their iPhone apps and CS assignments for a few hours a week to check out any of the world-class athletes this campus has to offer. Regardless of whether you care at all about sports, you must have admiration for people who have become the best on the globe at what they do.

I’ve tried for years not to be too much of a homer, to criticize Stanford athletics when appropriate and to remain objective in my analysis. That doesn’t mean I haven’t passionately rooted for the Cardinal during every single play of my undergraduate career. Whether you have loved or hated what I’ve had to say over the years, thank you so much for reading my column. I hope we beat the hell out of USC on Sept. 15.

Despite this sappy farewell, Zach Zimmerman wants to stay in touch. Check up on him at zachz “at” stanford.edu or follow him on Twitter “at” Zach_Zimmerman.

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