Jaffe: How Stanford sports can change your life

June 7, 2012, 1:46 a.m.

As I finish up my time on the Farm, it’s hard not to look back and think about my four years here. All of a sudden, I understand all of those speeches we sat through during Admit Weekend and NSO about how fast this would go by, and since Dean Julie is leaving, I’ll try to temporarily fill-in as leader of nostalgia.

When I came to Stanford, I had the fears that everyone else had about college. Except I had all of them. I wouldn’t be able to fit in, I wouldn’t be smart enough and I would make Stanford second-guess its decision to let me in. As far as classes go, I knew that I’d do something techie, mostly because I hated reading, writing and public speaking with a passion. I did not understand anything about literature, writing an essay induced more torture for me than the machine from Princess Bride and I became the first person in memory at my high school to refuse to give a graduation speech as salutatorian.

Four years later, I have voluntarily spent most of my collegiate life reading, writing and speaking to people. And it’s all because of sports.

During the activities fair my freshman year at Stanford, I walked all the way around looking for something to catch my eye. In typical fashion, I didn’t like anything. As I was on the verge of walking away, I realized that my mom would get frustrated and start lecturing me if I didn’t at least try something. Begrudgingly I went back to the tables, where my friend told me there were a couple advertising for sports fans. I’ve always loved sports, and I figured it would sound good if I said I had signed up for a few things, so I wrote my name down for The Stanford Daily and KZSU. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or at least, the rest has been my life for the past four years.

They say that sports are a metaphor for life. I’ve always hated this, mostly because talking about metaphors just reminds me how much I hated analyzing literature. But I suppose there is some truth to it.

In sports, the final outcome is often the result of whether or not you take advantage of opportunities. Whether it’s scoring a goal on the counterattack, knocking down the big putt, closing out a break point or picking off the pass and taking it to the house, you can make up for a long period of being outplayed as long as you take advantage of the opportunities that come your way.

At Stanford, I got outplayed big-time. I was never at the top of my classes, never got prestigious internships, never did research with professors and never stood anywhere close to the top of the social scene. But in the Stanford sports world, I took advantage of the opportunities that came to me, and that has made all the difference in my life.

Of course, opportunities are in some ways all about luck, and I got incredibly lucky to get where I am today. Stanford opened up such incredible opportunities for me, such as the ability to write this column for four years and broadcast play-by-play of some of the best athletes in the world without any prior experience.

I also got extraordinarily lucky to come to Stanford at a time when so many amazing people were here. For instance, my freshman hallway in Branner (the greatest hall of all time) had four athletes in four different sports who played at Stanford the full four years. One set a school record and won a national title in men’s volleyball; one was a first-team All-American and won a national title in women’s soccer; one was an All-American three times in singles and in doubles and won the national men’s tennis singles title; and one is a 14-time All-American and set multiple school and American records in track.

What an amazing way to enter college. And it kept going from there. I got to see the best football player, women’s basketball player and baseball player (it’s ok, Mark Appel, the Astros will soon realize their mistake) in the country perform here. I watched live from the press box as Stanford went to the only three bowl games it had been to in a decade, including the program’s first-ever BCS bowl victory last year. I saw three straight Heisman runners-up who easily could have been winners. I saw four straight Final Fours for the women’s basketball team and the men’s team start to reap the benefits of rebuilding with an NIT title. I saw the men’s volleyball team go from worst to first right here at Maples. I saw women’s soccer finally break through, women’s tennis grind out a thrilling championship and women’s water polo go back-to-back.

The wonderful thing about Stanford, though, is it isn’t just about that. At Stanford, you get to meet some of the greatest athletes in the world and you get to see championships every year. But you also get everything else that goes with it. You don’t need to work for the newspaper or radio station to get an up-close and personal look at all these games. You don’t need to be in the right frat or sorority to know the athletes personally, as friends instead of just icons. And you don’t need to be in the LSJUMB to have your blood pumping when “All Right Now” plays.

Stanford sports are for everyone. They’re for the sports fanatics who check Twitter updates for tennis scores while they walk back from the dining hall, but they’re also for the next Mark Zuckerbergs on campus who want a break from programming. They’re for that girl you want to ask out and that guy you met at a party. They’re for wide-eyed freshman and jaded grad students. They’re even for professors and school administrators.

Whatever your passion, Stanford gives you opportunities. My passion happens to be sports, and after four years, I can proudly say that I took those opportunities. But whether or not you’re a sports nut like me, take advantage of the unbelievable sports scene on campus. Meet athletes and learn about their sports. Go to games that you know nothing about and find new sports to enjoy. Learn when to jump during “All Right Now” and force everyone around you to do it. Get wrapped up in the crazed fandom of a student section and don’t care what the local senior citizens think of your rowdiness.

That way, when you come back for a reunion after making your first billion (because as we all know, a million dollars isn’t cool anymore), you can smile fondly as you reminisce about the football team’s glory years and the days when there were buildings on campus not named Arrillaga. And when the band starts playing, you’ll get goosebumps as you instinctively yell with the crowd.

Five, six, seven, eight.

Jacob Jaffe made his editors cry. Bid him a bittersweet farewell at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Jaffe.

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