Hummelt: Underdog vs. underdog

Dec. 13, 2020, 5:09 p.m.

What makes an underdog in the Pac-12? The team’s record? Their reputation? Their recruits? The history of the program? My answer: hard work and joy in playing.

For the Oregon State vs. Oregon game two weeks ago, I bet my sister $5 that UO would win by a mile. For Oregon State vs. Cal the week prior, I also had faith in the Bears. In my mind it’s a no brainer: the Ducks and Bears are superior to the Beavers.

All through elementary school I showed up to school decked out in Duck gear on Civil War game day — even though I had no connection or loyalty to either school. During the past 13 years, the Ducks earned 11 Civil War titles, while the Beavers only garnered two hard fought wins. Oregon State’s last bowl game appearance was the Hawai’i Bowl Game in 2014. The Ducks made it to the sought after Rose Bowl a year ago. The term underdog isn’t unknown to Beaver fans, but it’s accompanied by hometown pride and purpose. 

Like the weekends prior, yesterday I was hoping like heck during the Oregon State vs. Stanford game that the Cardinal could pull this one out. But this weekend’s match-up was unique: underdog vs. underdog. Neither team had an obvious advantage; neither was ranked, neither was in the running for the Pac-12 North title and neither had a perfect or winless record. Both have had their highs and lows this season. 

Understandably, then it was a close game and came down to the fourth quarter. Thanks to Chance Nolan’s unfortunate (or fortunate for Stanford) fumble at the 16-yard line with 23 seconds left in the game, the Cardinal was able to stop the Beavers’ last minute campaign and secure the win. 

Another no brainer: Stanford > Cal. Stanford kept The Axe from 2010-2018 –– a winning streak of nine Big Game titles that spans half of my life. Future NFL superstars like Toby Gerhart ’10, Andrew Luck ’12, Zach Ertz ’13 and Christian McCaffrey dazzled fans like me during these successful seasons. 

The 2020 pandemic season has been difficult for all teams, but the Cardinal has taken a few extra blows. Starting senior quarterback Davis Mills and starting senior wide receiver Connor Wedington both out for the season opener against Oregon due to a false positive COVID-19 test, which affected not only Week 1 but Week 2, too. 

Due to strict restrictions in Santa Clara County, the Cardinal has been living and practicing in Corvallis for the past week. Stanford players were adaptable and found a “home away from home” in rural Oregon. 

On top of sports related difficulties, Stanford was one of few Pac-12 schools to not welcome the majority of students back to campus. At Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah, Washington and Washington State players were surrounded by friends and fellow students on campus. In contrast, because Stanford postponed the arrival of the student body until winter, few familiar faces were seen on the Stanford campus. 

It’s been an unusual quarter for all Stanford students, studying remotely across the world. Student-athletes practiced at local high schools up and down the west coast, on tennis courts, in parking garages and lived out of hotels for weeks. Just like the underdog teams across the conference,  all students still made connections, showed up for and worked hard in class and athletes rolled with the punches of COVID-19.  

But in sports, even if it’s underdog versus underdog — one always goes down and the other must come out on top. Saturday’s football game was a hard fought game on both parts, but Stanford, arguably the biggest underdogs of the 2020 season, pulled out a win. Their ability to not only survive, but thrive during adversity, is a testament to how students can overcome the odds in an unprecedented year.

Contact Harper Hummelt at hummelth ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Contact Harper Hummelt at hhummelt 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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