The Knife reclaimed: The Stanford Daily outlasts Daily Cal in Ink Bowl

Dec. 5, 2021, 3:20 p.m.

The year is 2015. Chaos floods all aspects of life. The internet is torn between whether a dress is black and blue or white and gold. People are incessantly whipping and nae nae-ing as the rapper Silento sings the same nine words over and over. The release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” reignites the Star Wars saga and brings an entire fanbase together, while the departure of Zayn Malik from One Direction polarizes another. Amidst all of this chaos, one thing brings order to the world: The Stanford Daily wins the Ink Bowl.

Fast forward six years, and mayhem on planet Earth has escalated. Two separate presidential races have brought major controversy. A global pandemic forced the world to shut down. And the Daily Californian had won four consecutive Ink Bowls. 

So it was only right that as people returned to the office, students returned to the classroom and things seemingly returned to normal, The Stanford Daily returned as victors of the Ink Bowl.

The Ink Bowl, an annual flag football game played by The Stanford Daily and the Daily Californian the morning of the Big Game, is a tradition that dates back to 1952. Journalistic skills, which members of both student-run newspaper teams possess in excess, don’t translate to the field as well as heart and determination do. Luckily, the latter traits were on full display from both sides during their 2021 bout. 

The Stanford Daily ultimately won a nail-biter 58-56 following four overtime periods. It was the team’s first Ink Bowl victory since 2015. The Daily Cal claimed four straight wins from 2016 to 2019 before the 2020 flag football matchup was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In the Daily Californian’s recap of the 2019 game, the author concludes the article stating, “4 years and counting.” First, this is stylistically incorrect as, according to AP style, numbers one through nine are spelled out, and numbers beginning a sentence should be spelled out. Second, the “and counting” proved to be incorrect, following The Stanford Daily’s victory this year.

As both teams stepped foot on Wilbur Field on Nov. 20, excitement filled the air. Even though only seven players took the field for each team, plenty more stood on the sidelines in support for the first in-person Ink Bowl in two years. 

The Daily Cal traveled well, bringing a crowd that chanted throughout the entirety of the matchup. It also provided a referee, donned in yellow and blue, who made a number of calls that left Stanford participants particularly frustrated.

As for The Stanford Daily, it defended its home field with fellow editorial staff, friends and even parents of players vocalizing their support. 

“I’m really proud of our team for coming together,” said senior head coach Cybele Zhang. “It was great to see people collaborating from across sections of the paper, and it really helped to have so much support on the sideline.”

From the very first play of the game, it was evident that The Stanford Daily’s offense came to play. Led by senior quarterback Daniel Martinez-Krams, a dual-threat player who led the team in both passing and rushing yards, Stanford struck first. Per the Ink Bowl rules, a touchdown counts as an automatic seven points, with no extra point succeeding the scoring play. Accordingly, Stanford led 7-0 to start the game.

“We played aggressively and came out swinging,” junior captain Jeremy Rubin said. “No one really expected us to win so we played free and loose and got it done.”

Daniel Martinez-Krams runs the ball during the Ink Bowl.
Senior quarterback Daniel Martinez-Krams runs the ball. (Photo: WILLIAM MENG/The Stanford Daily)

However, the Daily Cal responded with an offensive clinic of its own. Its spread offense could not be stopped for most of the game, with the aerial attack accounting for many long touchdowns. On its first offensive possession, the Daily Cal marched down the field to tie the score at 7-7.

Both teams traded touchdowns once again, putting the score at 14-14. On its third drive with the ball, The Stanford Daily’s offense was finally stopped when Martinez-Krams was intercepted in Cal territory. 

The Daily Cal took advantage of the opportunity, once again scoring a touchdown to take its first lead of the day, 21-14. A response from The Stanford Daily tied the game again at 21-21, but Cal took the lead with just 13 seconds left in the half to go up 28-21. 

Because the Daily Cal was receiving the ball to begin the second half, The Stanford Daily team felt immense pressure facing a 7-point deficit. However, 13 seconds was plenty of time for Stanford. Martinez-Krams took the snap from senior center Cooper Veit and rolled out with zeros on the clock to heave a desperate pass. The ball sailed in the air before gracing the hands of sophomore wide receiver Jibriel Taha to tie the game 28-28 entering the half.

The back-and-forth affair created an intensity that was palpable to all participants, players and spectators alike. In the halftime huddle, The Stanford Daily searched for ways to mitigate this intensity.

Beyond just the running, throwing and meticulous flag-pulling — which The Stanford Daily’s heart and soul, senior captain Daniel Wu, emphasized in the practices leading up to the game — the Ink Bowl is always a scene characterized by trash talk. Because of the cancellation of 2020’s matchup, this game marked many players’ Ink Bowl debut. One such player was sophomore defensive end/wide receiver Gavin McDonell, who diverged from traditional trash talk and handled the game’s intensity in a different fashion.

“Many players on both sides were talking smack to each other, [but] I chose a different strategy for throwing my opponents off their game,” McDonell said. “I started giving them compliments. For instance, I’d say, ‘Nice catch on the last play, big man,’ or ‘That jersey really brings out your eyes!’” 

McDonell’s unconventional approach proved to help The Stanford Daily, as he secured a momentum-swinging touchdown and also recorded a number of key sacks. 

The Stanford Daily's Kathleen Mhatre dives for a flag-pull against the Daily Cal's quarterback during the Ink Bowl.
The Stanford Daily’s Kathleen Mhatre (center) dives for a flag-pull against the Daily Cal’s quarterback. (Photo: WILLIAM MENG/The Stanford Daily)

The second half was more of the same, with both teams exchanging scores. With the score tied at 42-42, the Daily Cal was afforded one last opportunity to score at the end of regulation. After making its way down the field in the final minute, the Cal offense had the ball deep in Stanford territory. Following a timeout with 12 seconds remaining, the Daily Cal took a shot at the end zone but recorded an incompletion. With five seconds left and one final chance to win in regulation, Cal’s quarterback scrambled right and dove for the pylon. The referee, who stood just a few feet away from the play, hesitated before calling him a yard short thanks to the heroics of The Stanford Daily’s graduate student cornerback Kathleen Mhatre. 

For the first time in recent memory, the Ink Bowl headed to overtime. Leaders from both teams met in the center of the field to reaffirm the agreed-upon rules: overtime would adopt college football’s format. Each team is granted an offensive possession in each overtime period, and this continues until one team maintains a lead at the end of the period. 

The first two overtime periods brought more high-octane offense from both sides, leaving the score tied at 56-56 at the end of 2OT. Uncharacteristically, though, the third overtime was defined by strong-willed defense. The Daily Cal began the period with the ball, but The Stanford Daily came away with back-to-back sacks to start the drive, thanks to a defensive effort led by Martinez-Krams, Wu and McDonell. The Daily Cal ultimately failed to score, leaving The Stanford Daily with a chance to win it all.

The Stanford Daily took the field knowing a score would win the game. After three plays, the offense had yet to find the end zone. In a desperate fourth-down situation, Martinez-Krams found an open sophomore wide receiver Tammer Bagdasarian. The approximately 6-foot-2 star juggled the ball at first but came down in the corner of the end zone with possession. However, he was ruled out of bounds by the referee. Chaos ensued, with coaches from The Stanford Daily marching onto the field in disbelief. After civil discussion, however, the ruling was confirmed. The Stanford Daily failed to convert and the game was set to enter a fourth overtime period.

Enter: a 1 p.m. reservation for Wilbur Field. The unexpected overtime periods meant that the Ink Bowl was running over time, and the field was reserved for an afternoon soccer match. In response, leaders from both teams agreed that it would all come down to one final chance. Each team would be granted a single two-point conversion attempt from 5 yards out. Whatever the score was, whether it be a tie or a victory or a loss, it would go down in history.

The Stanford Daily went on offense first. As soon as he took the snap, Martinez-Krams rifled a pass to Taha to give Stanford a touchdown. They had scored, but knew they still had to stop the Daily Cal’s offense — something they had struggled to do all day. 

On the final play of the game, the Daily Cal’s quarterback stepped back in the pocket and lofted a pass over the middle into triple coverage, targeting a receiver running a crossing route. After leading the offense to a 58-point performance, it was none other than Martinez-Krams, playing at safety, who broke up the pass. The entire Stanford Daily team rushed the field, celebrating its first Ink Bowl victory in six years.

Just as the Big Game has The Axe, the Ink Bowl has The Knife. The Stanford Daily paraded in the center of Wilbur Field, holding up the coveted trophy, which holds an X-Acto knife in its center. Because it had been out of Stanford’s possession for so long and no members of the team had won the Ink Bowl in their careers, members of the team mistakenly called it “The Pen” until its true name was discovered over a week later. 

Members of The Stanford Daily and The Daily Californian pose for a photo following the 2021 Ink Bowl.
Both student newspapers pose together after the game (Photo: WILLIAM MENG/The Stanford Daily).

Despite the intense rivalry between the Daily Californian and The Stanford Daily that is epitomized during the Ink Bowl, mutual respect for the work of both teams in both the newsroom and on the field underlies the event. To demonstrate this respect, The Stanford Daily posed for photos with the Daily Cal following the game and both parties celebrated the continuation of a tradition that had been put on pause for too long. 

“It was incredible to bring home a win after so many years, with so much of The [Stanford] Daily playing and cheering for us,” Wu said. “I’m really glad we had an exciting and heated game but kept it clean. At the end of the day, we’re all rooting for each other as student papers doing a tough job for our communities — just happy we proved we’re the ones better at football.”

The Daily Californian did not respond to request for comment.

Zach Zafran was the Vol. 262 managing editor for the sports section. Now a senior staff writer, he has previous experience reporting and writing with SFGATE. You can find Zach around campus wearing swim trunks no matter the weather. Follow him on Twitter at @ZachZafran and contact him at sports 'at'

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