I haaate…. various Stanford athletic alumni and by association the Stanford Cardinal

By Ben Adams

The team is called the Cardinal. That’s a color, a big red “S” with a tree in front of it. Now, if there is some kind of tree called “The Cardinal” and we are not aware of it, we understand. Just the same, we’d appreciate it if someone explained the connection between trees, the letter “S,” and one single Cardinal, which, the Maroon staff is reasonably certain, does not exist and would have to be concocted before any attempted explanation.

If Stanford hasn’t of its own volition perpetrated any great sin upon this country, its alumni, or at least the sporting members of that august club, it most certainly has taken upon their broad shoulders a significant chunk of the evil-load, a tradition of evil-load-bearing that traces its roots all the way back to renowned jerk and U.S. president Herbert Hoover, who was the financial manager of the first Stanford football squad. He was reputedly so crummy at this minor responsibility (that a child could fulfill) as to actually fail to get a football for their first game. The legend of Stanford’s jerky sports tradition continues to the present and shows no sign of waning, even with the advent of the Internet and many other comparably jerky athletic programs. You don’t believe me? Pop quiz: where did Tiger Woods, John MacEnroe, and Mark Madsen attend college?

Answer: They’re all jerks.

And there are others:

Thomas “Touch-Down” Vardell (B.S., Industrial Engineering, 1991)

Ah, Touchdown Tommy. They called you “Touchdown” because you arrived via your own redwood-like legs in Paydirt City, USA on 38 documented occasions in your four years in the Stanford backfield. You bypassed a potentially lucrative career in industrial engineering to sign on with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL, who acquired your rights with the ninth pick in the 1992 NFL draft, bypassing a chance to tap such luminaries as Robert Porcher, Dale Carter and the inimitable Eugene Chung of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, a veritable Valhalla of offensive linemen.

However, after your visa to Paydirt City was revoked in Cleveland (three TDs in three seasons, which averages out to roughly .0625 TDs per game), the nickname “Touchdown” became less a badge of pride than an inescapable reminder of how thoroughly you failed in life.

Mike Mussina (B.S., Economics, 1991)

Mr. Fancypants graduated with a degree in fancy economics from fancy Stanford in three and a half fancy years. He signed a fancy contract with the fancy major league Orioles an entire fancy year before he started playing fancily.

Mr. Fancypants went 18-5 in his first full season as an Oriole, with a 2.54 ERA that convinced everyone who wasn’t him that his pants were extremely fancy. All things considered, this was going to be excusable if Mussina had never packed up his black socks, his pulled-down cap, and his ego, and left. His destination was not appreciated. From here forward we are discussing Mike Mussina, New York Yankee.

Now, it must be clear by now that being on the Yankees is not kosher. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have degrees of non-kosher-ness, in the coarse terms being used here. Various modern-era Yankees have been considerably more kosher than Mike Mussina, such as Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, and Rondell White. The list could be longer, but that isn’t necessary. What is necessary is an explication of what exactly is so un-kosher about Mike Mussina. Those details follow.

On September 2, 2001, Mike Mussina came to Fenway Park to pitch in a baseball game. A few celebrities were in attendance, including the fresh-off-his-Stanley-Cup-victory hometown favorite Ray Bourque, and also the author of these sentences. Mr. Bourque and I sat in the luxury boxes that overlook the inspiring green monster in right field. We enjoyed meatball sandwiches and a very small amount of repartee. We also planned on enjoying a hometown victory, but those plans were foiled by Mike Mussina. Because Mike Mussina decided to make his bid for a perfect game on the same night that I got my only chance ever to sit in the luxury boxes at Fenway. Did I mention that I really like the Red Sox?

Thank you, Carl Everett, for dropping a pinch-hit single in front of Ray Bourque and me on the right-field grass. Thank you, Ray Bourque, for being a good guy and autographing my Red Sox program from September 2, 2001. No thanks to you, Mr. Fancypants, for trying to ruin that memory forever. You and your fancy perfect games will have to take your business elsewhere.

Brevin Knight (B.A., Sociology, 1997)

You don’t even have a J in your name that I might take away, to make it very clear that you have no Jump shot (“J”).

Adam Keefe (B.S., Political Science, 1992)

It was the summer of 1992 and I had every reason to be a blissful young NBA fan. Shaq was about to begin, for better or worse, the most dominating career since Michael Jordan. Tom Gugliotta, my hero, the N.C. State-educated poor-man’s-Larry-Bird, Jim Valvano’s last breath, was primed to go as a lottery pick. And the Hawks, somewhat inexplicably my NBA team, had the 10th pick in one of the best drafts in NBA history.

Shaq went #1, and the ground shifted beneath all our feet. Googs went at #6, and there was rejoicing in my NCSU-derived home. Then the Hawks took—Adam Keefe. He was followed by, at various points: Robert Horry. Malik Sealy. Doug Christie. Tracy Murray. Jon Barry. Latrell Sprewell. Popeye Jones. Matt Geiger—I’m not picky.

Adam Keefe had a great career—at Stanford. He was dropping 25 points a game at 75 percent from the field with 12 boards a game—at Stanford. Keefe would have made sense for any team had he come from anywhere except a sunny school with pretty girls that destroys the soul of any big man who lounges under Palo Alto’s palm trees.

This is arguing that Keefe ever had a soul, which, given that he grew up in Irvine, California, he probably did not. Irvine is of use to us, as a nation, for two things: it’s where Derrida and J. Hillis Miller reprazent, and it’s where Pavement’s video for “Gold Soundz” was filmed. This is not an atmosphere to raise a power forward, only he wasn’t a power forward because he had no soul, and he wasn’t a small forward because he was a 6’9” corpse, with the melatonin and foot speed of a corpse, unless your conception of an NBA power/small forward is someone who has never topped 7.8 ppg or 5.4 rpg in a season. For Irvine, I guess, that’s something else, as it were.

I went to Irvine once, and ended my trip in nearby Laguna Beach, on a tanned patio overlooking the ocean, where a well-dressed middle-aged woman—in earshot of her stunningly beautiful California daughter—told me not to bump the flowers that lined the patio. “Bump” was the word she used.

And that is Adam Keefe: a fading red rose on a patio by the ocean, bumped around by heathens who didn’t attend Stanford. In Atlanta there was no well-aged doyenne and her sunny daughter to defend him. Keefe, luckily for him as well as for the rest of the league, is finishing his mediocre career where it began, in San Francisco. They can have him, but I will never get the ultimate debt of 1992—years of Hawks mediocrity—paid in full.

John Elway (B.S., Economics, 1983)

If I can persuade you to take a magical journey with me, to pull back the mismatched fake-velour curtains of time & space, we will fly in our figurative DeLorean to a brown-carpeted living room somewhere in Berea, Ohio early in the evening of January 28, 1990. In this living room, my mother is painting her toenails, our extremely cute dog is chewing on a brown colored pencil, on our comfortable but modest couch. I imagine the house smelled as a rich smoothie containing cookies, hugs, and an earnest suburban love of humanity often smells. Gentle light from the Fretter-borne Zenith washes over the whole room, and the entire scene might have been the making of some third-rate Rockwell, if not for the extremely cute eight-and-a-half-year-old iteration of your messenger kneeling in front of the coffee table, sobbing, leaking his heart, leaking tears of a anguish so severe, so consuming, that I cannot even remember the feeling. I am holding one orange colored pencil, with a blue pencil on the table. I had commissioned myself earlier in the day to draw a picture congratulating the victor of that afternoon’s AFC championship game. That’s why the dog had the brown pencil. That’s why I was crying. John Elway made me cry. That was three post-Christmases out of four that John Elway made me cry. That’s three birthday post-parties for the Lord of Hosts personally crapped on by J. Elway, if anyone is keeping score.

We all know the story of the Drive, and the Fumble, and The Game That Didn’t Feature a Drive or A Fumble. I have, in some non-redemptive sense, come to terms with the fact that John Elway beat the Cleveland Browns in the AFC championship game in 1986, 1987, and 1989. After all, the Browns would have won in 1987, if not for Earnest Byner’s godforsaken butterfingers. But I have more, good sirs and madams, I have more reasons to hate the car-dealership-owning, leather-horsey-face-having John Elway.

John Elway, drafted by Baltimore in 1983 out of Stanford. John Elway, refuses to play for the woebegone Colts. John Elway, hastening the flight of Bob Irsay’s Colts to the corn taiga of central Indiana. John Elway, closing the door on one of the NFL’s storied franchises, and opening the rusty metal vent leading down the laundry shaft straight to the previously undiscovered twentieth circle of hell, the circle from whence the notion of the “Baltimore Ravens” sprung fully formed. I suspect that you are on your knees crying along with me in my 1990 living room. Let’s take another trip, a skip forward to late fall 1995, to room 109 in Berea High School, 165 E. Bagley Road, Mr. Craig Braithwaite’s Honors Biology Class, where we have stopped learning about biology to watch the press conference wherein Artholomew “Doktor Faustus” Modell and Paris “Der Teufel” Glendening gave the city of Cleveland a merciless, toothy jackboot to its municipal crotch, a blow so heinous that we didn’t get up for five years. Someone in that classroom was crying.

It wasn’t me, it was some weird kid who sat behind me. What kind of loser cries about football?