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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Clutch Performance

Quite the clutch performance was put on in Pasadena on New Year's Day. But it wasn't just from Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey, who lit up the scoreboard en route to a 45-16 Stanford drubbing of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Stanford's band had folks clutching their pearls both in Pasadena and worldwide.

If you're familiar with the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band, you know this is nothing new. Indeed, it's their raison d'etre; Stanford is the highest profile scramble band in the nation, hailing from a tradition that populates most of the Ivy Leagues, Rice University, and until last decade, Virginia. Schtick, humor, and irreverence are a big part of their performance - far moreso, in fact, than actual marching. I've corrected myself from calling them "nontraditional" because, indeed, this IS their tradition. The recent success of Stanford football, paired with their Pac-12 affiliation, has put them in the Rose Bowl three of the past four years. The Rose Bowl is band-friendly and forces the Worldwide Leader to be by contract, so a phenomenon that may have once been contained to Palo Alto and the Pac-12 schools they visit has had its time in the national spotlight recently. Many aren't happy.

The show in question mocked opponent Iowa's home state by parodying FarmersOnly.com, a (real!) online dating site seeking to match rural folks looking for love. The site uses the tagline "City folks just don't get it," and probably got more traffic after Stanford's performance than any ad they may have purchased. We saw Stanford dance a "cow" onto the field and form a farmer (that looked quite a bit like the leprechaun in Mobile) before the ESPN cameras seemingly spotted something interesting in the San Gabriel Mountains that they preferred to focus on before a commercial break. Boos reportedly rained down from Iowa faithful in attendance, and the righteous indignation poured in from the internet as well.

To be clear, as a marching band fan, Stanford isn't my cup of tea, but I'm amused by those who take them far more seriously than they take themselves. The Stanford band elicits precisely the reactions they desire, so in terms of execution of their objectives, they do it as well as any band around. It is a matter of scheme, like a spread offense, and not unlike the spread, it provides a wide open playbook, and can prove an equalizer by minimizing talent disparities, not to take anything away from either scheme. Still, its popularity is much more akin to the triple option, and it would seem the Iowa faithful didn't prepare for it accordingly.

If there's any room for outrage, it's in the lifting of the suspension from May that, as written, should have kept them from the Rose Bowl, as well as the Pac-12 championship game, to which the also made the short trip. The facts of that suspension have been trotted out in the past day incorrectly as though it were a reaction to yesterday's performance and not a preexisting condition. But the show itself? Stanford's gonna Stanford.
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