To give you an idea of how unimaginable the concept of Stanford, national football power, has been historically, let me take you back to my sister's wedding on Oct. 3, 1992. Sheri had carefully picked the date to avoid a conflict with a Stanford home game so she could be sure my dad, an alum who was at Cal watching Stanford lose a Big Game the day she was born, would be there to walk her down the aisle. As it happened, that day Stanford was beating No. 6 Notre Dame in South Bend. At the reception a dozen guests were glued to a tiny TV that one of them had thoughtfully smuggled in. When it was time to cut the cake, everyone peeled away from the game but one man. "Oh, I can see that anytime," said my dad. "I'm never going to see Stanford beat Notre Dame again."
Never mind that the Cardinal had beaten then No. 1 Notre Dame just two years earlier. The point is that back then, Stanford football glory, while certainly not unheard of, was a rare and unexpected phenomenon, as fleeting as champagne bubbles. In my time on the Farm in the early 1980s, John Elway engineered some big wins, over No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 2 Washington, but he never made it to a bowl game, and after he left we went 1--10. So Stanford's success in the last three years—35 wins (including two against Notre Dame), three BCS bowls, top 10 rankings—seems surreal. Crazier yet, it feels sustainable.
As much as I'd like to see Stanford become a fixture in the national title conversation, I hope the big wins never stop feeling like a rare thrill. I hope I never look at a Cardinal victory and say, "Oh, I can see that anytime."
ALEXIS CUAREZMA FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED