Stanford v. Army, or “Sorry Joe, You’re Not My Favorite Flacco”

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Joe Flacco is an accomplished NFL quarterback. He’s the proud owner of a Super Bowl ring, he was named MVP of Super Bowl XLVII, and he’s the Baltimore Ravens leader in wins, passing touchdowns, completions, and passing yards. That’s really impressive, but I’m sorry Joe; you’re not my favorite Flacco.

My favorite Flacco is Joe’s little brother John, a fifth-year senior safety majoring in Biomechanical Engineering at Stanford University. John hasn’t won a Super Bowl, or broken any records, in fact he’s only played in half a dozen games for the Cardinal since arriving on The Farm in 2010. But almost 52 weeks ago, John became a figurative hero in a stadium filled with literal heroes during Stanford’s road game at West Point.

Stanford v. Army, or “Sorry Joe, You’re Not My Favorite Flacco.”

And so the story goes… instead of being on the bench or standing on the sidelines during games, the Army back-up players sit in the stands, clustered in the first few rows near midfield. During games, they cheer enthusiastically for their teammates and, of course, take some jabs at the other team when they can. Periodically, they will also identify and cheer for a reserve player on the opposing team who, like them, sees very little game time. I imagine that many of the Cadets’ targets aren’t so appreciative of this gesture, and instead try to tune out the cheers and jeers at Michie Stadium. Not John Flacco, though. No, John not only acknowledged the Cadets, but he actually participated in their traditional “Rocket” chant, and in doing so became the most popular guy at West Point. There were dozens of memes, a Facebook fan page, and the Cadets were friending John on Facebook by the hundreds. He was even invited back to West Point to reprise the so-called “Flacco Rocket” for their “100th Night Show”. I love it when people don’t take themselves too seriously.

Moving on to this week…

Last year’s game was certainly frustrating for Stanford fans as the defense struggled, at least initially, with the triple-option. This offensive scheme is only run by a handful of programs, so it was hardly worth Stanford’s time to exhaustively prepare for something they would only see once. Having played Army last season, you have to think that the coaching staff will know how to better prepare the team without straying too far from their usual game plan. Also in Stanford’s favor is a 2 p.m. kick-off time on the West Coast, instead of a noon start time at West Point. We all know how well Stanford plays when their internal body clocks say they’re kicking off at 9 AM.

Army is returning nine players on offense, including a stellar set of running backs. Terry Baggett had over 1,100 yards last year and the full back Larry Dixon had more than 700. Let’s not forget that Army only attempted ten passes against Stanford last year, but gained 284 yards on the ground. I don’t expect this game to be any different, so this week will be a test for Stanford’s normally stingy defense.

My main concern this week is injuries. Due to their smaller players, the service academies have a reputation for cut blocking opponents (Exhibit A: Army’s Left Tackle Drew Hennessy is listed at 283 pounds; Stanford’s Left Tackle Andrus Peat is 316 pounds). Last year, Defensive End Henry Anderson was lost for six games after sustaining a knee injury, which was a huge blow for Stanford. The Cardinal defensive coaches have a week of prep between USC and Army to get their front seven ready for the Black Knights blockers.

After the disappointment of last week, Stanford will look to rebound with a win as a heavy favorite. The Cardinal did not make easy work of Army last season, but coming off a demoralizing loss vs. USC, they will look to take out frustration on the Cadets. Stanford also lost their 17-game home winning streak, which was the longest in the nation. They can start a new streak with a win on Saturday, and get back above .500 before the bye week, followed by the return to Pac-12 play.

The game is likely to be more of a celebration of our service academies, and American heroes. With many programs commemorating 9/11 this week with uniforms, field decorations, and ceremonies, having the Armed Forces represented in Palo Alto means much more than the game of football. Two classy programs that take pride in their actions on and off the field will meet on The Farm. John Flacco is a perfect representation of how the Stanford football team treats the opportunity to play the Army: embrace the Black Knights and show them the same hospitality they displayed in West Point last season, but come to play and get the W.

 

Photo Credit: Jim Shorin/stanfordphoto.com

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