PASADENA, Calif. -- Willie Shaw spent 14 years as an assistant in the old Pac-8 and Pac-10, including two stints at Stanford in the 1970s and '80s. But he had never made it to the Rose Bowl until Tuesday, when he stood on the sideline and watched his son, David, lead the Cardinal to a 20-14 victory over Wisconsin in the 99th edition of the Granddaddy of Them All. The younger Shaw rarely displays much more emotion than a smile, and that might have been the case again following this seemingly momentous win for his program -- until he caught a glimpse of his dad.
"I cried," said David. "This meant so much to him."
It meant so much to so many affiliated with Stanford, including the nearly 40,000 fans and alums who flocked to Pasadena on Tuesday. But it particularly resonated with those of a generation who remember when there were 15 bowls, not 35, and when the game played at roughly 2 p.m. Pacific Time every New Year's Day was the pinnacle of college football. Some might think that Tuesday's game didn't mean much more than the Cardinal's BCS trips to the Orange and Fiesta bowls the past two years, or that beating an 8-5 opponent might devalue the experience.
Those folks have not been waiting 40 years for a Stanford Rose Bowl victory. Those folks had not been waiting for this moment for nearly long as 68-year-old Willie Shaw.
"Those other two [BCS] games didn't mean as much as this one," said Stanford tight end Zach Ertz. "The Orange Bowl and Fiesta Bowl were great, but the Rose Bowl is what we play for."
There were no leather helmets, and the teams took planes, not trains, to the game. But the 99th installment of the Rose Bowl might not have looked entirely different than the first one. For 60 minutes, the Cardinal and Badgers tried to run directly at each other, often with little success. After Stanford jumped to an early 14-0 lead, Wisconsin rallied to within 17-14 at halftime. The teams then proceeded to engage in a full-on stalemate, punting on a combined nine consecutive possessions in the third and early fourth quarters, managing just three first downs along the way.
Badgers star Montee Ball and Cardinal counterpart Stepfan Taylor repeatedly ran into walls of opposing defenders. Quarterbacks Kevin Hogan of Stanford and Curt Phillips of Wisconsin successfully bought time and avoided sacks, but they consistently failed to find open receivers. In the Stanford locker room afterward, linebacker Shayne Skov iced his visibly bruised shoulder, while defensive lineman Ben Gardner exhibited a sizeable and bloody scrape on his arm; it was
"It was the kind of football I grew up watching," said Shaw. "I'm proud of my guys for playing that kind of football."
Stanford had played that kind of football all season. After two years of Andrew Luck-led blowouts, Stanford learned to win ugly in 2012. Tuesday's six-point victory marked its eighth win by a touchdown or less this season, including its seminal Nov. 17 upset of then-undefeated Oregon (in overtime, by a field goal) and its Pac-12 championship game win over UCLA (also by a field goal). It also marked the 11th time that an opponent failed to score more than two touchdowns against the Cardinal.
The emergence of redshirt freshman Hogan -- who took over as the starter on Nov. 10 -- helped Stanford's offense become more dynamic, and it showed early on against Wisconsin. The Cardinal's opening drive culminated with a 34-yard halfback pass from receiver Drew Terrell to Jamal-Rashad Patterson, followed by a 16-yard touchdown run on a misdirection by Kelsey Young. Stanford's second score came on a three-yard Taylor scamper shortly after a beautiful 43-yard throw-and-catch from Hogan to Ertz with 6:35 remaining in the first quarter.
That would be the last time that Stanford saw the end zone.
"They adjusted well," Hogan (12-of-19 for 123 yards) said of Wisconsin. "They didn't sell out as much on the play-action and they stayed sound in their assignments."
Meanwhile, under the direction if interim coach Barry Alvarez (back in his familiar red sweater for his fourth Rose Bowl on the sideline), the Badgers' offense was largely unsuccessful in its attempt to recapture the magic of its 70-point outburst against Nebraska a month earlier. Ball, in the last game of his distinguished career, reached exactly 100 yards on 24 carries, but he had few big gains against the nation's third-ranked rushing defense. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada tried to mix things up by getting the ball to speedy freshman Melvin Gordon on the perimeter. He averaged a respectable 5.7 yards on nine touches, but he never broke one longer than 15 yards.
"They were doing some line stunts we were having some problems with, and quite frankly, they're a very good defensive front," said Alvarez. ... "They're very difficult to block."
Wisconsin's most productive offensive player at times was Phillips (10-of-16 for 83 passing yards; five carries for 64 rushing yards), the former third-string quarterback who took over late in the season and generally passes sparingly. His 22-yard completion to Jared Abbrederis -- on a pass that deflected off a Stanford lineman's helmet -- set up an 11-yard Ball touchdown that made the score 14-7. After a Stanford field goal, Phillips' 38-yard scramble down the sideline was the key play on another touchdown drive shortly before the half.
But the Badgers managed just 56 yards in the final 30 minutes prior to their last drive that began with 4:23 left, after Stanford had kicked a field goal to extend its lead to 20-14. Wisconsin drove from its own 25 to the Cardinal 49, but nickel back Usua Amanam stepped in front of a Phillips pass to nab a dagger interception with 2:03 remaining.
"We had waited for that interception all game," said Shaw. "We had so many passes tipped or deflected. We said someone's going to get that chance."
All it took was one final first down by Stanford's all-time leading rusher, Taylor (20 carries for 88 yards), to allow Hogan to take a knee and for the confetti to fall. As Stanford players celebrated on the field afterward, reporters occasionally interrupted to ask variations of the same question: What does this victory say about the state of Stanford football?
"Stanford's here to stay," said Ertz. "It doesn't matter who's there, whether it's Toby [Gerhart], Andrew [Luck], Coach Harbaugh. ... At this place we just reload."
He may be right. And in fact, the 2013 version of the Cardinal might not need to even do that. Scarily enough, considering how stout this Stanford defense was, next year's team might lose only one starter (linebacker Chase Thomas) during the offseason. Linebackers Shaybe Skov and Trent Murphy still have NFL decisions to make, but they are expected to return. Offensively, Hogan is only just beginning to blossom, and most of his line will be back.
"We'll go back and try to make sure that next year we play even better," said Shaw. "We have a lot of guys coming back on both sides of the ball, all three phases, and we'll hold ourselves to a higher standard."
If all goes to plan, there's a decent chance Willie Shaw will be back on the sideline here next year, and maybe not for the Rose Bowl. The national championship game will be played in Pasadena six days later.