During my senior year at Stanford there was an article in Sports Illustrated -- in Sports Illustrated! -- about a high school senior from Colorado who would arrive at Stanford in the fall to play quarterback. According to the article, he was too good to be true. He was class valedictorian, editor of the school paper, All-America in track and field, and all-state in basketball. During his senior season he threw for more than 2,000 yards, ran for 1,300, and totaled 52 touchdowns passing and rushing. I vividly remember reading the article and dreaming of Rose Bowls and Heisman Trophies. Three years later he was playing tight end. His name was Justin Armour.
It was disappointing, but we shouldn't have been surprised, because there was already a highly-touted quarterback prospect on campus who had been converted to another position. In search of consistent playing time, John Lynch (1990-1992) jumped across the line of scrimmage to play safety and used his knowledge of the passing game to become an integral part of an improving Stanford defense. He led the team in tackles from his free safety position in 1992, and he was named All-Pac-10.
That 1992 team was a sort of high-water mark for the program under returning genius-in-residence, Bill Walsh. They finished 6-2 in conference (10-3 overall), good enough for a tie with Washington but not good enough for a Rose Bowl bid, as they settled instead for the Blockbuster Bowl. Most attention fell on the innovative offense, but the defense deserved some of the credit for the success, and Lynch was one of the leaders. Any good defense deserves a nickname, and this unit -- at least for a time -- was known as the Lynch Mob, in deference to its leader. This was a time of severe adherence to political correctness, and the resulting hue and cry from the masses quickly squelched that moniker. At the time I couldn't believe anyone would be bothered by it, but now I can't imagine that anyone would have actually allowed it. Either way, Lynch was a great defensive back deserving of a slot on this list. He was inducted into the Stanford University Athletic Hall of Fame in September of 2010.
*My first thought was to try to come up with a list of the best Stanford football players of all-time, but I quickly realized that I'm not qualified. I've only been watching Stanford football since the fall of 1987, so I can't really comment intelligently on players who suited up before then. Sure, I know that Jim Plunkett belongs, but I know nothing about Randy Vataha. Sports Illustrated once named Ernie Nevers the greatest college football player of all-time, and that's certainly good enough for me, but how can I possibly rank him against players of a more modern era? So I decided to create a list of the best Stanford players that I've actually seen in my time as a fan, and since that's roughly twenty-five years, I'm calling it the Silver Squad. (Catchy, isn't it?) Anyway, I'd love to hear your own memories of these players, and I won't be offended if you argue about who should or should not have been included on this list. Enjoy.