Willie Howard (1997-2000) wasn't the best player on the 1999 Cardinal team that won the Pac-10 and earned a Rose Bowl date on January 1, Y2K, but for me he might be the most memorable. Always an emotional leader, Howard became the face of the defense and helped forge its hard-nosed, blue-collar attitude by giving the unit a terribly cool nickname: the Trench Dogs.
Howard embraced his role as leader of the Trench Dogs, as he wore a bulky steel chain around his neck before each game and sported a large Stanford tattoo splashed across his right bicep. (After the Cardinal clinched the conference championship, he wisely added a rose to the design.) It should also be noted that Howard is one of only a handful of Stanford players to serve as team captain for three years.
But Howard inspired with more than just his words. His name is in the top ten of both single-season and career listings of the most sacks and tackles for loss in school history. In 1999 he earned the Morris Trophy, which is presented annually to the top lineman in the Pac-10, and he was selected first team All-Pac-10 in 1999 and 2000.
In ranking these players I've made a conscious choice not to consider their careers after Stanford, but some of them went on to do some interesting things. Here's Willie Howard's story.
#20 Shayne Skov
#21 DeRonnie Pitts
#22 Anthony Bookman
#23 Sione Fua
#24 Richard Sherman
#25 John Hopkins
*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.[Photo Credit: Andy Kuno/San Francisco Chronicle]