As Andrew Luck has rocketed to the tops of many of Stanford's single-season and career passing lists, he's pushed past several recognizable names: Jim Plunkett, John Elway, and Guy Benjamin, to name a few.
But the name sitting atop most of those lists might not be as familiar to most college football fans. Stanford fans, though, will remember Steve Stenstrom (1991-1994). Stenstrom was never named All-America or even All-Pac-10, but he won the starting position as a freshman and was fortunate enough to play his final three years under the tutelage of Bill Walsh. Stenstrom took advantage.
Stenstrom and Walsh were a match made in heaven. Walsh was famously drawing up plays on napkins during team flights, then passing them up the aisle to Stenstrom, who would execute them to perfection the next day. My favorite was something my friends and I still refer to as the "Hands on Hips Play." On a critical third and short, Stenstrom came up to the line of scrimmage, barked at his lineman, then stepped away from center in disgust and walked half way to the sideline before stopping and staring at Walsh with his hands on his hips. The rest of the team, meanwhile, had stayed in place, hoping the defense would relax and get out of their stances. They ran a direct snap play that went for no gain. The play hadn't worked, but it didn't really matter. It was fun.
But Stenstrom was more than just smoke and mirrors. If you take a glance at the passing section of the Stanford record book, it's stunning to see how often Stenstrom's name is mentioned. He authored three of the ten biggest passing games in school history, and he's second only to Elway in career touchdowns. (You might remember that Stenstrom and Elway had been tied for the single-season record before Luck broke that mark last year.)
Luck will leave Stanford after this season holding many of these passing records, but there are two of Stenstrom's marks that he likely won't be able to erase. Stenstrom holds Stanford records for career yardage (10,531) and career 300-yard passing games (15). Both of those totals will likely stand forever.
Stenstrom's best year was probably his junior year, 1993. He completed 300 of his 455 passes for 3,627 yards (all Stanford records) and 27 touchdowns (a record until last year). As good as Stenstrom was, the team was a disappointment. They were crushed 46-17 by Cal in the Big Game to cap off a 4-7 season. I ran into Stenstrom as I walked out of Stanford Stadium after that game. He was still in his uniform, standing and talking to someone who looked to be a family member. There had been lots of talk about the possibility of his leaving school and heading for the NFL, so this could've been his final game. I interrupted his conversation with three words: "Please come back."
He looked at me vaguely, and it seemed like all seven of that season's losses were weighing him down. He was a beaten man. "We'll see," he said. He would return for his senior season, but 1994 would be even worse than 1993 as the team would finish 3-7-1 and Stenstrom's numbers would drop precipitously.
It didn't really matter, though. He had completed one of the greatest careers in Stanford history, and that's how he should be remembered.
#13 Riall Johnson
#14 Kailee Wong
#15 Eric Heitmann
#15 Chris Marinelli
#16 John Lynch
#17 Kwame Harris
#18 Chase Beeler
#19 Willie Howard
#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: Otto Greule, Jr./Getty Images]