By Michael Eubanks
Just 24 hours after the 2012 Pac-12 Champion Cardinal was officially selected to play in the 99th Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Stanford sold through its allocation of more than 31,000 tickets in record time.
Collaboration with the Tournament of Roses Association and the Pac-12 Conference has helped to meet Stanford's historic demand for tickets, and two weeks later, Cardinal ticket sales for the Rose Bowl Game have pushed past 38,700 and counting.
When the Stanford Athletics Ticket Office on Monday sent out its first mailing of Rose Bowl Game tickets, FedEx required two trips to handle the unprecedented mountain of tickets.
"I'm extremely proud of our Stanford alumni and all members of the Stanford community for their willingness to travel and support our team," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "For years, the talk was that Stanford fans don't travel to bowl games. We have blown that out of the water."
"Our football team recognized and truly appreciated the outstanding support at the Sun Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl," Shaw said. "Now we are looking forward to an unprecedented convergence of loud and proud Cardinal faithful at the Rose Bowl Game. I cannot wait to experience the biggest Stanford party ever in Pasadena on New Year's Day."
This year's epic response to the 'Granddaddy of Them All' by the Cardinal community is the latest data point in a rising tide of Stanford's bowl travel.
A year ago, Stanford was selected to play in the 2012 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and sold out its 17,500-ticket allocation in 48 hours, with more than 20,000 Cardinal fans attending the game.
Stanford the previous year traveled to its most distant bowl destination in two decades yet outpaced ACC foe Virginia Tech with more than 13,000 tickets sold and more than 15,000 Stanford fans attending the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl.
This bowl travel train started with the 2009 Brut Sun Bowl, held on New Year's Eve, where Stanford played its first bowl game in eight years in the remote destination of El Paso, Texas. The alumni and fan base responded by purchasing direct ticket sales of 4,000, with many more fans attending the game and helping to drive a new Sun Bowl attendance record.
Though the geographies have varied widely, the Cardinal travel theme at each bowl has not. The unique alumni base of Stanford University is spread nationally and internationally. Three-quarters of Stanford alumni live outside the San Francisco Bay Area.
Nearly 60 percent of Stanford attendees at the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl hailed from outside the Bay Area. Half of the 2012 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl contingent similarly traveled from outside the Cardinal home base.
The national interest in the broadcasts of Stanford's bowl games has also been remarkable. The Nielsen ratings for the 2009 Brut Sun Bowl represented a 50 percent increase over the previous year. The 2011 Discover Orange Bowl recorded the third-highest ratings at that time for a college football broadcast on ESPN, also a 20 percent increase from the 2010 game.
The 2012 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was anticipated as the most compelling matchup of the entire bowl season, and the Jan. 2 performance delivered. Nielsen ratings jumped 34 percent from the year prior, and the game was the most watched telecast in the United States that evening -- broadcast or cable.
The bowl season for Stanford football has increasingly become a can't-miss event on the calendars of Cardinal alumni and fans throughout the nation. What was once a surprise has now become an expectation and annual pilgrimage for the Cardinal faithful.
This has been borne out through the Stanford Alumni Association tailgate parties thrown before each bowl game. More than 1,200 alumni and fans attended in El Paso, followed by a rocking 4,000-plus in Miami. Last year's Fiesta Bowl official tailgate climbed to 8,000.
The Rose Bowl Game Official Tailgate set for Jan. 1 in Pasadena already has sold more than 14,000 tickets in less than six days and is fast approaching a 15,000-strong sellout.
While there is correlation between the magnitude of Stanford's bowl games and the exuberant response of its alumni and fans, there has been a seismic change in the culture and passion of the Cardinal community the last four years.
At the 2000 Rose Bowl Game, which also saw Stanford sell out its allotment, the Stanford Alumni Association's official pregame tailgate was attended by 2,500 faithful.
That 2000 Rose Bowl Game squad was sandwiched by 3-8 and 5-6 seasons. The Cardinal enjoyed back-to-back bowl seasons only three times since World War II. The last time Stanford played in three straight bowl games was when the Vow Boys played in the 1930s.
Much has changed in a decade of Stanford football since last playing on New Year's Day in Pasadena. The Cardinal is playing in its fourth straight bowl game and third straight BCS bowl. The unique three-peat of playing three different BCS bowl games in three consecutive years has been accomplished only by Miami, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Oregon. Stanford has recorded three straight 11-win seasons after recording none previously in school history.
Stanford is one of just four teams in the nation from BCS conferences that has compiled 34 or more wins over the last three seasons along with Oregon (35), LSU (34) and Alabama (34). The Cardinal's .872 winning percentage since 2010 is tied for third-best among FBS teams during that stretch.
Advances in recruiting and coaching have delivered some of the most captivating figures in all of college football. From Toby Gerhart to Andrew Luck. From Stepfan Taylor to the nation's top sack defense. Improvements in marketing and social media, as well as the highest profile spotlight in the national media that Stanford football has ever enjoyed, have further magnified these Cardinal heroes and their stories.
With an award-winning coaching staff in place and a talent pipeline that includes the country's fifth-ranked 2012 recruiting class, both the immediate and long-term future for Stanford football and its bowl-traveling legions looks rosy.