By Dave Kiefer
Stanford Sports Information
The idea of playing in the Orange Bowl finally seemed real to the Stanford football team on Tuesday as the Cardinal practiced for the first time since arriving for the game.
Arriving at Barry University in Miami Shores, about 10 miles north of its lodgings in Miami Beach, Stanford took the field under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s in preparation for the Jan. 3 game against Atlantic Coast Conference champion Virginia Tech at Sun Life Stadium (5:30 p.m. PT, ESPN).
Barry, which has an NCAA Division II level athletics program and doesn't have football, imported goal posts for its soccer field. The field conditions were ideal.
A freshman full-contact scrimmage ended the two-hour session and, afterward, sixth-year offensive lineman James McGillicuddy addressed the team with an inspirational speech.
Some stretching ended the proceedings for most players, while a number of others took part in a weight workout before leaving. The team has to stagger its weight sessions because of the size of the Barry weight room.
One highlight of the trip back: the Stanford busses passed a Virginia Tech bus on the freeway. The team busses are hard to miss. Stanford's buses are adorned with a mural of coach Jim Harbaugh leading his team onto the field. Virginia Tech's are coated with an image of players gathering around smiling coach Frank Beamer.
After each game, Stanford equipment manager Gary Hazelitt places stickers on helmets depending on whether the players achieve the rewards based specific team formulas for each position.
The stickers are of a small axe, representing the Stanford Axe that goes to the winner of the Stanford-Cal Big Game.
Following the regular-season finale against Oregon State, Hazelitt realized he now has no more room to place stickers on the helmet of Owen Marecic, who starts at both fullback and linebacker. Hazelitt said the Marecic has more than any other player.
"He's got about 220," Hazelitt said. "Even Andrew Luck has spots left, but Owen's is complete covered."
With the Orange Bowl still to be played, Hazelitt faces an unprecedented problem, finding places for the final stickers.
"We'll have to put them inside or on the stripe," he said.
Stanford has several on its staff who have played or coached in the NFL, and have unique memories of playing in Miami.
Director of player development Ron Lynn was the secondary coach for New England in 1997 when the Patriots traveled south to play the Miami Dolphins with the AFC East title and home-field advantage for the wildcard round on the line in the regular-season finale.
New England came away with a 14-12 victory, which didn't sit well with some Dolphins fans. As the Patriots bus left what is today known as Sun Life Stadium, four female fans shouted profanities, stood on their RV, turned around and mooned the team bus.
Chester McGlockton, a Stanford defensive intern, was a rookie defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Raiders in 1992 when he earned his first career sack, of Dan Marino on Monday night.
"Marino was such a quick-release guy, it was hard to sack him," McGlockton said. "I was playing up and down the line, but I was fortunate to get to him."
The trademark of Virginia Tech and coach Frank Beamer is the Hokies' special teams play, which often can turn a game on its own.
"Beamerball," said Stanford's special teams coach Brian Polian. "That's what they're known for. You've got to be aware of that."
Polian said Stanford can't get caught up worrying about Virginia Tech's reputation.
"We're not going to change the way we play," he said. "The challenge is re-creating the tempo of a game after the time off. We just have to do the best job we can in re-creating the speed of the game."
Kicker Nate Whitaker said sharpness won't be an issue for him.
"I don't think you lose anything," he said. "You just have to stay focused. You don't change anything."
Stay the course
A year ago, Tavita Pritchard was preparing to be Stanford's starting quarterback in the Sun Bowl, following an injury to season starter Andrew Luck.
If Pritchard, now a volunteer offensive assistant, could offer any advice to Luck in preparation for this year's bowl, it would be this:
"Don't go about it any differently," Pritchard said. "Just implement the game plan."
Pritchard said the long layoff makes a bowl game feel like it's a season opener in some ways, but that changes once the hitting begins.
"Andrew's always so prepared anyway," Pritchard said. "It won't be a problem."