A December to Remember

Photo: David Gonzales

December 8 

After 10 years of reconstruction, Green Library could be one of the most beautiful college libraries in the country. But it's the last place I want to be right now, and my Industrial Engineering 260 exam is the last thing I want to be thinking about. Ever since our victory over Notre Dame two weeks ago, I've been dreaming about Y2K -- January 1, Y2K.

I grew up in a rosy football family. My grandfather was the head referee in the 1956 and 1970 Rose Bowls. I have always dreamed of playing in the Rose Bowl. What makes this milestone complete is that I am from Wisconsin. In the final game of my career, I will get to play against my home state and former high school teammates in "the Granddaddy of all Bowl Games."

December 12 

Exams ended two days ago; the campus is dead. With dorms closed for the holidays, we checked into the Palo Alto Sheraton -- our home until we leave for Los Angeles next week. This is the second holiday in a row we'll miss spending with our families; we didn't go home for Thanksgiving because of the late-season game against Notre Dame. To make it feel more festive, freshman kicker Greg Davis put a small Christmas tree in the corner of the locker room.

This afternoon, Coach Willingham, in his always precise manner, stepped us through the calendar for the next three weeks. It looks like a combination of hard work on the field and a serious amount of pregame fun: The Tonight Show, Disneyland, Lawry's Beef Bowl, Universal Studios -- and VIP treatment everywhere!

December 13 

After two weeks off, practice started again today. Now we know how it feels to work a full-time job. Position meetings start at 9 a.m. We don't get back to the hotel until after 5. Our only free time comes at noon. A team favorite, John's Market, is catering lunch all week in the Arrillaga Center. Tables are set up on the basketball court, each topped with a white cloth and a vase holding a single rose -- a simple but powerful reminder of our dream coming true. After lunch, most everyone catches a nap in the locker room.

December 16 

My dad mailed some clippings from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which I have posted in the locker room. One of them refers to our conference this year as the "Pathetic-Ten." Another calls us "God-awful on defense" and "so bad, it is unreal." All this only makes us more motivated to win. As Coach W. says, "It's not what they say. It's how you play."

December 18 

We leave for L.A. tomorrow, so today was the last day of practice at Stanford. For 20 seniors, it was a special event that required a few photographs. Then we watched the men's basketball team cream Sacramento State. Not only are we going to the Rose Bowl, but the basketball team is No. 2 in the country. This really is an amazing school.

December 21

Talk about celebrity encounters. First we saw Olympic superstar Carl Lewis jogging warm-up laps on the track as we were leaving our practice field at Santa Monica City College. Then we went to the taping of The Tonight Show in Burbank. It was the ideal show for 90 college-age men: the guests included Jennifer Tilly and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes! Before the show, Todd Husak and Troy Walters presented Jay Leno with a Stanford jersey. He played to us throughout the show, even trying to embarrass us. Before the "Jay-walking" segment in which Leno poses trivia questions to people on the street and makes fun of their ridiculous answers, he turned to Todd and asked, "What is the Bill of Rights?" Todd calmly responded, "The first 10 amendments to the Constitution." Thank goodness he's a political science major!

December 22 

The real hype has started. Tonight we had our first official Rose Bowl event: the traditional pig-out at Lawry's Prime Rib Restaurant in Beverly Hills. When the buses pulled up, they rolled out the red carpet -- literally. Outside the restaurant, the servers and chefs were lined up on both sides of the walkway. Entering the restaurant, we met the six Rose Princesses and the Rose Queen.

The purpose of the Beef Bowl, in addition to giving players a great meal, is to see which team can eat more of Lawry's famous prime rib. Lore has it that a Michigan lineman once consumed 10 cuts of beef. Although the TV cameras tonight were on Trey Freeman, our 320-pound defensive lineman, Willie Howard took home the, er, bacon. Sitting next to him, I watched Willie devour seven slabs of prime rib until he was cut off by time constraints. Willie's a great competitor; unfortunately, it looks as if his knee injury will keep him out of the game.

After dinner, we saw a preview of Any Given Sunday, the new football movie with Cameron Diaz and Al Pacino. Good thing the film has a lot of action; I was a bit drowsy after eating two pieces of prime rib, done medium-rare.

December 23 

More red carpets today when we checked into the Beverly Hilton. Our rooms are arranged in a semicircle overlooking a courtyard with a fountain in the middle. Soon we all had our windows open, and DeRonnie Pitts started our famous "C-House" chant. After every win, D.P. cheers, "Whose house?" and we all answer, "C-House." (The C stands for Cardinal.) What a moment -- three floors of players hanging out their hotel windows telling L.A. that the Cardinal is in town.

December 25

At 10 a.m., Russell Stewart and Steve Coughlin dived into the hotel fountain yelling, "Merry Christmas!" It feels strange -- not only because I am away from my family but also because it's 80 degrees and sunny. I heard from my parents that it's 3 degrees in Milwaukee, and I actually kind of miss that weather (at least today).

Last night I went to the Christmas service at All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills with a few teammates. Today, 20 of us helped out at a Pasadena lunch for some of the less fortunate. The city says that it feeds nearly 3,000 people. I believe it; we probably moved that many chairs! Somehow I ended up driving a 24-foot U-Haul truck with junior Simba Hodari co-piloting. On one trip from the Civic Center back to the park, I made a wrong turn onto Colorado Boulevard, the main parade route. What a sight: it's still a week before game day, but the bleachers are set up, and Rose Bowl flags line the streets.

Though most of us are depressed today not to be at home with our families, Santa did pay a visit. We received our official Rose Bowl gift bags, complete with warm-up clothes, official game balls and Nintendo Game Boys. Nice presents, but trust me, Mom, the Hilton's cranberry sauce doesn't hold a candle to yours!

December 26 

Practice today was open to the public, and the crowd included parents of players, alumni with their children and plenty of reporters. I even got a little press, as a TV news crew from Milwaukee was on hand to do a piece about me playing against my home state in the Rose Bowl. Over the last four years I have lined up at wide receiver for the Cardinal and made some tackles on special teams, but my highlight reel certainly doesn't contain any Sports Center footage. So it was a little startling -- and definitely flattering -- to have a camera crew follow me through the drills. Thankfully, I didn't drop a single pass.

At night we attended the Clippers-Celtics basketball game in true style, watching from a large luxury suite. The game was close, but we were mostly interested in cheering for the Clippers' Spirit dance group. Up in the sky box, we danced along to all their routines. After the game, the girls -- all 16 of them -- came to visit us. I think every player had a photo taken with them.

December 27

Thanks to a police escort, we arrived early for the Disneyland parade. We were directed to a backstage room with about 100 chairs and a piano. To kill time, we persuaded Eric Heitmann, a 300-pound offensive lineman with the dexterity of a concert pianist, to play the themes from Braveheart and Top Gun.

After Eric's concert, we boarded floats for our parade into the park. It was fantastic! Thousands of people lined the Disneyland streets, and red and white ticker tape blew from the roof of one of the buildings. Throughout the day we were treated like celebrities. My teammates and I snapped many photos in the park, but we went home in many more. Kids, families and especially teenage girls all wanted to have their pictures taken with us.

It's clear now how spoiled we've become. We thought we were going to get special passes that would keep us from waiting in line for the rides. No luck. As a result, we only had time to ride Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean, and see the "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" 3-d show.

December 28

I feel like a celebrity -- again. After practice, which was closed to the public, I was interviewed by a couple of news stations and a reporter from Milwaukee. A bit later, we got bad news. Troy Walters dislocated his wrist in practice, and doctors say he is unlikely to play. As the nation's top receiver and one of the leaders of our team, he will really be missed.

December 29 

The day started early for me and four of my teammates. We left the hotel at 7:30 to represent Stanford at the "Team Up for Youth" clinic at the Rose Bowl. I answered a lot of questions about my role on special teams and heard the now-usual references to the irony of my being from Wisconsin. At one point, our pictures flashed on the Jumbotron screen in the stadium.

In the afternoon, the entire team went to Universal Studios. Before we entered the park, we had a barbecue with the Badgers followed by a series of friendly competitions. Todd Husak beat Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger in a throwing competition, and Jay Leno was there running a "Players Jeopardy" game. Inside the park, one of the highlights was the Jurassic Park water ride. Sitting between Jason Willock and Tom Kolich, I thought I was safe from any spray -- but we got drenched. Maybe if Jason hadn't shaved his huge afro during exams we could have all stayed dry.

Today was the 22nd birthday of my roommate, John Sande. Though we usually room together on the road, I have especially enjoyed his company during this trip. John's dad, John Sande III, was Jim Plunkett's center on the 1971 Rose Bowl team. Mr. Sande, '71, says there are a lot of similarities between our team and that one. They ended up beating a heavily favored Ohio State, 27-17. I hope the similarities continue!

December 30 

It's Coach W.'s birthday, and we all know what he wants for a gift. Today was also our last real practice before the game, and thus my last practice ever. That's a strange thing for me to think about after playing football for half my life. Though I was a quarterback in high school, at Stanford I've earned the respect of my teammates for my fearlessness as an inside wedge-breaker on kickoff coverage. As I charge downfield, I hear my teammates shout, "I see you, 87!" and call out my nickname, "Bring it, Chuck-bones!" The cheers always tap a hidden reserve of energy inside me, and I know I can bring that energy to the field on Saturday.

We had a guest for dinner: a terminally ill teenager by the name of Joshua, who came to Pasadena from Ohio with his parents and brothers through the Make-a-Wish Foundation. He and his family smiled all through dinner. It was great to see that we could make them forget their troubles for a short while.

December 31

Twenty-six hours before kickoff, we began our day with another Rose Bowl tradition: lunch catered by California favorite In-and-Out Burger. Then we stopped by our Rose Bowl locker room to change into our uniforms for the official team photo. Imagine 93 perfectly ordered lockers with shiny helmets on the top shelf and pressed jerseys with roses on the shoulders. Isn't America great!

Between dinner and meetings tonight, I spent a few minutes with my uncle Randy and my cousin Austin, who is in the fourth grade. Randy played for the New York Giants; one of my greatest memories is when, as an 8-year-old, I went with him to a Packers-Giants game soon after he retired. There I met his friends -- Phil Simms, Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor. I returned the favor by introducing his son to my teammates -- Todd Husak, Russell Stewart and Joe Fairchild.

I had hoped to be starting tomorrow on the kickoff team, just as I did in several games the last two seasons. Tonight I learned that I would not be on that first team, though the special-teams coach promises that I'll be in for some plays.

January 1

An 8 o'clock wake-up call signaled that the day is finally here. John and I flipped on the TV to make sure the Y2K Apocalypse hadn't destroyed the world. What we found was that the Parade of Roses had begun, and kickoff was only six hours away.

On game days in Palo Alto, we always get police escorts. But the caravan today in L.A. was surely the most elaborate ever: four officers on motorcycles plus a helicopter overhead. One highlight: driving through a sea of red and white into the tunnel of the stadium. Even more exhilarating was the news that both Troy and Willie would play today despite their injuries.

Though the game sped by, I tried to etch each play in my mind. There's Todd hitting Dave Davis as he stretches out for his first catch. There's Sharcus Steen drilling Ron Dayne at the line of scrimmage. The fans cheered us as we hustled back to the locker room at halftime, just 30 minutes away from a Rose Bowl victory.

But when it was over, there was just the sting of defeat -- the abrupt end to our great season, to my career and to my dream. We kicked off three times, but I never got into the game. Before I knew it, my football career -- and my dream -- was gone.

Most of the guys on the team will be back next year; they'll begin next week training for a return trip to Pasadena. But for 20 seniors, this was the finale. Todd, Cronk, Nickel, Mike, Prime-time, C.J., Drew-Cur, Shark, Stock and Smitty -- I look forward to seeing you all play next year in the NFL. J-dub, Abs, Cocktail, Sandman, Colonel, D.K., Dominator, Tele and Carlos -- good luck in whatever you decide to do. And to all my teammates -- thanks, guys. You made it special.

Charley Deana senior from Mequon, Wis., has been a writing tutor for the team for the last three years.