Tiger Woods' Words Carry Weight As David Shaw And Stanford Try To Find Themselves

Standing at the edge of the field inside Spectrum Stadium last Saturday afternoon, Tiger Woods looked every bit the part of unassuming Stanford fan - backpack slung casually over one shoulder, hat pulled down low with black shades masking his notoriously intense stare.

A stare that was no doubt fixed intently on Stanford’s warmups, assessing the Cardinal with the same keen eye that sizes up fairways and surveys greens. What did one of the most famous athletes in the world see when he looked at this year’s Stanford football team?

The opportunity to ask Woods his thoughts on the game was too good to pass up, so a casual conversation about Stanford, football and the keys to beating UCF ensued between me and one of the greatest golfers in the history of the sport.

Woods didn’t even hesitate when asked if he thought Stanford would beat UCF that humid Saturday afternoon in Orlando. To be fair, his girlfriend of three years Erica Herman said he always thinks Stanford will win when they watch the Cardinal play. Alma mater loyalty and all. He even eschewed honorary captain honors that day because his record is 0-3 when he assumes the role.

“Tiger’s great – Tiger has always been a big fan,” said head coach David Shaw after the game. “He tries to come to at least one game a year, but it’s been a while because he’s been playing a lot so it’s been tough for him to make it out to Stanford. So, this was the perfect time, coming back to his hometown, perfect time to see us. He was excited to be there and the guys were excited to see him.”

Excited was a bit of an understatement.

“It was honestly amazing to hear from Tiger Woods – he was one of my childhood idols,” said Stanford inside linebacker Curtis Robinson. “He told us what it was like to be a champion, what it takes to be a champion. Obviously, we were listening because he is the greatest golfer ever. He just spoke to us about what it takes, how to play with passion and how to put your life, your soul and your passion into everything you are doing and taking things one day at a time.”

Tiger Woods with ILB Curtis Robinson.

Despite the inspiring pep talk, Stanford suffered an uncharacteristic 45-27 loss to the No. 15-ranked UCF Knights. Yes, the Cardinal have struggled with injuries, playing at USC without senior quarterback K.J. Costello in Week 2 and losing five linemen to various injuries in the span of two weeks. But if anyone knows anything about adversity, it’s Tiger, making him the perfect pre-game pep talker. He even brought an inspirational “prop.”

“It was very unexpected – when Tiger Woods walked in the room, I was like ‘is this really happening?’” joked sophomore wide receiver Michael Wilson. “He is one of the greatest of all time in any sport, you know he’s a legend so being in the presence of a legend brings a lot of motivation to myself. The team had juice after that – we were fired up. He said some great things to us. He even showed us one of his Masters jackets and put it on Coach Shaw and then he said some big words.

When asked if the jacket fit Shaw, Wilson shook his head.

“It was a little small,” chuckled Wilson

Wilson took Tiger’s words to heart, finishing the game with a career-high 71 yards off of five receptions and a monster touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Prior to kickoff, Woods laid out some keys to the game for me, including Stanford’s need to establish a run game early and often. He also shared his concern with the freshman tackles, noting that their ability to get “stuck in” would be pivotal for the Cardinal’s chance at victory.

Stanford did not, in fact, establish much of a run game, despite the impressive 35-yard rushing touchdown by freshman running back Austin Jones in the first quarter. The Cardinal finished with just 116 rushing yards and are currently averaging 4.97 yards per play on the season which ranks them 105th nationally.

Blame the lack of production on whatever you want – injuries, play-calling, lack of execution or even tempo. The bottom line is that Stanford isn’t very Stanford-like this season.

“Nobody knows what we can do on offense yet because we haven’t done it yet, that’s just the dead honest truth,” admitted quarterback K.J. Costello after the loss.

Costello, who finished 21-of-44 for 199 yards and one touchdown took the loss hard, noting all the things that need to be better moving forward. But not playing “their” game in front of the G.O.A.T. might have been the most disappointing part.

“He defined a champion and he brought out his green Masters jacket, which was awesome,” said Costello. “It’s just too bad we went out there and played a performance like that with the greatest ever, to ever play the game, across all sports. I’ve been a huge fan my whole life. But we just have to focus on ourselves and we need to get a lot better at football.”

Stanford faces a true Pac-12 test as they host the Oregon Ducks at home this weekend. A win over their northern opponent would point them in the right direction and prove a testament to Woods' words. But a loss would push Stanford further away from finding themselves.

“There’s an identity that we know a lot about, it’s hard to kind of put into words, but that we definitely want to see here soon,” advocated Costello.

That identity is still a work in progress, but just like a golf swing, it's the tweaking and adjusting over time that allows one to find out what they're truly capable of. Be it on the golf course or the football field.

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