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What I Love: The Stanford THUNDERCHICKENS

I mean ... would a Thunderchicken really have been any sillier?
I mean ... would a Thunderchicken really have been any sillier?

Because the college football season begins in less than a month, I'm doubling down on the What I Love's...

First the nickname, one that grew to be fearfully "fowl" to the opposition from the first game in September to the bowl game on New Year's Day.

The legend of the Thunderchickens -- the nickname given to the Stanford defensive line -- had been hatched prior to the start of the season.

Junior defensive end Pete Lazetich had been talking during the preseason about a motorcycle gang in Montana called the Thunderchickens. He also thought senior defensive lineman Dave Tipton ran like a chicken. Lazetich thought the nickname fit Tipton and the rest of the Indians' D-Line.

Following the victory over USC on October 10, the reputation of Stanford and the Thunderchickens took off. Four consecutive Pac-8 wins followed, in which the defense allowed an average of fewer than 14 points per game.

First came a 63-16 win at Washington State on October 17. Then came a 9-7 victory over UCLA in Los Angeles on October 24. Next was a 48-10 Halloween home win over Oregon State. And, finally, a 29-22 November 7th home triumph over the Sonny Sixkiller-quarterbacked Washington Huskies. Stanford was rolling, with a record of 7-1 and a No. 6 ranking.

That four-game win streak was enough for the Indians to clinch, by the middle of November, the Pac-8 Conference championship and the coveted Rose Bowl berth -- Stanford's first in 19 years! […]

With Ohio State going uncharacteristically to the air, Stanford senior defensive back Jack Schultz picked off a Kern pass and returned it to the Buckeye 25-yard line. Four plays later, Plunkett hit Randy Vataha on a 10-yard touchdown pass play, making the score 27-17 Indians with 8:18 left.

And the Thunderchickens made sure those final eight minutes were "Ohio Scoreless University". The Buckeyes would not score again. The last seconds ticked off the clock in the Arroyo Seco gloaming.

The final score, Stanford 27, Ohio State 17.

A Rose Bowl win for Stanford.

A Rose Bowl MVP for Plunkett.

Twelve tackles for Thunderchicken Tipton.

The winning formula for Stanford: Heisman + Thunderchickens = Rose Bowl win.

Why is Stanford's nickname the Cardinal?

The short answer is because the 1972 Trustees and president decided that would be the team's nickname.

For many years, the teams had gone by the nickname "Indians." In 1972, North American indigenous people particularly those in the San Francisco Bay Area were protesting their treatment by the majority culture. Some, but not all of these indigenous people felt that that nicknaming athletic teams "Indians" was demeaning. One such person led a successful campaign to remove the "Indian" as Stanford's mascot. It should be noted that this graduate student received his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley.

After the trustees agreed to change the athletic moniker, the student body held an election to decide on a new name. The name that won was "Robber Barons," however, then president Donald Kennedy said he felt that name was disrespectful to the University's founder, railroad magnate Leland Stanford. Other names that garnered votes in the election included Sequoias and Thunderchickens.

Kennedy discovered an old Stanford Daily article that referred to the team as "Cardinals" or "Cardinal," after the color of their uniforms. Since he also happens to be a Harvard alumnus and Harvard uses a color – Crimson – as its team name liked the idea, and made it the official moniker.

A total missed opportunity.