What the Big Game means to Stanford

This was a pretty simple assignment. My editor asked for approximately 600 words on what the Big Game means to Stanford. But only one is needed: Everything.

In the interest of filling the other 599, though, here are some thoughts from Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

"They are a good team and I think they respect us as well," said Luck. "But that doesn't mean we have to like each other, per se."

That's about as close to smack-talking as you'll ever hear from Luck. And for him to stretch his personal limits of political correctness must mean this game is pretty special. And it is.

There is more at stake to the Cardinal than just their 57th win over Cal in the 114th Big Game. The Cardinal are still looking to advance to a BCS bowl game -- with all signs pointing to the Fiesta Bowl if they should close out the season with wins over Cal and Notre Dame.

But the big picture doesn't matter to Stanford players right now. Only the Big Game.

"It means everything," said Stanford safety Michael Thomas. "It means so much to our community and the people who played in it in the past. You realize you are part of something special.

"It's something that's been taught to you since your freshman seminar. And then you get that experience and play in a Big Game. You think you understand, but once you get in the game and see their fans and our fans, you didn't understand. My first Big Game was a loss. That's when I can truly say I truly understood what that rivalry was. I hated it. It was a horrible feeling. For a Stanford player, it means everything to us."

And this game means something to Stanford head coach David Shaw -- who played in the Big Game during his time as a Cardinal wide receiver in the 90s. His career numbers against Cal are five catches for 90 yards -- but it's career win No. 1 as head coach that he's looking for.

"The emotions are still going to be there for me," Shaw said. "I've had an introduction to this game, really since my junior year in high school. Every single year this game comes up, even when I was coaching in the NFL, I always found a way to watch it. I always found a way to talk to somebody before the game. Even I had little bets with [former Cal quarterback] Kyle Boller. The loser of the game had to wear the other guy's hat or jersey for one day in practice. It's an emotional game and it will be like that this week."

Running back Stepfan Taylor, who comes from Texas, said he wanted to go to a school that had a big rivalry game on its schedule.

"It's one of the first things I learned about when I got to Stanford," Taylor said. "In my first writing class, they were talking about the Big Game. Everyone on campus is excited ... it's always fun to have a rivalry game. There is going to be a great buzz. This is what college football is all about. "

While veterans like Luck, Taylor and Thomas have experienced the Big Game emotions before, it's the younger players -- the redshirts and true freshman who will be playing for the first time -- that Shaw is excited for.

"Some of the freshman who are playing in this game from different states and different cities, they are not going to understand it until that ball is kicked off," Shaw said. "When that ball is kicked off in the Big Game, it doesn't matter where you are from. It doesn't matter if you understand what's going on. You know this game is different."