Our Daily Dread: What’s the deal? When poor sportsmanship competes against ‘always compete’?


AP Photo/Matt Sayles

This email from a USC alum, in regards to the way the USC-Stanford game came to a messy conclusion, with Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh electing to attempt a two-point conversion with a 48-21 lead in the fourth quarter, trying to hit the 50-point mark:

My UCLA-graduate wife, who is decidedly unsympathetic (re USC defeats) and I are having a debate re football sportsmanship or lack thereof.

I think Harbaugh’s decision to try for a two-point conversion while leading by a kabillion points was classless.

She equates it to Pete Carroll putting in first-team linebackers to hold on to a shutout near the end of a one-sided win. What’s good for the goose (offense) is good for the gander (defense), I guess she thinks. Why not have an offense go for 50 points if a defense can go for a shutout?

I know this doesn’t reach the caliber of debate on sending more troops to Afghanistan, but not-so-great minds are wondering?

One response:

USC accuses Stanford of pouring it on? The gods laughed.

Our immediate response:

Payback can be a bitch, no matter what decision you make in this one. You can’t tell your team to stop playing. It works both ways.

That said, you’d think a guy coaching a bunch of potential Stanford grads would be smart enough not to poke the wolf while it’s wounded.


Our expanded response:

The Stanford braintrust will announce as soon as today that Harbaugh has been given a contract extension. Nice timing. And probably a good thing for USC. It means he’ll still be around in the years to come, and not bolting for the NFL.

When you’re that close to becoming the team about to hand USC it’s worst beating in Coliseum history, how do you not go for the throat? You’re in a position that every USC opponent has probably dreamed about for years. You do it now and expect the payback somewhere down the road.


If you’re Pete Carroll, why not try to sign him as your new offensive coordinator? Obviously there’s a few holes in the USC coaching roster.

They’ll be discussing this more on the sports-talk shows today, but one stat that came up on the Dan Patrick Show discussion: In 2008, USC was up 49-0 against Washington State, and on a 4th-and-2, the Trojans went for it, passed, got the first down, and kept on going … in 2005, up 52-6 on UCLA, on a late fourth-quarter drive, USC passed the ball three times. UCLA really wasn’t in danger of coming back.

“What’s the deal?” asked Carroll to Harbaugh.

“What’s the deal?” Harbaugh answered.

And what was the deal with the Stanford band’s halftime show? Some suggest they’ve earned their way to another administrative beatdown with their tribute to “Girls Gone Wild” entrepreneur/tax evader/USC alum Joe Francis.

Saturday’s game reminds me of a USC-Arizona State non-contest back in the late ’80s, in Tempe, Ariz. The Trojans beat the Sun Devils that day, 50-0. I still marvel at the score — the perfect score in football. You score 50. The other team gets nothing. And the USC coach at the time, Larry Smith, didn’t gloat about it. He just did what he felt he had to do — considering he was the former Arizona coach and got so much grief over the years from ASU people.

It was payback time. Thanks for playing.

It’s coaching survival. Carroll will have a chance to squash Stanford’s dream sometime soon — maybe next year. You file it away as part of the game, and you move foward.

If Harbaugh didn’t do it, we wouldn’t be talking about it now. He wanted fiddy. He eventually got fiddyfive. Be careful what you wish for.

And always compete …


AP Photo/Matt Sayles

More responses from readers who seem to have trouble with the comment button but are emailing me at thomas.hoffarth@dailynews.com:

== I don’t mind teams making a statement by either putting a lot of points on the board or keeping a shut-out. College football is a beauty contest, and sometimes you have to do those things. Personally, I don’t like keeping starters in those games because you risk an unnecessary injury. Also, blowouts can give young backups some valuable playing time. That being said, going for 2 is over the top. I can’t remember ever seeing that happen in another college game when you are up that late in the game by as many points as Stanford was. It’s one thing to keep trying to score, but to go for 2, that’s really rubbing it in. Of course, the more embarrassing thing is that SC was in a position of looking for mercy from Stanford. How the hell did that happen? Harbaugh is the perfect coach for Stanford…he’s an arrogant prick just like the majority of their alumni are. I bet Carroll now hates Stanford just as much as John McKay did. When (if) SC has a potent offense again, I expect to see him attempt to hang 100 on Stanford. That will be fun to watch.

== It was tacky but I did not have a huge problem with it, especially since I did not see it as I was downing a beer in the parking lot by that time. I agree: it was like keeping the first team defense in in a blowout to give the defense a chance for a shut out. Pete has always said “always compete” so Harbaugh was letting his kids compete. Still, it’s not fun when you are on the receiving end of such a beat-down. Give ’em credit though, that is a program on the up-swing.

== The example used by ESPN of USC vs WSU in 2008 couldn’t be further from a clear representation of what was going on…and I am a WSU fan. I was seated 5 rows behind the USC bench where you could clearly see the interaction between USC coaches and players. USC was up 49-0 at the end of the first half and driving…they did go for a first down inside the 20 rather than kick a field goal to go up 52-0. They maintained possession and with the clock running down and 2 coaches pleading with Carrol to punch it in for a score…Pete took off his headphones, handed them to an asst on the sidelines and said to the coaches…”Locker Room”. WSU would not have been able to stop USC from scoring if they put 15 players on the field that day. With that he began running off the field for halftime and let the clock expire with the ball inside the 5 yard line.
The decision by Harbaugh is classless.

== Hey, Harbaugh could have put Toby Gebhart in for the two pointer if he REALLY wanted the deuce. He was taking it easy on USC and let them stop the other tailback. Gebhart was virtually unstoppable, other than that fumble. Kind of harkens back to the bad blood days of John McKay and John Ralston when McKay answered a question (don’t remember what, but his response was classic): I don’t want to get into a pissing contest with a skunk! LOL …
We take football too seriously. Enjoy the moment. Agonize the moment. It’s cathartic. Have fun.

== It really doesn’t matter much. Give them their little bit of glory or spoils as you have it. At the end of the day, their mascot is still a tree.

== More comments via Scott Wolf’s USC blog: (linked here)

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  • If the mighty USC Trojans don’t want Stanford to score two points then they should stop them. USC has smashed many opponents during their recent run. Was that OK? If Pete Carroll is truly offended by Stanford pouring it on then USC’s era of invincibility is definately over. I’ll admit Stanford is taking some risk if they are unable to maintain their new level of success in upcoming years.

  • Old School

    What goes around comes around.

    Harbaugh should take a few classes while he’s up at Stanford. Maybe then he’d learn to let sleeping dogs lie. Most of this year’s USC team is underclassmen – they will be around on the trip to the Bay Area next year.

    Andrew Luck is terrific, and he will still be around. But Toby Gerhart will be gone. Pity the quarterback in that situation.

    One last point: I’d hate to be UCLA and Arizona. You think the Trojans may be amped to play the last two opponents on the schedule?

  • TsoBro

    I don’t have a problem with Stanford running up the score. You have to keep playing until the clock hits 00:00. You can’t expect them to take a knee when there’s half a quarter left. Besides, it’s not Stanford’s job to stop Stanford.

    But I do have a problem with Harbaugh going for two just to hang half-a-hundred on SC, when the outcome has already been decided. This was a classless and egotistical move solely for his personal gain. I don’t recall him pulling this stunt when they blew out San Jose St.

    Now, if it should come to pass, where Stanford needs SC to beat Arizona in order for them to advance to the Rose Bowl, I wonder what Pete Carroll would be thinking.

  • para’s

    Where I come from (Southern Calif.) you DO NOT GO FOR TWO in that situation. If you do think it’s A-Okay, I would say it’s 99 percent sure you never looked through a face mask.