TEMPE, Ariz. — Minutes before Stanford charges onto the field Saturday to defend its Pac-12 title and define its legacy, the Cardinal’s heart, soul, guts and conscience will rise to address the team.
Exactly what Shayne Skov will say, nobody knows.
Skov’s pregame speeches have become stuff of legend during Stanford’s transformation into a powerhouse, a deft mix of rousing passion and practical intellectualism that provides the last bit of inspiration for the bludgeoning the Cardinal usually administers.
“I think about it before I go to bed on Friday night, or sometimes on the bus ride (to the stadium),” the senior captain said earlier this week as the Cardinal prepared for the Pac-12 championship game at Arizona State. “I think about where we are as a team. But the exact words are never planned.”
Skov is as likely to base his call-to-arms on personal experiences — his family lived in Mexico for four years to help his mother, Terri, cope with multiple sclerosis — as on intellectual interests like boxing.
He once referenced Mike Tyson’s early-career, no-nonsense approach to entering the ring and counts as his favorite address the advice he gave teammates before last year’s early-season showdown with No. 2 USC: If the Trojans punch you in the mouth, Skov roared, respond with a smile.
But he’s not all fire, all the time. If the mood leading into the game is properly charged, he’ll instinctively veer toward a matter of fact approach.
“They’re always different,” linebacker A.J. Tarpley said. “He doesn’t force it.”
By many accounts, Skov’s most memorable speech came minutes before the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin last January.
“He told the guys to play for each other, play for your brother,” coach David Shaw said. “It gave me chills.
“You never know what he’ll say, but you know it’s coming from the heart. He takes his role very seriously. He likes his teammates to feel his energy.”
The Rose Bowl could very well factor into Skov’s pregame address Saturday.
A victory over Arizona State will send Stanford back to Pasadena — its first back-to-back appearances in the Granddaddy in four decades.
A loss would likely drop the Cardinal into the Holiday Bowl.
And in a worst-case scenario, Stanford would fall into the Sun Bowl, where it played Skov’s freshman season.
For seniors like Skov and linebacker Trent Murphy, who grew up a few miles from Sun Devil Stadium, the conference championship is a legacy game.
“Some might argue it’s the biggest any of us have played to this point,” Tarpley said, “especially for the seniors.”
Shaw concedes as much — to a point.
“They want to see how far they can push themselves,” he said, noting the Cardinal’s back-to-back-to-back BCS appearances and four consecutive years of at least 10 wins. “It’s still a phenomenal legacy. I don’t think there’s a negative side.”
Skov sees no sides.
“We want to go out on top,” he said. “It’s never been about how people viewed us. We’re just living in the here and the now, being in the moment.”
Which is where Skov will be when he stands to address the Cardinal a few minutes before kickoff.