Big Bang: Iron Bowl column sets readership record for Stanford’s student newspaper

Winston Mugshot

Stanford student Winston Shi, your new favorite Auburn writer.

It’s been a pretty miraculous month for The War Eagle Reader.

First Ricardo crashed the site a couple of times, killing it, only to have Chris bring it back to life just to kill it again, take its hand, and guide it 109 yards into a sublime perpetual pageview Nirvana we thought reserved only for homepages. Miracles: TWER became the homepage for miracles.

Monthly traffic records set at the height of Camelot fell in, like, four days. Yessir, when Auburn wins, everyone wins.

Even Stanford.

That article you probably forwarded us? The one in the Stanford Daily that basically said the Iron Bowl, in all its mind-melting cosmic coincidence, was “the new Big Bang” of college football… that maybe in Chris Davis’ last-second touchdown—”the single most unlikely play in football unfolding at the absolute perfect moment”—there in some way exists all the wonder and glory of past, present, and future touchdowns?

It set the student newspaper’s one-day record for pageviews: 28,000. War Eagle.

The response to the article, says Winston Shi, the Stanford undergrad who wrote it, has been almost as overwhelming as the game itself.

“The piece published late Wednesday night if I recall correctly with negligible popularity,” Shi says. By Thursday, his Iron Bowl column was at 1,600 views—which was more than the 500-1,000 his columns average, but not unheard of.

“On Thursday night, my night editor messaged me saying that my piece had gotten linked, and all I thought was, ‘hey, a link. Cool,’” Shi says. “But ESPN links the Daily a fair bit and it only adds about 1,000 hits. NDNation (a Notre Dame fan site) linked a column of mine once and it only added 2,500.”

When he woke up Friday morning, there were more than 100 emails waiting for him. Most were from Auburn fans. Some were from Alabama fans. All were complimentary. That’s how good Shi’s column was—even fans of the team on the losing end of college football’s new big bang ate it up.

But Auburn fans devoured it.

If you haven’t read it, here’s a sample:

They say that at the Big Bang, all that has ever existed was compressed into a single point in space. On Saturday, America converged on a small town in eastern Alabama, and for a moment, Jordan-Hare Stadium held a country inside its walls. As sports fans, this game is part of who we are. We are here to witness the impossible brought to life in pads, a leather ball and freshly mown grass, and on Saturday night, all the vast expanse of college football lay before us — terrifying and compelling, obvious and unknowable, transient and immortal, and all at the same time.

“I don’t know how it happened,” Shi says. “The way our analytics look, the best guess I can give you is that somebody trawling Google or some Auburn fan attending Stanford—and at least one emailed me about it—linked my article on the Auburn board at SECrant. It progressed to the boards at Rivals and Scout, but put together that’s only about 4,000 hits. Then it hit Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit in some order. Facebook brought in 10,000 clicks, Reddit 3,400 clicks, and Twitter 3,200, which I think is a pretty solid representation of the social media pecking order. There’s also another 10,00 hits that are direct hits to the website, and I have no idea where they came from originally.”

I do: emails. I’m sure social media rules out on the West Coast, but down South, we still like our tea sweet and our links forwarded directly to our inbox. With emoticons. We’re still getting emails about Shi’s story; when your grandfather is forwarding you something, you know it has legs.

As of Monday morning, Auburn-Alabama and the new Big Bang had received approximately 38,000 pageviews, making it—get this—the fourth most-read article in the Daily’s history, or at least since 2008, when they started using Google Analytics. It’s on the cusp of being the third most-read. Only a bizarre three-year-old story on a Korean rapper who graduated from Standford, a 2012 story on the tragic death of a member of Stanford’s women’s volleyball team, and an article from March on Stanford’s record-low admissions rate are more popular. Combined, those posts have 113 comments. Shi’s column has 91.

“The reaction is actually kind of sobering, because you realize, hey, if just one person decides to watch TV instead of trawling Google for any mention of the Iron Bowl, maybe all of this never happens,” Shi says.

“There are plenty of guys on the staff whose work deserves similar plaudits but for some reason never got them.”

Read Shi’s column here.

Related: The Rod Bramblett Iron Bowl Call lip sync champion is a 25-year-old from North Carolina who wasn’t even an Auburn fan but now she is.

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