It has been 30 years since 'The Play' became history
This Saturday's 115th annual Big Game marks anniversary of one of the game's most iconic moments when Cal beat Stanford with a 57-yard, five-lateral play
Only four seconds showed on the scoreboard clock as Mark Harmon's 35-yard field goals sailed through the uprights. The Big Game implausible had happened again: Stanford had found a way to score in the waning seconds, overcoming a 19-17 deficit to take the lead.
"I was going to cry," said Cal defensive tackle Reggie Camp, "and then I see everybody tossing the ball all over the place. Then I heard the cannon. I wondered what was going on. Then I went crazy."
Camp wasn't alone in his craziness. What had transpired in the final four seconds was indeed crazy, almost indescribable. Wrote one columnist: "The description of mortals are rendered useless."
Stanford, holding a 20-19 lead with four ticks left, kicked off from its own 25 after being penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. Cardinal players were pouring onto the field to celebrate Harmon's apparent game-winning field goal. Instead of kicking deep, Harmon squibbed the ball. Cal's Kevin Moen fielded it as his own 43. Thus began what forever will be known as "The Play."
Moen was stopped, so he threw a spiral laterally across the field to Richard Rodgers, who was forced to lateral to Dwight Garner. Quickly surrounded, Garner lateraled back to Rodgers before his knee touched the ground. At this point, the Stanford band and an army of Cardinal fans, believing Garner was down, began marching on the field. But, The Play was not over.
Rodgers took the lateral from Garner at midfield, then lateraled to Mariet Ford at the Stanford 45. Ford took it down to the 25 before flipping the ball, without looking, back over his head to Moen. What ensured was pure pandemonium, as Moen weaved his way 20 yards through football players and Stanford band members, crashed into a trombone player and scored the winning touchdown. Cal had traveled 57 yards on five laterals, earning a place in history for The Play.
Stanford players and coaches, of course, were furious with the outcome.
"Those guys (officials) ruined my last game as a college football player," said Stanford's senior quarterback John Elway, who had completed 25 of 39 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns. "This is a farce and a joke. This is an insult to college football."
Stanford coach Paul Wiggin, whose team finished 5-6 after dropping its final three games, was still steaming 24 hours after the game.
"That, along with four or five other inexcusable calls made by a group of officials, erased one of the great comebacks in the history of the Big Game, if not in college football," Wiggin said.
Cal's first-year coach Joe Kapp, who had told his players they were going to win the game even after Harmon's field goal, was ecstatic. His team, picked to finish near the Pac-10 cellar, had completed a fine 7-4 season.
"The Bear just would not quite," Kapp said over and over. "The Bear would not die. This is something."
Something for the history books.