Publication Date: Wednesday Nov 19, 1997
Big Game flashback: John Hopkinsby Keith Peters
John Hopkins was in the right place at the right time. He did what was expected of him and now is part of Big Game history.
"You just don't plan on these things happening," Hopkins said of kicking game-winning field goals. "I was just doing my job at the time."
On this November day in 1990, Hopkins had the opportunity of a lifetime. He had a chance to become a football hero. Not in just any game, but the Big Game.
Stanford had just scored, but missed a two-point conversion that would have won the game at 26-25 with just 12 seconds to play. When Cal fans prematurely rushed onto the field to celebrate, Hopkins knew the Bears would be penalized 15 yards on the kickoff. If Stanford could recover an onside kick, there still was a chance to boot a game-winning field goal.
"I was prepared to kick a 50-yard, or longer, field goal," Hopkins recalled.
After conferring with then-special teams coach Tyrone Willingham (now Stanford's head coach), Hopkins kicked off from the 50 and squibbed it toward the Stanford sideline.
"It must of bounced off eight guys," Hopkins said. The ball finally was recovered by Dan Byers (Kevin Scott mistakenly was credited with the recovery in newspaper accounts) at the Cal 37 with nine seconds to play. Then, Stanford quarterback Jason Palumbis fired a pass to Ed McCaffrey that sailed out of bounds, but Palumbis was leveled with a late hit and Cal was penalized 15 yards for roughing the passer.
At that point, Hopkins went to warm up his leg, but someone had snatched the kicking net.
"Paul Stonehouse grabbed a bag of new balls and said, 'Here, kick these into the stands,'" remembered Hopkins. "So I kicked three into the (Stanford) stands. When I went out onto the field, Cal called time. So I went back and kicked three more. Funny thing was, they were all bad. Guys standing behind me were shaking their heads."
But as Hopkins trotted onto the field to attempt a 39-yard field goal, he was confident with the job at hand.
"I was nervous, but I didn't have any doubts," he recalled. "Chuck Gillingham was the snapper and Steve Smith was the holder. Both were rock solid. And I didn't have to try the long field goal.
"(And) Coach Green said had I missed, I'd have to pay for the balls. He was kidding, I think."
Hopkins calmly booted his fifth field goal of the day--still a school record--true through the uprights as time expired to give Stanford a thrilling 27-25 victory.
"I've had other game-winning field goals and I've high-jumped 7 feet," said Hopkins, "but it doesn't really compare."
This was the final (and biggest) kick in the final (and biggest) game of his career. It doesn't get any better than that.
Hopkins, 29, now an intern in the marketing department at Stanford, gave professional football a try after ending his college career. He had a tryout with the Los Angeles Rams and then tried to catch on with Frankfurt (Germany) of the World Football League. Frankfurt's coach, former Stanford head man Jack Elway, ironically picked Robbie Keen over Hopkins. Keen was Cal's placekicker in the 1990 Big Game.
While Keen got the job, Hopkins had what counted most--the Big Game memory of a lifetime.