where the writers are
THE PLAY

The Play occurred on November 20, 1982, and in the history of college football it is the most exciting, improbable event that has ever happened in college football. It may be the most amazing thing to ever happen in sports.

 

"…the descriptions of mortals are rendered useless," was the assessment of San Francisco Examiner (now Oakland Tribune) columnist Art Spander.

 

How about these descriptions? It was not a football game, it was a magic act, a carnival sideshow. It did not happen with pads, helmets and a football, but through smoke and mirrors. It was not planned, it was conjured. It was not in a playbook, it was in the "Sorcerers Guide" . The player's pre-game meals were mysteriously replaced by a witches brew…Stanford's mascot was not The Tree but a black cat…Rod Sterling should have narrated it, the Air Force should have investigated…it was "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"…

 

(Alright already, enough with the Jim Murrayisms.)  

 

1982 was the successful rookie year of Cal's head coach Joe Kapp, who had quarterbacked the Bears to the 1959 Rose Bowl, played in the Canadian Grey Cup and the Super Bowl, and was one of the tough guy guards in Burt Reynolds' "The Longest Yard". It was also the senior year of Stanford's greatest quarterback, John Elway.

 

Cal was 6-4-0 coming in to the Big Game. Despite Elway's record-breaking passing statistics, the Cardinal played the kind of defense that they always play down on The Farm, reducing their record to 5-5-0 coming in. Still, a win over Cal would give Elway a chance to play in his first bowl game, as well as give him a few votes in his bid for the Heisman Trophy.

 

Cal took a 10-0 first quarter lead. Elway's swing pass to Vincent White made it10-7.

 

Stanford drove for another touchdown to take a 14-10 lead. Cal responded with a 35-yard Joe Cooper field goal to pull within 14-13.

 

Gale Gilbert hit Wes Howell for the score that gave Cal the lead again, 19-14.

 

Mark Harmon of Stanford made a field goal to reduce the lead to 19-17.

 

Stanford got the ball again at their own 20 with 1:27 to play. Stanford coach Paul Wiggin knew he was in business, though, because even then Elway had a reputation as a late-game hero.

 

The situation looked hopeless, though, with .53 seconds left, facing a fourth and 17 on their own 13. Elway then moved to the Cal 19, and Mark Harmon's 18-yarder split the uprights with eight seconds showing, triggering Cal's nightmare memories of Mike Langley's 1974 field goal that beat them. History repeated itself.

 

Wrong. History was about to be made!

 

Stanford was penalized 15 yards for celebrating too wildly, forcing them to kickoff with four seconds left from their own 25. That may have made the difference. Harmon squibbed the ball to senior rover Kevin Moen, who picked it up at the Cal 43, stopped and threw a perfect spiral laterally to Richard Rogers. Stanford reacted, forcing Rodgers to lateral to freshman Dwight Garner at the Stanford 44, but when he was surrounded and hit, he fell to the ground. Garner was able to lateral back to Rodgers before his knee touched, though.

 

At this point, the Stanford band thought Garner was down. Standing next to the end zone, they began a premature victory march on to the field from the southwest corner of the end zone. Band members reached the 20-yard line.

 

Meanwhile, Rodgers took the lateral from Garner, made a nice move, and evaded a tackle by lateraling to Mariet Ford, who made it to the 25, ran out of running room, and blindly tossed the ball over his right shoulder---right into Moen's outstretched hands! By this time, the band and the team's were clustered all over the field, but Moen weaved his way past trumpets, trombones, tubas, drums, past bewildered musicians, right into the end zone, where he knocked some Stanford band clown flat on his ass.

 

Confusion reigned. Some Cal players celebrated. Moen waited to see. Many fans were out of the stadium, but most of what was left of the 75,662 fans did not know what had happened. The press corps was silent. Amazingly, many had missed it because they were en route to the "winners" locker room.  Wiggin heatedly tried to spin the officials to uphold a Stanford win. The officials huddled together. The result: Touchdown.

 

"The refs ruined my last game of college football and my last chance to play in a bowl game," whined Elway. Nebraska's Mike Rozier would win the Heisman.

 

The Stanford student newspaper still retained some humor, though. They printed a fake edition of the Daily Californian on Sunday, distributing it all over the Cal campus by early Monday morning. The paper showed a picture of Kapp with his head in his hands, quoted saying, "I can't believe they'd take it away from us," under the headline "NCAA invalidates Cal victory."