The Anatomy Of
kickoff return in history began when Kevin Moen of Cal fielded a
Stanford squib (below) and ended, five laterals and a felled
trombone player later, amid hysteria
BY RON FIMRITE
(Sports Illustrated, September 1, 1983, Vol. 59, No.
10, pp. 212-228; Illustrations by Bart Forbes)
© Copyright 1983, Sports
It is now called, simply, The Play.
There is no need for further explanation,
because there has never been anything in the history of college
football to equal it for sheer madness. You've seen The Play, of course. Anyone
who so much as glanced at football on
television in the final weeks of
last season must have seen it, for scarcely a college or professional
game was shown that did not feature The Play at halftime, usually to the musical accompaniment of the William
Tell Overture. But if
by some phenomenal oversight you did miss it, videotapes of it are available
from the University of California at $100 a pop. Within two months of The Play, the university had sold more than 250
tapes. For a lot
less—$6.50—you can buy a tape recording of announcer Joe Starkey's
hysterical account of The Play from San Francisco radio station
KGO. Within three weeks, more than 4,000 of
these tapes had been sold. T-shirts with a complex diagram of The Play,
marketed by Cal's Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, are also available for $8. Some
20,000 of these had been sold by the end of
July. Glossy photographs of The Play can be purchased from the Oakland
Tribune for $5 apiece.
In short, The Play has become the basis of a sort of cottage industry.
on pictures for larger, higher quality images>>
It all happened as the clock ran
out on the 85th Big Game between Cal and Stanford at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley
November 20 before many of the original crowd of 75,662. Stanford had gone ahead
20-19 on a 35-yard field goal
by Mark Harmon with four seconds to play. At that point the game was already
being acclaimed as the most thrilling in the
long history of this exciting rivalry. Even Cal supporters were prepared
to concede that they had witnessed a classic.
When Stanford kicked off after the field goal .
. . well, more about that later. For now,
it's enough to say that as The Play
unfolded, the players shared their turf with virtually the entire Stanford band, several Stanford cheerleaders,
assorted spectators, three
members of the Stanford Axe Committee—to the winner of the
Cal-Stanford game goes the Axe—who were holding aloft the victory
trophy on the Stanford 17-yard line, and at least 11 illegal players who had
wandered onto the field from the
benches of the teams. A trombone
player in the Stanford band would become as celebrated afterward as
any of the victorious athletes, and at one point Cal would have players named
Richard Rodgers and Gilbert and Sullivan on the field at once, only one of them
legally. "It appeared to me that the
weakest part of the Stanford defense was the woodwinds," said
spectator Ellen Edmondson afterward.
Actually, the band played only a minor note in an event that one Cal
player, Running Back John Tuggle, described as "an act of God."
Cal has an
honorable history of bizarre football plays. In the 1929 Rose Bowl game against Georgia Tech, Golden Bear Center Roy Riegels ran 69 yards in the wrong
direction with a recovered fumble, a
blunder that led to a safety and an
8-7 loss. In 1940, a Cal fan named Bud Brennan jumped out of his seat in the south end zone at Memorial
Stadium and tried to tackle
Michigan's Tommy Harmon near the goal line. And there was a beaut in 1945
against UCLA. Cal's Ed Welch picked up teammate Jack Lerond's blocked punt and headed
for the UCLA goal 66 yards downfield. Hemmed in on the UCLA 40, he lateraled to Lerond, who ran the rest of the way into the end zone for the winning
touchdown. Gems all, but none matched The Play. More important, none occurred
in the Big Game.
The Cal-Stanford rivalry is one of the oldest west of the Mississippi,
dating from 1892, a season when the student manager of the Stanford football
team was an engineering major named Herbert Hoover. The designation Big Game may seem a trifle pretentious to Easterners, or
even to partisans of USC and UCLA, but Cal and Stanford do have a
great deal of tradition going for them. Moreover, the series has been characterized to an extraordinary extent
by upsets and last-second victories. Forty games have been decided by seven points or fewer, and though Stanford leads
the series 40-35-10, it has scored only 26 more points than Cal in the 85
The 1982 Big Game
was the fourth in a decade to be decided within the last two minutes and the third to be won
on the final play. In 1972, with three seconds left, Cal freshman Vince Ferragamo (yes, that one)
completed an eight-yard touchdown pass to Steve Sweeney for a 24-21 win, and in
1974, Stanford won 22-20 on Mike Langford's
50-yard field goal with no time
showing on the clock. Stanford won 27-24 in 1976 with a leisurely 1:31
The favored team
in this rivalry generally stands on shaky turf.
In 1947, Cal came into the Big Game with an 8-1 record in its first season under Coach Pappy Waldorf. Stanford was 0-8 and had averaged fewer than seven points
a game. Only an 80-yard pass play from Jackie Jensen to injured Halfback Paul Keckley with slightly more than two
minutes remaining gave the Golden Bears a 21-18 victory. In 1941, Stanford's
second Wow Boy T-formation team, under Clark Shaughnessy, entered the
Big Game a prohibitive favorite over a Cal
team with a 3-5 record. Stanford, quarterbacked by Frankie Albert, was
6-2. A win over the Bears, coupled with an
Oregon State loss to Oregon, would send Stanford to the Rose Bowl for the
second straight year. Cal scored on its first play from scrimmage and
went on to win 16-0.
There was little to choose between the
teams in 1982. Cal, under
a rookie coach, Joe Kapp, was 6-4, Stanford 5-5. In four of its losses,
however, the Cardinal had been oh so close.
Arizona State won 21-17 in the final 11 seconds; San Jose State won 35-31 in the last five minutes;
UCLA squeaked by 38-35; and Arizona
scored 28 points in the last 12 minutes to win 41-27, after Stanford had
led 27-13. Stanford had also won a couple
of thrillers, upsetting Ohio State 23-20 with 34 seconds left and
beating Washington State 31-26 with 22 seconds to play. The Cardinal's most gratifying
victory had been over No. 2-ranked Washington on
Oct. 30. With that 43-21 upset and the big win over the Buckeyes, both on
national television, Stanford seemed assured, despite its five
losses, of an invitation to the Hall of Fame
Bowl. It was an exciting team offensively, and in John Elway it had a player many observers were calling
the best college quarterback ever. A
win over the Golden Bears would presumably still leave Elway in the
running for the Heisman Trophy, even with
his team's undistinguished record.
Stanford was a seven-point favorite over a Cal team that had been
brutally beaten by USC (42-0), Washington (50-7), Arizona State (15-0) and UCLA
(47-31). The Bears expected no bowl bids.
Still, Kapp, who had never coached
at any level, was assured a
winning season, refuting criticism, much of it from fellow coaches, that he had no business in a job
for which he was so manifestly unqualified. The old Minnesota Viking quarterback did have some problems early
on—three assistant coaches quit, and Gale Gilbert, who was to
start at quarterback, threatened
to—but Kapp grew in office, as the old expression goes, and after his
team opened with two victories, the
question of his qualifications seemed moot. And his zeal was infectious. Kapp is fond of uttering ringing bromides—"One hundred [per cent] for 60
[minutes]"; "The Bear will
not quit, the Bear will not die"—as if they revealed truth.
Although some of his bombast more amused than aroused the relatively
sophisticated Berkeley students, he did
successfully drum into his players the conviction that the game is not over until the final gun. In the 85th
Big Game, this became a crucial advantage.
Kapp also insisted that playing
football at Cal should be fun.
He introduced a game played in Sunday workouts called, euphemistically,
"garbazz" (pronounced gar-bahz). "It's Mexican-French for
grab-ass, naturally," says Kapp. "We used to play it when I was with
the Vikings. It's a mixture of
basketball and football with elements of rugby. You just work the ball
downfield by passing it back and forth. Any
pass can be a forward pass. There are no offsides. When the ball is dropped the next play starts from
there. We do it on the day after a game just to break a sweat. It's the
only day we have to relax and have some fun. We have to meet and look at film and get ready for the next week,
but there's no reason we can't have a little fun while we're at
it." He could not have predicted that the climactic play of the Big Game
would, in effect, be a variation of garbazz.
Like Kapp, Stanford Coach Paul Wiggin had returned to his alma mater, where, again like Kapp, he had
been an All-America. Unlike Kapp, however,
he had extensive coaching experience:
nine years as an NFL assistant and 2Y2 seasons as head coach of the
Kansas City Chiefs. This was his third year as Stanford's coach, and for him it
had been a frustrating and worrisome one. The defense he had
promised to shore up after a disappointing
4-7 record in 1981 had failed him
again in the close losses, and his critics in the press and among alumni were becoming increasingly agitated.
If Wiggin couldn't win with the best quarterback in the history of college football, it was asked, what will happen
after Elway's graduation? Only Wiggin's strong Stanford ties had kept him on the job, but even they would not be enough
to save him if he lost the Big Game.
Wiggin is a true stalwart, a dignified man, forthright, friendly and
knowledgeable, but by the end of the season, the
criticism and the narrow defeats were beginning to wear on him. The win
over Washington had given him national recognition, but the heartbreaking
losses to Arizona and UCLA that followed had
brought him under merciless scrutiny once more. He would—some
say miraculously—survive what happened in the Cal game, but the
bitterness of this final fantastic defeat
would not leave him. "Ask me 10 years from now," he said two
months after The Play, "and I'll say the same thing—we won that
game." Wiggin got to keep his job, but
lost, it would appear, his sense of humor.
He and Stanford would be undone by four players whose careers until the
Big Game had been largely unremarkable. Kevin Moen and Mariet Ford, both seniors, were playing
last college game. Moen, blond, blue-eyed, with a sparse mustache,
is the son of a Southern California banker.
He shared playing time at strong safety with Richard Rodgers,
another member of The Play's now famous foursome. Significantly, both Moen and Rodgers, who were close friends and roommates on road trips, had been
option quarterbacks in high school. Before The Play, Moen, who stands 6' 1" and weighs 190 pounds, had been known
chiefly as a hard tackler, The Undertaker of the Golden Bears secondary,
"a killer," says Kapp. Away from football, he seems introspective
and has a wry approach to life's complexities. Moen hopes to enter graduate school next spring in preparation
for a career as a teacher.
easily the best known of the quartet. Though only
5' 9", 165 pounds, in two varsity seasons as a wide receiver
he caught at least one pass in every game he played and was outstanding as a kick returner. In his junior year he led all
Pac-10 wide receivers, with 45 catches. Last season he caught 42 passes for 568 yards, including seven
for 132 in the Big Game. His
astonishing one-handed 29-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter
might well have been the play of the Big Game, had it not been for The Play. Ford
majored in sociology and
is planning a career as a child psychologist. He is bright, affable and
hard-working. He made only one promise to his parents, he says, and that was to
graduate from Cal. He kept it.
Rodgers, a thick-muscled, 6-foot 200-pounder, is an exceptionally smart and disciplined player who, like
his friend Moen, is a fierce tackler. But his attitude is what sets him apart in the eyes of his coach. Rodgers, who's now
a senior, has an uncommon zest for
football, and is an unflinching optimist. "Richard plays this
game with a smile," says Kapp. Rodgers,
whose mother is a dispatcher for the San Francisco Police Department, is planning to attend law
school. Running Back Dwight Garner is the baby of the four. Only a freshman last fall, he played sparingly,
rushing only 30 times for 103 yards.
At 5' 9", 185 pounds, he is a darting, elusive runner and a capable pass receiver. His part in The Play
will be the source of endless controversy, a circumstance he finds somewhat daunting. "It's all a little hard for me
to handle," he says, "but I suppose I'll be thought of as
controversial from now on."
team scored in the first quarter of the game. In the second quarter Joe Cooper
booted a 31-yard field goal and Ford made his diving end-zone grab to give Cal
a 10-0 lead at halftime. Stanford pulled ahead 14-10 in the third quarter on
two Elway touchdown passes to Halfback Vincent White. A Cooper field goal
early in the fourth quarter made the score
14-13, and then, with 11:24 to go, Cal's Wes Howell made a sprawling touchdown catch that was fully as remarkable
as Ford's. Cal's try for a two-point conversion failed, so the score remained 19-14.
With 5:32 to play Stanford's Harmon kicked a field goal to make it 19-17. With 1:27 left and the ball on
the Cardinal 20, Stanford got the
ball for the last time. The huge crowd, sensing some final Elway heroics, stood
as one, animated, depending on school
loyalties, by hope or fear. On the west side of the 60-year-old stadium,
where Cardinal partisans held forth, the din
was nearly unbearable. On the east, Cal rooters nervously urged their team to hang on one last time. The sun was sinking beyond the rim of the stadium
as Elway set out to crown his
splendid career in the bedlam of Strawberry Canyon. His first pass, a swing to White coming out of the backfield, lost seven yards when White,
avoiding a tack‑ le, slipped on a field still damp from week-long rains.
Elway then missed his next two
throws, one spectacularly batted away from Wide Receiver Emile Harry by
Rodgers. Stanford now faced fourth and
17 on its own 13 with only 53 seconds remaining. Cal seemed a
certain winner. But Elway, ever unflappable,
zipped a hard spiral over the middle that somehow reached Harry among
three Golden Bear defenders for a 29-yard gain and a saving first down.
"He did it!" screamed KGO's Starkey.
was under way. Elway hit Mike Tolliver for 19 yards to the Cal 39. Next, with
31 seconds left, Mike Dotterer picked
up 21 yards on a surprise running play, a daring gamble that put Stanford on the Cal 18. Dotterer was held to no gain on the following play, but he did get the
ball close to the right hash mark, Harmon's
favorite area from which to kick. Harmon jogged in for the final field-goal
attempt. The crowd grew quiet. "Oh my goodness," gasped
Starkey as Harmon lined up for the kick with eight seconds to play. Bedlam
again. "It's good!" burbled Starkey of Harmon's field goal that
apparently had won the game for Stanford. "What
a finish for John Elway, to pull this out. This is one of the great finishes.
Only a miracle can save the Bears." True, all too true.
Hundreds of downcast Cal supporters started to make their way to the tunnels leading out of the
stadium. James Igoe, a San Francisco
attorney, was one of those who thought
the Bears were finished. "It was the biggest mistake of my life," he says. "I walked out on
history." Some Cal fans who departed early didn't learn about The
Play until they read about the game in the morning papers. Dick Hafner, Cal's
director of public information, told of one un fortunate Old Blue who sat
confounded through an entire dinner party after the game. "He couldn't
understand why everyone there was talking
as if Cal had won," says Hafner.
made two critical mistakes on what seemed to be its winning play. Elway, standing next to Referee Charles Moffett, didn't let the clock run down far enough
before calling the time-out that preceded the field goal. Then, as
the kick passed between the uprights,
jubilant Stanford players ran onto the field to celebrate their dramatic
victory. This resulted in a 15-yard penalty
for having illegal players on the field. The penalty was assessed on the
ensuing kickoff, obliging Harmon
to kick from the 25-yard line instead of the 40. The penalty in no way
diminished Stanford's victory celebration.
It should have. Now Cal would have both a shorter distance to the goal
and more room to execute the Marx Brothers stunts that would get them there.
When the two teams lined up for the
kick, there was, as Cal
Special Teams Coach Charlie West said, "pandemonium everywhere."
Stanford was busily clearing the field of players who weren't supposed to be on
it. Cal didn't have enough. In expectation of a squib kick West had called for his onsides-return team, composed exclusively of
players accustomed to handling the ball. In the chaos, two members of the unit, defensive backs Gregg Beagle and Jimmy
Stewart, did not hear West call this
return formation and did not take the
field. So Cal lined up with only nine men, until West, responding
to frantic gestures from his players, sent in Running Back Scott Smith to take Beagle's place in the center of the
front line. Still more waves and shouts from the field. West was reluctant to act because, as he and Kapp agreed, in such situations "twelve men is a whole lot
worse than 10." A skinny 170-pound defensive back named Steve Dunn
was standing next to the perplexed coach.
"Let me go in," pleaded Dunn, who seldom played, even on
special teams. West hastily counted his forces—Kapp calls his special
teams "special forces"—and sent Dunn in just as Harmon approached
Smith reached the field in time to fill the gap left by Beagle's absence,
but Stewart's position, second from the left on the front line, was unoccupied. This left Cal with only
four players in the restraining area between
the Stanford 35 and 40, not five, as
the rules stipulate. But this violation calls for only a correction by the officials before the
kick, not a penalty that would nullify the return. In the
confusion—players shuttling on and off the field, fans crowding the
sidelines—none of the six officials
noticed the oversight. Rodgers, captain of the special forces, was on the front line at the far left. Stewart's disappearance left a gap between him and
Smith. Linebacker Tim Lucas and
Cornerback Garey Williams were on the right side of this line. The
second line should have consisted of Tight End David Lewis, Moen, Running Back
Ron Story and Wide Receiver Howell, but Moen, for reasons unclear to West, was
playing five yards deeper.
"I noticed we were a man short," says Moen,
"so I decided to protect us farther back." It was one of those
inspired decisions by which history is
altered and football games are won. Garner was the intermediate return man and
Ford the deep man—deeper at
first than necessary, for he was not immediately aware that
Stanford was kicking from the 25. Dunn had gotten no more than five yards onto
the field when the ball was kicked, so in
effect he was playing no position at all. He would play it well.
The return formation may have been a hodgepodge, but the Bears did have a vague idea of what they
wanted to do, although at least two
of the principals, Moen and Ford, didn't
know what it was. Recalls Rodgers, "I saw our onsides team coming
on, so as. Mariet ran past me, I called out to him, `If you're tackled, lateral the ball.' Then I thought that's what we should do—just keep the ball alive.
Stanford might be expecting one or
even two laterals, but they wouldn't be looking for us to go crazy. I walked into the huddle and said, `Look,
if you're gonna get tackled, lateral the ball.' Everybody just looked at
me. 'I mean, don't fall with that ball.' That seemed to do it. Don't fall with
It seemed a terrific, idea to young Garner. "I didn't know what we
were going to do," he says. "But Richard came into that huddle with a
very positive attitude. 'Don't fall with the ball.' I liked that. Why not? If
they're gonna beat us, we'll go out
fighting. Coach Kapp instilled that in us-100 percent for 60 minutes; never give in until the last second has ticked off.
We all held hands after Richard told us what to do. I knew then it wasn't
Moen wasn't so sure. "I wasn't in the huddle," he said.
"I was just walking around in the
middle of the field. I was mad and frustrated. I thought we'd played a
good game, good enough to win. I didn't have a lot of hope. I didn't know about
the lateraling. But I did have a weird feeling. I just wanted to see what was
going to happen."
heard Rodgers yelling at him, "But I really couldn't hear what he was
saying. There was too much noise." And he was having troubles of his own.
"My legs started cramping up in the third quarter," he says.
"I'd expected it to be cold for the
game, so I'd worn tights under my uniform
to keep my legs warm. Then it turned up warm [57¡ at the kickoff], and it was
too late to take them off. I did a lot of
running in that game, and it finally caught up with me. At the start of
the fourth quarter I took off the tights. That seemed to help, but I could still feel the knots in my legs as I stood
standing there waiting for the kick."
went for the squib kick because, according to Wiggin,
"That takes away the timing of the return." But not of this
one. The ball found the gap between Rodgers and Smith. Then it took a big hop
directly into Moen's hands. Had he been
playing in position, the ball would most likely have bounced over his
head into a virtual no man's land, where
Garner, the nearest player, would have had to track it down under pressure. Instead, Moen fielded the
ball cleanly at about the Cal 44. He
started running to his right "until I saw white
shirts"—primarily Stanford Strong Safety Barry Cromer's. On the Cal 48, Moen wheeled in front of
Cromer, spotted Rodgers perhaps 12 yards away near the left sideline, stopped and threw an overhand pass back to
him on the Cal 46. "I did it instinctively," says Moen.
"I thought Richard might have a
seam on the left side. I was a quarterback in high school, so I knew I
could get the ball to him. Then I ducked
past the Stanford tackler and started running toward Richard, circling so that I was behind him, just
to be there if he needed me."
Rodgers was startled to get the ball. "I saw Kevin looking around,
then the ball was in the air and I had it," says Rodgers. "I
started to run, but a Stanford man was in the way." This was Cornerback Darrell Grissum,
who would surely have tackled Rodgers the
moment he received the ball had not Dunn, trying somehow to get into the
action from his nowhere spot, rushed up and delivered a perfect block on Grissum near the sideline. Dunn's block enabled
Rodgers to lateral to Garner on the Cal 43.
Richard pitched it back to me, I made one fake and then attracted a crowd," says Garner, understating the case.
Stanford Linebacker David Wyman was the first to hit him, on the Cal 49.
Then Linebacker Mark Andrew joined in, and,
finally, what seemed to be the entire Stanford team. Harmon, the kicker,
leaped for joy when he saw Garner stopped. "I thought he was down,"
says Harmon. "Half of our guys were
going to the sidelines to celebrate." But there was no whistle, and Garner was resourceful.
"My knee never touched the
ground," he says. "They had my legs, but they were parallel to the
ground. My upper body was free. I could hear Richard calling to me, 'Dwight, the ball!' I shovel-passed it back to him, then I hit the ground. I
popped right back up to see if I could get another lateral."
At least nine players from
the Stanford bench charged onto the field at
that point in the mistaken belief that Garner had been stopped and the
game was over. Line Judge Gordon Riese
tossed his flag, charging Stanford with unsportsmanlike conduct. However, with the ball changing
hands so rapidly, in the eyes of fans and players from both teams the flag
could just as well have been against the Bears for something or other. From the south end zone the
Stanford band also rushed onto the
field, some members reaching as far as the 20-yard line.
But Rodgers, running now with the
second lateral he'd received,
started upfield from the Cal 48, not quite knowing whom to dodge, because so many illegal players were on the field. Two of them, in fact, were Cal men,
Quarterback Gale Gilbert and Cornerback John Sullivan, both of whom took
one step onto the gridiron from opposite
ends of the Bears' bench when Garner
was hit. They stepped back undetected as
soon as they realized the ball was still in play. The most obvious of the
trespassers was Stanford's Tolliver, who had run perhaps 15 yards from the bench before he realized the game
Rodgers reached the Stanford 46, where he was confronted by Cardinal Defensive Back 'Kevin
Baird. "The second Dwight got the ball to me," says Rodgers, "I
thought, 'Hey, we've got a chance.' I could
see that Kevin and Mariet were running alongside me and that the
Stanford man was in front of me. I acted
like an option quarterback, drawing that man to me. Then I lateraled into an
area, hoping that Kevin and Mariet wouldn't fight each other for the
Ford took this fourth lateral on the Stanford 47 and swung swiftly to his right, speeding by
players—legal and illegal—toward the startled Stanford
band. Tolliver, mean- while, had slipped and
fallen on his backside trying to get off the field. He was lying helplessly on the Stanford 34 when Ford
ran by him. "His entourage ran right over me," says Tolliver. "Sometimes I wonder why I didn't
just turn around and tackle that guy." Moen was directly behind
Ford. "I knew Kevin was close," says Ford, "but I didn't know
how close. I figured if I looked back, one
of the Stanford players would go for him."
Ford was also grimly aware that
at any moment his legs might again cramp. At the Stanford 27, Ford was trapped
Cardinal defenders—Outside Linebacker Tom Briehl, Safety Steve
Lemon and Harmon. "I just threw my body into all three of
them," says Ford. As his feet left the ground, he made a remarkable
over-the-shoulder toss—without looking back. "I didn't have much on
it," he says. "I wanted it to stay in the air as long as possible so Kevin could get to
dive carried him to the Stanford 24. It also flattened the three Cardinal
players and altered the course of three
others. Moen, racing under Ford's blind toss, actually overran it. He reached back for it at the 25, at
approximately the point from which
it had been released. Embittered Stanfordites later protested that this pass, though thrown back over
the shoulder, was still somehow forward. The films clearly show that the ball was thrown backward and that if Moen hadn't reached back for it, it would have hit
the turf at about the 27.
climactic play removed virtually the entire Stanford team from the pursuit except Outside Linebacker Mike Noble,
who was behind Moen, and Grissum, who was in front of Moen as he received the
lateral. Howell took Grissum out with a block that was more of a shove. No flag
was dropped. The Stanford band, 144 strong,
was on the field by now. One bandsman, unaware that the game was being
lost behind him, stood facing the Cal
rooting section, waving his cap and
dancing in victory. The Axe committeemen were similarly rejoicing with the victory trophy on the Stanford 17-yard
line. Another member of the band frolicked near the goal line in a conehead. Most of the musicians, along with two
cheerleaders, were congregated between the goal line and the 15. Then, suddenly, Moen, in determined full flight, bore down upon them. Like a Red Sea they parted for
the miracle worker. "It was a
bizarre feeling," says Moen. "There
were so many people on the field, and I could see flags all over the place. And here I was running
right through the band."
following the play," says Referee Moffett, "and then I saw the band
running toward me. It was the damnedest
thing. Now I know how Custer felt."
Moffett admits he
didn't see Moen cross the goal line because the band was in the way. Kapp
didn't see the touchdown. Wiggin probably didn't, either. The only player
reasonably unobstructed view of the proceedings was Noble, running in
futile pursuit of Moen through his own school band. "I didn't know what was going on,"
says Noble. "At
one point I may have had a shot at him, but it was a madhouse out there. Once I hit the band I slowed down. I didn't know where the end zone was, but I figured
the band must be in it."
As Moen passed the goal line, he
brushed past saxophonist Scott DeBarger, a former high school football
player who later acknowledged he toyed with
the notion of trying to tackle the runner, a deed that would have thrown
what was already football's most improbable
play into even greater chaos. Moffett shudders to this day at the awful
prospect. "Imagine the confusion if
Moen had run into or tripped over or been tackled by a band
member," says Moffett. "Then we would have had to make a decision on
whether to award a touchdown." Fortunately, DeBarger's better instincts
prevailed. As it was, Moen bumped the sax
from DeBarger's grasp as he soared in
jubilation in the end zone. Gary Tyrrell, leader of the band's trombone section, was standing in the end zone playing the Stanford band's fight
song, All Right Now (the school's fight song is Come Join the
Band), when he looked up to see
Moen descending on him. "I had no
idea why a Cal football player should be in our end zone with the game over," says Tyrrell. "I was
apparently at the spot where he was
going to spike the ball. I barely had time to brace myself."
Moen landed on Tyrrell and sent him and
his trombone flying. Robert Stinnett, a photographer for the Oakland Tribune,
was standing next to the
musician at the time of the collision. His
on-the-spot photos of the occasion have been made into two posters that have taken their place among countless other artifacts of The Play. Stinnett's
pictures made Tyrrell as famous as Moen.
Moen said he never saw the trombone
player, so eager was he to celebrate the first touchdown of his college
career. Disengaging himself from Tyrrell, he pranced about the endzone with the ball held aloft. Then he had a
sobering thought: There were flags on
the field. Perhaps the highlight of
his athletic career would be wiped out by a penalty. "I finally
just sat down to await the verdict," says Moen. The officials had not
confirmed the touchdown, and the spectators, thoroughly drained, held their
reaction in check. The silence after so many
minutes of wild cheering was startlingly abrupt. The crowd had been transformed into a mute, befuddled
Starkey was now virtually speechless,
his baritone voice reduced to a grating
falsetto whisper. "The ball is still loose," he had shouted incredulously as The Play took form.
"He's going into the end zone!
There are flags on the field! The band's
on the field. . . ." Starkey once worked for Moen's father, Donne, in
the banking business in Southern California, and he had been concerned that he had scarcely mentioned the boy's name throughout the game. Now he was
maniacally screaming it into the microphone.
But something had to be wrong with a
play that "had four players throwing a total of five laterals, had illegal
players from both teams on the field and had
the Stanford band forming a corridor for the conclusion of a touchdown
run. Moffett, a Pac-10 official for 22
years, was indubitably the man on the
spot. As soon as Moen crossed the goal line, several Stanford assistant coaches confronted Moffett.
Wiggin, who had been taunted by a
finger-waving Cal nose guard, Bruce
Parker, was fuming on the sidelines. Moffett extended a restraining hand toward the coaches, players,
rooters and band members who were
crowding around him. He called his fellow officials into an on-field
"I assumed the
man had scored," says Moffett, "but I had to admit I lost him
in the band. I asked the other officials if he had crossed the goal line. They said he had. I asked if
anyone had blown a whistle during the
return. No one had. I asked if every
one of those laterals was clearly backward. They said they were. And the penalty flag? On Stanford for extra players and band on the field. Well then, I
said, we have a touchdown. I threw my hands in the air to signify as
much. And it was like starting World War III."
In fact, a cannon shot—the one
that accompanies all Cal touchdowns—was
fired, but this one was tantalizingly delayed. Igoe and those
others of little faith were outside the stadium
when, with disbelieving ears, they heard it. "I just stood there
for a second, a sick look on my face," says Igoe. "Then I started to rush back into the stadium with all the other
idiots. I don't know what I expected to see—an instant replay,
Upstairs in the
broadcast booth, Starkey rallied for one final paroxysm: "The Bears have won. Oh my God, this is
the most amazing, sensational, heartrending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football. I've
never seen any game like it in my
life. . . . The Stanford band just lost their team that ballgame. . . . This
place is like it's never been before.
It's indescribable here. . . . I guarantee you, if you watch college football for the rest of your life,
you'll never see one like this. . . ."
With thousands of
people now on the field, Moffett and the other officials broke into a perilous sprint for
their dressing quarters at the opposite end of the stadium. "Everyone was yelling at
us—players, coaches, fans, both bands," Moffett recalls.
"It was an alltime experience. Never in my wildest dreams had I
imagined that a game could end that way. This
one will be down in my memory book forever."
locker room was scarcely a sanctuary. Within minutes, Wiggin, his
offensive coordinator, Ray Handley, and
Stanford Athletic Director Andy Geiger were bursting through the door demanding an explanation, insisting that they had photographic proof that an official had
waved the play dead when Garner was tackled. "They were in a state
of shock," says Cal Sports Information
Director John McCasey, who acted as a pool reporter in the
officials' room. "Paul was saying how
people's livelihoods depended on the officials' decisions." Moffett held his ground under the barrage. No whistle had been blown. Head Linesman Jack
Langley had been in perfect position
to call the play dead when Garner was tackled. "He was looking right
at it," says Moffett. "All
through that play I was saying to myself, 'Keep cool.' It was a weird situation, but we're trained to keep
our cool." The Stanford team,
meanwhile, sat fully dressed for 20 minutes after the -game,
waiting, as one member, Lemon, recalls, "for
something else to happen. We thought we would probably have to do
this play all over again. We sat there in total disbelief."
Pac-10 has no provisions for an official protest, so none was filed. The best Stanford could
do was persuade conference Executive Director
Wiles Hallock to issue a public
statement acknowledging that Cal had only four men in the restraining area on the fateful kickoff.
Hallock added, however, that it was a
violation that required no penalty. And, he said later, "I'm
pleased that in all the confusion, the officials never stopped
officiating." As for the play? "Well, it was just one of those marvelous things that happen in football."
opportunity for a bowl bid gone and his job and
those of his assistants in jeopardy,
remained inconsolable for months. "I'll take the criticism for not letting the clock run down
further on the field goal," he says
"but had the damn play been called correctly, it wouldn't have made any difference. Oh, it's very easy for some guy to sit in a bar and
say, 'That dumb-cluck coach.' Well, we'll
have a clock drill from now on. I'd just
like to put the whole thing behind me. It's
one of the most bizarre things I've
ever been a part of."
hit 25 of 39 passes for
330 yards and two touchdowns in the Big Game
and set an NCAA career record
of 774 completions and a Pac-10 record for yardage in a season (3,242), was as
enraged as his coach, and he is a young man not given to excessive emotion.
"These guys [the officials] ruined my last game as a college player," said Elway immediately after
the game. "This is a farce and a joke." More than a month
later, as he prepared to play in the East-West Shrine Game, Elway told Oakland Tribune reporter Ron Bergman, "I still feel the same
way about it now as I did in the locker room after the game. Maybe in time it'll wear off, but I'm still
bitter. Very bitter."
Harmon, the would-be hero of the game,
was no less disturbed. In two years at
Stanford he'd never been called on to kick
a "winner," and he had steeled himself for the opportunity all through the game. "I didn't care if
it had to be 70 yards," he says,
"I was going to be ready." He was, but his biggest moment had been
rendered meaningless. When the crowd had cleared, Harmon sat by himself
in the Memorial Stadium stands, trying
vainly to get a fix on what had happened. "It was a lucky play," he finally concluded. "I was
in a state of shock. I know I'll be
hearing about this for I don't know how long. But you've got to go on
with your life."
is haunted by his regrets. "Every time I look at a film of that play, I say to myself, 'There, right
there, I could've gotten him,' "
he says. "I still get hassled about it. I'll never hear the end of it as long as I live. But I guess you can
say I'm part of history."
was predictable: "Hey, they had their party too soon. The game is 60
minutes, not 59 minutes and 56
seconds. This proved it."
Stanford band, a pariah even before the game to many fans and older alumni for its
iconoclastic halftime stunts and its insistence on an exclusively rock
repertoire at the expense
of traditional school songs, was attacked with renewed enthusiasm for its part in The Play. Mocked in the press
and bombarded with hate mail, the band retreated, as it were, into a
shell. "The band has served as a scapegoat
before," says Tyrrell, suddenly its most conspicuous member. "The hate mail was
not unexpected. Actually, we did get some nice thank-you letters from Cal alums."
Films of The Play exonerate
the band from serious wrongdoing. It had no
business on the field, of course,
but no Stanford defender was prevented from reaching Moen by any member of the band. Ford and
Howell basically eliminated all available
pursuers, and Noble, the only Cardinal player with a chance at Moen, ran unimpeded through the confused musicians.
became a celebrity, interviewed on television and radio as frequently as any
of the four players. He also received offers from Cal alumni groups for his supposedly battered
trombone. Actually, the instrument wasn't even dented, and Tyrrell rejected all offers, preferring
it as a souvenir. Unable to acquire the real thing, the Berkeley Breakfast
Club, a booster group, presented Cal Athletic Director Dave Maggard with a plaque commemorating the great event, on which was
affixed a trombone that looked as if it had
been run over by a truck. This tortured horn might well prove as symbolic of the Big Game rivalry from here on in as the traditional Axe has been for
the better part of a century. The Axe, incidentally, was replaced in its
showcase on the Stanford campus by a giant screw.
achieve a measure of revenge the week after the game when reporters for The Stanford Daily published a bogus "extra"
edition of the Daily Californian, boldly
headlined NCAA AWARDS BIG GAME TO STANFORD. The prank paper was largely the work of undergraduates Tony Kelly, Mark Zeigler,
Adam Berns and Stanford Daily editor
Richard Klinger. However, the lead story, which began "The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has
awarded last Saturday's Big Game to Stanford, the Daily Californian was told late last
night," and a box containing a phony NCAA
rule by which an "injustice" may be corrected, were written for the
paper by Tom Mulvoy, a 40-year-old deputy managing editor of the Boston
Globe who was
attending Stanford on a journalism
fellowship. When a hesitant Klingler asked
Mulvoy if the staff should proceed with the spoof, Mulvoy advised him, "Go for it. If you don't you'll kick
yourself in 20 years."
Seven thousand copies of the ersatz issue were planted
in newsstands on the Berkeley campus before the real Daily Californian—fortuitously
late off the presses that day—could be distributed. "We stayed around to watch the
reaction," says Kelly, one of the Stanford Daily commandos who made the
early-morning trans-Bay trek from Palo Alto. "We heard a couple of screams of
'Oh no!' and a lot of swearing. One girl looked to be in tears. Marty Rabkin,
the Daily Cal's business manager, showed up. He picked
up an armload and was busy telling people the
paper was a phony, but Cal students
were walking by taking copies out of his arms the whole time. The look
on his face was hard to describe—disgust, maybe." At Stanford, says
Kelly, news of the hoax came "as a
catharsis. It helped alleviate the mood of despair on campus." Copies of the paper, as with most everything else connected with the event, have
become collector's items on
both campuses, and its authors have joined the expanding pantheon of
biggest heroes—along with their satellite, Tyrrell—remain the mad lateralers. They achieved new
stature on a campus not noticeably appreciative of football stars and were greeted with ardent good humor as they
strolled across Berkeley's leafy glades. Alumni and businessmen in town hastened to entertain them with dinner and
drinks. Garner, working the cash register at a suburban Macy's store
over Christmas vacation, was often mobbed by customers. "I thought I was
going to get fired," he says. "Then when my boss found out who I was, he started talking to me about The Play. Turns out he was a Cal
players were all good friends before, but The Play brought them even closer.
"When we see each other now,"
says Ford, "we all just burst out laughing." They are bound forever by a special experience, a second
set of Four Horsemen. "Now," says Garner, "we squeeze
each other's hands just a little tighter." END
Copyright 1983, Sports Illustrated