Without a doubt, the 1982 Big Game had the most spectacular finish. That year, John Elway, playing in what was to be his last game as a Stanford player, faced fourth down and 17 yards-to-go from the Stanford 13-yard line with only 53 seconds remaining. Amazingly, he completed a pass to receiver Emile Harry for 29 yards. Two long plays later, Mark Harmon converted a 35-yard field goal to put Stanford up 20-19 with only four seconds to go. Already the game was being heralded as one of the best ever. However, the final four seconds held in store the most memorable play in college football history, forever to be known as simply "The Play." California's Kevin Moen took the Stanford "squib" kick-off at his own 43-yard line. Immediately, the Berkeley return team made like a rugby squad, as each Cal player who came into contact with the ball lateralled to a teammate just as he appeared on the verge of being tackled (or, in at least one case, as replays clearly showed, after the ballcarrier had been tackled). After five such laterals, Moen ended up with the ball again and sprinted into the end zone, running through the prematurely celebrating Stanford Band in the process. Pandemonium reigned in Berkeley as Cal claimed a touchdown on the return, while Stanford insisted that somewhere along the line, one of the ballcarriers had been downed. After several minutes of discussion, the officials awarded the touchdown and the game to California by the score of 25-20, though some Stanford faithful remember the score to this day as Stanford 20, Berkeley 19.

Text courtesy Stanford Axe Committee

...OK, here we go with the kickoff...
...Harmon'll probably try to squib it and he does...

The game between California and Stanford on November 20, 1982 would have been historic for a number of reasons. It was the 85th meeting between Cal and Stanford in what had become known as The Big Game. It was John Elway's final collegiate game, and his last chance to guide Stanford to a bowl game. But the events of that afternoon would lead folks to call the 85th Big Game the greatest finish in the history of college football -- and perhaps all of sports.

1982 had seen an outstanding crop of quarterbacks rise to prominence in the ranks of college football. Dan Marino of Pitt... Tony Eason of Illinois... Ken O'Brien of Cal-Davis... But perhaps the most highly touted of what was to become the Great Quarterback Class of 1983 was John Elway from Granada Hills High School in California. Elway had thrown for 75 touchdowns and over 9,000 yards at Stanford, but despite his outstanding numbers, he hadn't been able to take the Cardinal to a bowl game. With the team at 5-5, they needed a victory over Cal in The Big Game to get into the Hall of Fame Bowl. The Cal Bears, touted as "the worst 6-4" team ever, stood in his way.

The Bears took the lead in front of their home crowd at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, scoring a 32-yard Joe Cooper field goal in the middle of the second quarter to break the scoreless tie. After unheralded QB Gale Gilbert hit Mariet Ford in the back of the end zone, the Bears took a 10-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.

...ball comes loose and the Bears have to get out of bounds...

The third quarter belonged to Elway. #7 led the Cardinal on two straight long drives, both ending with touchdown passes to Benson White. Nine unanswered points by the Bears and a field goal by the Cardinal made the score 19-17 in favor of Cal with less than a minute to play. Elway took to the turf at the 20-yard-line, needing a field goal to pull out a win in The Big Game.

Elway had fumbled the ball away at the Cal 33-yard-line on the previous drive, but the Bears had failed to run out the clock. Was redemption at hand? Vincent White slipped on the turf after catching a screen pass, losing seven yards on first down. Elway's second down pass was nearly intercepted, and his third down pass was knocked away by Richard Rodgers. Perhaps this wasn't Stanford's day.

...Rodgers along the sideline... another one...
...they're still in deep trouble at midfield...

Elway would not be denied... a fourth down pass of 27 yards kept the drive alive! A second pass to the 39-yard-line and a run around the left end put the ball on the 17 with just seconds to play. Already in position for a field goal, another handoff put the ball on the right hash mark for Mark Harmon. Elway quickly called time out with just eight ticks on the clock. Harmon's 35 yard kick was true, and the 85th Big Game surely had seen one of the greatest finishes in history! Stanford had dealt the final blow, taking the lead 20-19!

But the scoreboard still read 0:04.

All season long, the Bears had played a loose pick-up game called Graboz on Sundays. It was free-form game with Indian and Mexican roots, part football, part rugby, part soccer, part nothing at all. No rules; simply meant as an exercise for the day after. It would come in handy on the kickoff. Head coach Joe Kapp scrambled to send his "hands team" onto the field for the kickoff. Oddly enough, there would be only ten Bears on the field for the final play.

The problem: Even though a 15-yard penalty assessed to Stanford for excessive celebration forced them to kick off from the 25-yard-line, with just four seconds left, there was little time to get the ball out of bounds to try for a field goal or a Hail Mary, especially if the kick was squibbed. The only hope for the Bears was to run the kickoff all the way back. Many of the print journalists headed for the elevator, their minds preparing the story of Elway's remarkable drive. "Only a miracle can save the Bears!" shouted Joe Starkey, radio announcer for Cal. The miracle would soon arrive...

Harmon squibbed the ball to the 45 where it was picked up by Kevin Moen. Moen started upfield but was quickly met by Stanford defenders. He pitched the ball across the field to Richard Rodgers. Rodgers tried the left sideline but came up empty, flipping the ball back to Dwight Garner. Garner was engulfed by a swarm of Cardinal tacklers, but at the last moment (or perhaps after the last moment), chucked the ball out of the pile back into the hands of Rodgers.

...they tried to do a couple of...
...THE BALL IS STILL LOOSE...
...as they get it Rodgers...

An incredulous Starkey continued his memorable play call as the ball popped out of the sea of white and into the hands of Rodgers. Still right at midfield, Rodgers lateralled back again to Ford, who raced toward the right corner of the end zone. Several Stanford defenders pursued from the left side.

...they get it back now to the THIRTY...
...they're down to the TWENTY...

Then... the strangest thing happened...

OH, THE BAND IS OUT ON THE FIELD!
HE'S GONNA GO INTO THE END ZONE!
HE'S GONE INTO THE END ZONE!
WILL IT COUNT?
THE BEARS HAVE SCORED
BUT THE BANDS ARE OUT ON THE FIELD!!

The Stanford Marching Band, thinking the game was over, had taken the field and were already playing Free's "All Right Now". By the time Ford threw a no-look over-the-shoulder pass back to Moen (who had started it all), there were almost a hundred band-geeks with little white hats blocking the path of any would-be tackler. Moen sped through the crowd of brass and woodwind and jumped into the end zone, leveling (and making an instant celebrity of) trombone player Gary Tyrrell (who now brews Trombone Guy Pale Ale).

Pandemonium ensued. The crowd rushed the field, but flags had been thrown. Had Cal made an illegal forward lateral? What precedent dictated what to do if a band had taken the field? The officials conferred at midfield for what seemed like hours, until the head referee finally signaled touchdown. Final score: Cal 25, Stanford 20.

To this day the Stanford faithful swear that Garner's knee was down. John Elway considered it the worst thing that had ever happened to him, still in disbelief today that the touchdown stood. "If he runs through three trombone guys, a tuba player, and two drum players," he said, "and then runs over a trombone player at the goal line, and they call it a touchdown, then, yeah, I think that probably shouldn't have been called." Perhaps Joe Starkey had the best view of what came to be know simply as "The Play"...

AND THE BEARS! THE BEARS... HAVE WON! THE BEARS HAVE WON! OH MY GOD, THE MOST AMAZING, SENSATIONAL, DRAMATIC, HEART-RENDING, EXCITING, THRILLING FINISH IN THE HISTORY OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL!! CALIFORNIA HAS WON THE BIG GAME OVER STANFORD!!

I have never, never seen anything like it in the history if I've ever seen any game in my life!!

California has won The Big Game over Stanford!

There will be no extra point!

 

 

 

 

Thanks to ESPN Classic for running this game ad infinitum

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