Big Game has provided crazy bounces and fantastic finishes | News | Palo Alto Online |


Big Game has provided crazy bounces and fantastic finishes


The 118th Big Game kicks off Saturday at 7:30 p.m. before a sold out crowd in Stanford Stadium, and there is no telling what the outcome holds. The series is famous for heroic performances, crazy bounces and fantastic finishes, the majority at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.

In the spirit of the rivalry, here are five of the best. Not included, but worthy of mention, was the 1924 contest. Led by new coach Pop Warner, Stanford brought a 7-0 record to Berkeley with a Rose Bowl berth at stake. Cal, sparked by coach Andy Smith, was trying to finish undefeated for the fifth-straight season.

Stanford star fullback Ernie Nevers broke his right ankle the previous week against Montana and was sidelined against the heavily favored Bears. Stanford kicked two field goals and held a 6-0 halftime advantage, much to the surprise of the 77,000 spectators at Memorial Stadium.

Cal rebounded in the second half and scored 20 unanswered points, taking a 20-6 lead with 10 minutes remaining. But reserve halfback Ed Walker threw two touchdown passes, the latter a 34-yarder to Murray Cuddeback in the final minute to earn Stanford a 20-20 tie and a trip to Pasadena to play Notre Dame.

In chronological order, here are five of the most memorable Big Games:

1972 -- First-year head coaches Jack Christiansen and Mike White of Stanford (5-4) and Cal (2-8), respectively, squared off at muddy Memorial Stadium, where the rain-soaked field contributed to five fumbles and six interceptions. A 71-yard interception return by linebacker Gordon Riegel staked Stanford to a 14-3 halftime lead.

But the Bears battled back. Capitalizing on a Stanford fumble, Sylvester Youngblood scored on a 4-yard run and freshman quarterback Vince Ferragamo hit Steve Kemnitzer for a two-point conversion to narrow the margin to 14-11. Youngblood scored again on a six-yard run early in the fourth quarter to give Cal its first lead at 18-14, but a three-yard run by Reggie Sanderson gave Stanford a 21-18 cushion with 3:42 remaining.

Cal's comeback seemed futile when Steve Murray collected his second interception with 2:28 to play, but the Bears held and regained possession on their own 38-yard-line with 1:13 left. Ferragamo, who already had thrown four interceptions, drove Cal to the Stanford 8, thanks in part to two pass interference penalties. With three seconds left, White went for the win and it paid off. Ferragamo passed to Steve Sweeney, who made a diving catch in the muddy end zone to lift the Bears to a heart-stopping 24-21 win.

"I never thought about going for a tie," said White, a Cal alum. "This game means too much."

1974 -- In one of the most dramatic finishes in series history, Mike Langford kicked a 50-yard field goal as time expired to give Stanford an improbable 22-20 victory at Memorial Stadium. Cal (7-2-1) entered as a prohibitive favorite against the Cardinal (4-4-2) who had endured a season-long quarterback controversy between Mike Cordova and Guy Benjamin.

Trailing 10-3 after three quarters, Christiansen inserted Benjamin and he sparked Stanford to 16 straight points. His 61-yard scoring pass to Tony Hill gave the Cardinal a 19-10 lead with 7:36 play. Cal kicked a field goal and then regained a 20-19 lead with 26 seconds remaining on a 13-yard pass from Steve Bartkowski to Steve Rivera.

But Stanford wasn't done. After clearing the field of celebrating Cal fans intent of tearing down the goal posts, Stanford took over on its own 19 with 19 seconds remaining. Benjamin calmly connected with Ted Pappas for 19 yards and tight end Brad Williams for 25, the latter lugging two defenders out of bounds at the Cal 37 with two seconds left. Langford did the rest.

"I'd trade all the statistics for a win," said Sweeney, who caught nine passes for 205 yards.

1982 -- In what many consider the most bizarre ending in the history of college football and is known as "The Play," Joe Kapp's Cal team (7-3) used five laterals to return Mark Harmon's squib-kickoff 52 yards for a controversial touchdown to give the Bears a stunning 25-20 win in Berkeley. All-America quarterback John Elway had just marched Paul Wiggin's team to the Cal 18 to set up a 35-yard field goal by Harmon with eight seconds left to give the Cardinal a 20-19 lead.

Stanford (5-5) was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for its sideline celebration and kicked off from its own 25. Despite having only 10 players on the field, the ball was fielded by Kevin Moen, who lateraled to Richard Rodgers, then lateraled to Dwight Garner. Garner pitched the ball back to Rodgers near midfield (some insist his knee was down), who tossed to Mariet Ford. Ford eluded several tacklers and advanced to the Stanford 25, where he blindly lobbed the ball over his right shoulder to the trailing Moen, who maneuvered through the Stanford Band and trampled trombone player Gary Tyrell in the end zone.

Confusion ensued. After a lengthy discussion, officials ruled it a touchdown and Cal prevailed, 25-20. Three days later, the Pac-10 Conference issued a statement admitting the officials were ''in error'' for not penalizing the Bears for having only four players lined up between 10 and 15 yards away from the kickoff. The ending prevented Elway from playing in a bowl game during his college career.

Three days later, the Stanford Daily published a fake edition of The Daily Californian and distributed it on the Cal campus with the headline, "NCAA Awards Big Game to Stanford." It took several hours before students realized it was prank.

Tyrell's trombone now resides in the College Football Hall of Fame.

"Each year it gets a little funnier, but it sure wasn't fun at the time," reflected Elway. "We just wish we had the band come out for some tackling practice."

1988 -- The 91st meeting at Memorial Stadium featured another thrilling conclusion, proving once again that it is never over until it's over. Stanford (3-6-1) was a heavy underdog against Cal (5-5), but the outcome came down to the final play.

With four seconds left and the score tied at 19, Cal kicker Robbie Keen, who had converted 17 of 19 field-goal attempts and went on to become an All-American, lined up for a 21-yard field that most assumed would win the game. Only someone forget to tell Stanford redshirt defensive back Tuan Van Le. Born in Viet Nam and raised in California, he darted in from the left side and blocked the kick to preserve a tie, allowing Stanford to retain the Axe.

It marked the first tie since 1953 and final in the series.

"It was weird," Van Le said. "Before the field goal, I had a feeling I could block it. So many times I had come close. The only way I could do it was to jump the ball. It felt good they didn't beat us."

1990 -- Some Stanford fans call it "The Payback" for 1982. In yet another improbable finish at Memorial Stadium, Cal (6-3-1) led until fourth quarter when Cardinal kicker John Hopkins drilled his fourth three-pointer to give Denny Green and Stanford (4-6) an 18-17 advantage with 9:56 remaining. Then things got interesting.

The Bears regained a 25-18 cushion with a touchdown and two-cushion with 6:03 to play. After an exchange of punts, the Cardinal took over on its own 13 with 1:54 left. Quarterback Jason Palumbis drove the offense to the Cal 19, where he found wide receiver Ed McCaffrey in the end zone for a touchdown. Green opted for the win and a two-point conversion, but Palumbis' pass was intercepted by John Hardy.

With 12 seconds remaining, Cal players and fans stormed the field. The Bears were penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct and Hopkins kicked off from the 50. His onside kick caromed off a Cal player and was touched by seven others before Stanford linebacker Dan Byers recovered at the Cal 37.

With nine seconds left and no timeouts available, Palumbis passed incomplete to McCaffrey. However, the Bears were flagged for roughing the passer and the ball was spotted at the 22.

On the Cardinal sideline, Hopkins wanted to warm up but the kicking net had been disassembled. So he improvised. Hopkins found six balls and kicked three into the crowd.

After Hopkins came out to attempt a game-winning 39-yard field goal, Cal coach Bruce Snyder tried to ice him by calling timeout. Hopkins went back to the bench and kicked three more balls into the stands.

When play resumed, Hopkins nailed the kick as time expired to give Stanford a 27-25 victory.

"Denny later said if I had missed, he was going to charge me for them," Hopkins of the balls he sailed into the stands.

Cardinal running back Glyn Milburn set a school and Pac-10 record by finishing with 379 all-purpose yards.

McCaffrey's son, Christian, a sophomore running back at Stanford, ranks second, collecting 369 yards against UCLA earlier this season. He'll be on the field Saturday for the 118th Big Game. It's anyone's guess what will happen.

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