Kevin Moen runs through Stanford's band on final play to cap improbable victory.
By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 1999
It was something you draw on the blackboard when you're fooling around, seeing who can come up with the most outlandish, outrageous play.
In reality, it was no play at all, just a lot of desperation improvising, grasping at straws, looking for the needle in the haystack -- pick your cliche.
And it worked.
Five laterals and 57 yards after Stanford kicked off to California with four seconds to play, after the Stanford band had begun marching onto the field, Cal's Kevin Moen burst into the end zone for the touchdown that gave the Golden Bears a most improbable 25-20 victory and both teams -- and Gary Tyrrell -- a permanent berth in the bizarre world of sports.
Tyrrell? He was the Stanford trombonist in the end zone who was knocked over by Moen. Tyrrell was only shaken up; the trombone was dented. He, and it, are as immortal as any of the players that day.
Here's what happened on Nov. 20, 1982, after Mark Harmon's 34-yard field goal put Stanford ahead 20-19:
Richard Rodgers went into the huddle at the Cal bench and said, "Look, this is what we're going to do; if you get the ball and you're going to be tackled, pitch it."
Not all of his teammates were in the huddle -- Moen said he was so angry after the field goal that he walked straight onto the field -- and those who were looked at Rodgers as though he was crazy.
Harmon squib-kicked the ball to Moen at the Cal 43-yard line. He took it to the 48 and lateraled to his left to Rodgers, who gained 1 yard and pitched it back to Dwight Garner, who slanted to the right and moved to the Cal 49 and was tackled by several Stanford players.
As he was going down -- Stanford still insists an official signaled that his knee touched the ground -- Garner flipped the ball back to Rodgers.
At this moment, the clock showed 00:00 and the Stanford band began marching onto the field.
Rodgers ran to his right and reached the Stanford 45, then lateraled to his right to Mariet Ford, who sprinted along the right hash marks to the Stanford25.
As several tacklers converged, Ford blindly tossed the ball over his right shoulder, hoping a teammate was there. Moen was. He caught it at the 25, got a block from Wesley Howell, met up with the band at the 20, raced through the marching musicians, crossed the goal line and. . .
"I had turned around to look at our drum major," Tyrrell said, "and I turned around again to see this guy. Time sort of stretched right there. I had this guy coming at me, and I thought he just wanted to get off the field to avoid the mayhem. And then I said, "Oh, he has the ball.' And boom!"
An official had thrown a flag -- on Stanford when some of its players, thinking the game was over, streamed onto the field during the runback. Cal refused the penalty, the cannon went off, the crowd went wild and the play became, well, The Play.
All but forgotten in the aftermath is John Elway's role. As he would do so often with the Denver Broncos, he quarterbacked his team through a last-minute drive to the Cal 18-yard line, setting up Harmon's field goal that put Stanford ahead -- temporarily. But, inexplicably, Elway called timeout with eight seconds remaining.
"When the timeout was called," Harmon said, "I was real curious; why not one second? Why not three? Eight? Why? It was just a passing thought."