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On This Date in Sports November 20, 1982: Crushing the Band

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com


California stuns Stanford 25-20 on a crazy final play that saw them return a kickoff with several laterals while dodging members of the Stanford band that had wandered onto the field thinking the game was over. It appeared the Cardinal had won the game when Mark Harmon kicked a 35-yard field goal with four seconds left. However, after a celebration penalty placed the kickoff at the 25, the Bears completed the miracle play winning the game in Berkeley.

The kick return called “The Play” is perhaps the most memorable moment in the rival series called “The Big Game.” Both schools located in Northern California apart have been playing each other annually in late November since 1890. Since 1933 the two teams had played for the Stanford Axe, which made its first appearance in 1899 when students used it to decapitate a strawman to represent students at the University of California.

The 1982 season started a new era for California, as former quarterback Joe Kapp has assumed the coaching reigns. After a terrible 2-9 season in 1981, the Bears showed plenty of positives, posting a 10-4 record entering their final game. In an era when there were few bowl games, the Big Game was the bowl for California as they were not in line for an invite to the postseason. Stanford, coached by Paul Wiggin, came into the Big Game with three straight losses, dropping their record to 5-5. Stanford was considered a lock to go to the Hall of Fame Classic with a win despite the Cardinal struggles, as the bowl committee was interested in inviting them due to their All-American quarterback John Elway. Elway did not play in a bowl game in his career but was plenty successful, leading the NCAA with 24 touchdowns in 1982, finishing second to Hershel Walker in Heisman voting. At 5-5, the Cardinal needed to beat the Bears to get that coveted bowl spot.

After a scoreless first quarter, California scored ten unanswered points in the second quarter to take a 10-0 halftime lead. In the third quarter, John Elway led the Cardinal on a pair of touchdown drives to take a 14-10 lead. The game went back and forth in the fourth quarter, with California holding a 19-17 in the game's final minutes. Elway would lead Stanford down the field, making several big plays, including a 29-yard completing on 4th down and 17 from their own 13. Stanford’s drive would end with a 35-yard field goal by Mark Harmon. The Cardinal rushed the field to celebrate the kick, which had given them a 20-19 lead. However, with 14 seconds left, they needed to kick the ball back to California and, with a 15-yard penalty, were forced to kick from the 25. Harmon squibbed the kick, hoping to allow the clock to run out and end the game. Kevin Moen picked up the ball, who tossed a lateral to Richard Rodgers; California was shorthanded with just ten men on the field due to confusion after the field goal. Rodgers then threw the ball to Dwight Garner, who tossed it back to Richard Rodgers after five yards. At this moment, the Stanford band believing Garner was tackled, took to the field to celebrate a win. Rodgers later tossed the ball to Mariet Ford, who advanced it down the field 20 yards before passing it back to Kevin Moen, who was the first to touch it. Moen dodging the Stanford band, took the ball the rest of the way into the end zone, crashing into a trombone player. With the miracle play, California had won the axe 25-20.


Stanford was left out of the bowl picture with a 5-6 record with the loss. John Elway was the number one overall pick in the 1983 draft despite never playing in a bowl game. The Play would take on a life of its own has become a pop culture sensation as Joe Starkey’s call became one of the most famous in NCAA history, and later it was lampooned in the Bud Bowl series of commercials.