In the 1982 Big Game at Memorial Stadium, Cal had outplayed a favored Stanford team for the majority of the game, and held a 19-17 lead late in the fourth quarter. Facing a fourth-and-17 from his own 13-yard line with less than a minute to play, Stanford quarterback John Elway kept his team alive with a 29-yard completion. He would continue to drive into Bear territory, setting up kicker Mark Harmon for a 35-yard go ahead field goal. Harmon’s kick split the uprights, giving the Cardinal a 20-19 lead with just 4 seconds left to play — and seemingly setting up his quad for a berth in a marquee bowl. An excessive celebration forced Stanford to kick off from the 25 instead of the 40. Still, as Cal radio broadcaster Joe Starkey put it, the Bears were in need of some sort of miracle.
Kickoff and First Lateral:
Because only 4 seconds remained, Stanford opted to squib kick to prevent any deep kickoff returns. Harmon’s kick made contact with the ground about five yards past the 25-yard line and rolled to the Bears’ 45 yard line. Cal’s disorganization meant only 10 people were on the field at the time of the kickoff. Sitting in prime position to scoop up the squib was Cal’s Kevin Moen. He stuttered for about two yards, but a Stanford special teamer met him almost immediately. Noting Moen’s distress, Richard Rodgers ran backwards to put himself in position to catch a lateral. Moen tossed the ball about half a yard behind him and found Rodgers near the far sideline. Rodgers was immediately surrounded by three Stanford defenders.
With Stanford defenders rapidly swarming him, Rodgers only managed to gain one yard. Once an option quarterback, the defensive back and special teams captain exhibited his agility in his rapid jut upfield. But he was under intense pressure and couldn’t run any farther, so he looked behind him and found true freshman Dwight Garner. Rodgers pitched the ball to the running back , who caught it at the Cal 45 in between the left hash mark and the left sideline.
Cradling the ball, Garner quickly cut to his left, even closer to the sideline. Garner ran straight upfield and approached the 50-yard line. But Stanford wasn’t going to let Garner escape its clutch. Four Cardinals engulfed him from the left and straight-on, and Garner barely had time to react. He was going to be tackled — there was no avoiding it. As he fell down, all he could do was twist his body away from the defenders. And in the most contentious point of The Play, Garner’s knee came dangerously close (or did indeed) to skimming the grass. As the sideline official reached up to blow his whistle and declare the play dead, the ball flew out from the scuffle as Rodgers desperately tossed it backward to Rodgers.
The Play was still alive, the ball was not dead. But the Stanfordites didn’t know that. Assuming the game was over, several Stanford players and the entire 144-piece band consumed the end zone in celebration. With Rodgers as its vessel, the ball passes midfield. The senior doubles back toward the middle of the field and avoids several Stanford players. Cal had the momentum of a working miracle on its side by this point, and at least four other Cal players ran near Rodgers in case he too was tackled. A few yards away, a smaller wide receiver named Mariet Ford rode Rodgers’ outside shoulder. By the Stanford 45, the ball took flight once more as Rodgers pitched it to Ford.
Fifth Lateral and Touchdown (and aftermath):
The pressure receded as Ford quickly avoided a Stanford athlete and broke into open space. He kept streaking down the field as the numbers on the sides grew smaller. And Moen trailed him the entire way. By the Stanford 28, a pair of Cardinals closed in on Ford, who crashed straight into them and threw the ball blindly over his right shoulder at the 27 yard line. According to Stanford fans, the toss was an illegal forward pass. When the ball landed incredibly in Moen’s hands, he was at Stanford’s 25. But Moen kept running, despite the chaos surrounding him and the band stampeding in the end zone. In his four years at Cal, Moen had never scored a touchdown for the Bears. He became his own personal battering ram and, by sheer force, breaks into the end zone. In a moment of ecstatic celebration, Moen jumped up, ball securely in hand, and bowled over a Stanford trombonist. The final score flashed on the board: Stanford 20, Cal 25.
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