Run for your life: Kevin Moen’s sprint into fame and legend

Kevin Moen’s 15 seconds of fame have lasted a lifetime.

On the ultimate play of the 85th Big Game, Moen caught the fifth and final lateral of Cal’s kick return around the 25-yard line and took off. He wasn’t just running amid hordes of Stanford band members, into the end zone and over an unsuspecting trombonist.

He was running into the gaze of history.

The memory is still fresh in his mind. It does not seem like 30 years ago, Moen says, more like five.

He was frustrated. The whole Cal team was. The Bears had played a great game, Moen says, and they deserved to win. But at fourth-and-17 from the Cardinal 13-yard line, John Elway completed a 29-yard pass and marched the Stanford offense downfield into field-goal range. Mark Harmon’s 35-yard try put the away team ahead by a point with four seconds left in the game.

The Play that ensued is called a miracle by some. To Moen, “guys just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Moen fielded Harmon’s squib kick five yards shy of midfield with the intent of scoring a touchdown.

“I was soon to find out, I had a herd of Stanford guys at me,” Moen says.

Before the kickoff, teammate Richard Rodgers had made a comment on the sideline about not letting the ball die. Head coach Joe Kapp had instilled in all the players the will to always keep fighting.

So Moen kept the ball alive by throwing the ball back to Rodgers. Rodgers lateraled to Dwight Garner, who lateraled back to Rodgers, who lateraled to Mariet Ford. Ford took out three Cardinal defenders as he flung the football blindly into the air, right into the welcoming hands of Moen.

“When it happened, it just kind of took on a life of its own,” Moen says. “The lateral element picked up its own momentum.”

He ran 25 yards into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, capping off his celebration by incidentally running over Stanford trombonist Gary Tyrrell.

Moen remembers walking across the field and seeing a group of guys with the axe. Nobody knew what quite had happened, not even the hero.

“Walking off field, I remember everyone hugging each other,” Moen says. “No one fully understood who scored or how we scored.”

The next two weeks were a crazy, interview-filled blur for the previously unknown strong safety. But then it was back to the real world. A senior, Moen majored in history and made the Raiders’ training camp before getting cut. The next year, he was was the Broncos’ training camp but was eventually released. He knew then it was time to move on from playing football.

He settled back home in Southern California to raise a family. Moen has worked in real estate for the last 25 years and is currently the director of the estates division for Coldwell Banker in Palos Verdes. His life was not dictated by The Play, a fond memory but a memory nonetheless.

“I don’t think my life would have been appreciably different,” Moen says. “It didn’t have a real dramatic impact on my life.”

He will forever be known as the guy who scored the game-winning touchdown in The Play

“Discussing it on occasion is a pretty fun thing to be associated with,” he says. “Having a very positive thing to talk about is not bad.”

He says he’s probably seen a replay of The Play hundreds of times. Watching it and listening to the call from Joe Starkey, Moen says, “always brings a smile to my face.”

In that regard, he’s no different than any other Cal fan.

Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at [email protected]

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  • Maria Champlin Nicolassi

    I have a great memory of Kevin Moen. My brother graduated in history that year too. At the graduation ceremony at Zellerbach all the the graduates came forward, to polite applause, to receive their diplomas. Then Kevin Moen’s name was called. The auditorium erupted into cheers. My uncle, not a sports fan, was sitting next to me. He leaned over and whispered, “Who is that?!?!?!” I whispered back, “He’s the guy who scored the winning touchdown against Stanford.” I remember it like it was yesterday. Thanks, Kevin!

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