The Play

Name=1982 Big Game
California vs. Stanford
Date=November 20, 1982
Visitor School=Stanford University
Visitor Name Short=Stanford
Visitor Nickname=Cardinal
Visitor Record=5-5

Visitor Coaches=
Visitor Coach=Paul Wiggin
Visitor Total=20
Home School=University of California
Home Name Short=Cal
Home Nickname=Golden Bears
Home Record=6-4

Home Coaches=
Home Coach=Joe Kapp
Home Total=25
Type=Regular Season
Stadium=California Memorial Stadium
City=Berkeley, California
US Network=USA Network
US Announcers=
Anthem=Cal Band
Halftime=Cal Band and Stanford Band

The Play refers to a last-second kickoff return during a college football game between the University of California Golden Bears and the Stanford University Cardinal on November 20, 1982. Given the circumstances and rivalry, the wild game that preceded it, the very unusual way in which The Play unfolded, and its lingering aftermath on players and fans, it is recognized as a highly memorable play in college football history and among the most memorable in American sports.

After Stanford had taken a 20-19 lead on a field goal with four seconds left in the game, the Golden Bears used five lateral passes on the ensuing kickoff return to score the winning touchdown and earn a 25-20 victory. Members of the Stanford Band had come onto the field midway through the return, believing that the game was over, which added to the ensuing confusion and folklore. There remains disagreement over the legality of two of the laterals, [ - ESPN 25 - 18: Cal's five-lateral kickoff return shocks Stanford ] ] []] adding to the passion surrounding the traditional rivalry of the annual "Big Game."


This was the teams' 85th Big Game, and was played on Cal's home field, California Memorial Stadium. cite news | last = Fimrite | first = Ron | title = The Anatomy Of A Miracle | pages = 212-228 | publisher = Sports Illustrated | date = 1983-09-01 | url = ] While Cal was out of contention for a postseason bowl game, the implications of this game were far more important to Stanford, led by quarterback John Elway, playing in his last regular season game before heading off to become a future National Football League star enshrined in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame. The Cardinal football squad was in the midst of an exciting season—they were 5-5 but had victories over highly ranked Ohio State and Washington—and needed a win to be invited to a bowl game. In fact, representatives of the Hall of Fame Classic committee were in attendance, apparently to extend an invitation to Stanford, should the Cardinal win.

Also at stake was possession of The Stanford Axe, an axe-head trophy that is awarded to the winner of this annual matchup. Its origins date back to 1899, but in 1933, after years of increasingly more elaborate thefts of the Axe by students from one or the other school, the two schools agreed that the winner of the Big Game would take possession of the Axe. The plaque upon which the Axe is mounted carries the scores of previous Big Games.

The Situation

With Cal leading 19-17 late in the fourth quarter, quarterback John Elway and the Cardinal overcame a 4th-and-17 on their own 13-yard line with a 29-yard completion, then managed to get the ball within field goal range for placekicker Mark Harmon. Elway called a timeout with 8 seconds left on the clock. (As discussed below, Elway continues to complain about the officiating on The Play. He has failed, however, to acknowledge what the Stanford television broadcasters noted immediately upon the alleged 4th-and-17 completion: Stanford's receiver had run out of bounds before reentering the field and catching Elway's desperation pass. The pass thus should have been ruled incomplete and the ball awarded to Cal on the change of possession, and Cal would have run out the clock.) Had Elway realized there was plenty of time to let the clock run down to about 3-5 seconds then call a timeout and, a kickoff following a successful field goal may have never been necessary (the field-goal play would have used up the remaining time). Regardless, Harmon's 35-yard kick was good, putting Stanford ahead 20-19, but the team's celebrations drew a 15-yard penalty, enforced on the ensuing kickoff. This was crucial, as Stanford was now kicking off from their 25 instead of the 40. At that point, Cal announcer Joe Starkey praised Stanford and Elway for their efforts, and added, "Only a miracle can save the Bears now!"

With 4 seconds left, Stanford special teams coach Fred von Appen called for a squib kick on the kickoff. Due to confusion, Cal took the field with only ten men, one short of the regulation eleven. [Migdol, Gary, "Stanford: Home of Champions", p. 184] (This is not illegal in American football.) What happened next became arguably one of the most debated and dissected plays in college football history.

The Play

*Harmon squibbed the kickcite web|url=|title= Transcript of Joe Starkey's call of The Play] and Cal's Kevin Moen received the ball inside the Cal 45 near the left hash mark. After some ineffective scrambling, Moen lateraled the ball leftward to Richard Rodgers.
*Rodgers was very quickly surrounded, gaining only one yard before looking behind him for Dwight Garner, who caught the ball around the Cal 45.
*Garner ran straight ahead for five yards, but was swallowed up by five Stanford players. While Garner was being tackled, however, he managed to pitch the ball back to Rodgers. It was at this moment, believing that Garner had been tackled and the game was over, that several Stanford players on the sideline and the entire Stanford band (which had been waiting behind the south end zone) ran onto the field in celebration.
*Rodgers dodged another Stanford player and took the ball to his right, toward the middle of the field, where at least four other Cal players were ready for the next pitch. Around the Stanford 45, Rodgers pitched the ball to Mariet Ford, who caught it in stride. Meanwhile, the Stanford band, all 144 members, had run out past the south end zone—the one the Cal players were trying to get to—and had advanced as far as twenty yards downfield. The scrum of players was moving towards them.
*Ford avoided a Stanford player and sprinted upfield while moving to the right of the right hash mark, and into the band, which was scattered all over the south end of the field. Around the Stanford 27, [ - College Football - The Play lives on, 20 years later - Thursday November 21, 2002 04:25 PM ] ] three Stanford players smothered Ford, but while falling forward he threw a blind lateral over his right shoulder.
*Moen caught it at about the 25 and charged toward the end zone. One Stanford player missed him, and another could not catch him from behind. Moen ran through the scattering Stanford Band members for the touchdown, which he famously completed by running into unaware trombone player Gary Tyrrell.

The Cal players celebrated wildly—but the officials had not signaled the touchdown. Stanford coach Paul Wiggin and his players argued to the officials that Dwight Garner's knee had been down, rendering what had happened during the rest of the play moot. But the officials huddled and agreed that none of them had ruled Garner down or blown his whistle, and after a few moments, the touchdown was signaled by referee Charles Moffett and a penalty was called on Stanford for illegal participation (for too many Stanford players and the band being on the field), which the officials declined for Cal automatically.


The officials' ruling of a Cal touchdown was highly controversial at the time, and The Play has remained a source of often intense disagreement throughout the intervening decades, particularly between ardent Stanford and Cal fans. The controversy centers on the legality of two of the five laterals as well as on the chaos that ensued when the Stanford team and band entered the playing field while the ball was still live.

Many Stanford players and coaches objected immediately to the third lateral, from Dwight Garner to Richard Rodgers, asserting that Garner's knee was down moments beforehand. Kevin Lamar, a Stanford player who was in on the tackle, maintains that Garner's knee had hit the turf while he was still in possession of the ball; Garner and Rodgers themselves, however, assert the opposite. [ [ Updating 1982's key 'Play'-ers ] ] TV replays were inconclusive; due to the distance from the camera and the swarm of tacklers, one cannot see the exact moment Garner's knee may have touched. cite news | last = Fimrite | first = Ron | title = The Anatomy Of A Miracle | pages = 212-228 | publisher = Sports Illustrated | date = 1983-09-01 | url = ]

Afterwards, upon viewing the game footage, it was noticed that the fifth lateral, from Mariet Ford to Kevin Moen, could have been an illegal forward pass. Ford was being tackled at about the 27-yard-line when he released his blind, over-the-shoulder heave, which Moen appeared to catch while crossing the 25. Because both players were in full stride, and because the lateral traveled some distance, the ball appears to have traveled backwards "relative to the two players' forward motion", but potentially forward "relative to the stationary field." Under the rules of football, the direction of a pass is judged relative to the field. Complicating this was the fact that Ford was falling forward upon releasing the ball, while Moen reached backwards to catch it, thus making it possible that the ball itself traveled laterally.

Finally, when Garner lateraled the ball to Rodgers while being tackled, many Stanford players and coaches entered the field, believing that the game was over. At this time too, the Stanford band began their march in from the end zone. At least two game officials immediately threw penalty flags on Stanford for having too many men on the field. An American football game cannot end on a defensive penalty, so had any of the Cal ball-carriers been tackled short of the end zone from this point on, Cal would have, at the least, been granted one unclocked play from scrimmage, and perhaps a touchdown outright for outside interference, which was not unprecedented. The game referee, Charles Moffett, noted this as a likely outcome in a subsequent interview (see below). (Rule 9-1, Article 4 of official NCAA football rules, "Illegal Interference", allows the referee to award a score if "equitable" after an act of interference. [ [ 2005 NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations Book ] ] Officials in the 1954 Cotton Bowl awarded a touchdown to Rice after an Alabama player jumped onto the field from the sideline to tackle a Rice ballcarrier.) [ [,9171,819339,00.html?promoid=googlep TIME Magazine, Jan. 11, 1954] ]

The NCAA's instant replay rules were not adopted until 2005, more than two decades later, so the officials could not consult recorded television footage to resolve these issues. It is unclear whether instant replay would have had any impact, as a field ruling cannot be overturned unless there is "indisputable video evidence" to the contrary. [ "A standard of indisputable video evidence for any on-field call to be changed," NCAA Football Rules Committee – Video Replay Procedure, ]

Analyses of the controversy

Many attempts have been made to analyze the disputed areas of The Play and resolve its controversies. This has proven to be a difficult task for several reasons. Only one television replay is available, and it is from a distant and elevated midfield camera. The rules of college football do not precisely cover The Play's bizarre final seconds. Finally, the intense passions from both Cal and Stanford fans often make objective analysis of The Play a great challenge.

Among the notable attempts at deconstructing The Play are:
*The national magazine "Sports Illustrated", as part of a 12-page article that appeared the following fall ("The Anatomy of a Miracle," September 5, 1983), found no mistakes in officiating. "The best Stanford could do was to persuade conference Executive Director Wiles Hallock to issue a public statement acknowledging that Cal had only four men in the restraining area on the fatal kickoff. Hallock added, however, that it was a violation that required no penalty, only a pre-kick correction by the officials. And, he said later, 'I'm pleased that in all the confusion the officials never stopped officiating.' As for the play? 'Well, it was just one of those marvelous things that happen in football.' "
*In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of The Play, "San Jose Mercury News" sportswriter Jon Wilner published a column about "six things you might not know about The Play." On the basis of his own frame-by-frame review, Wilner decided that Garner's knee hit the turf before he released the ball and that the fifth lateral was indeed an illegal forward pass. cite news | last = Wilner | first = Jon | title = 20 Years Later, 'The Play' a Tough Act to Forget | publisher = San Jose Mercury News | date = 2002-11-19 | url = ]
*ABC as part of the show prepared for the award of "Pontiac's Ultimate High-Performance Play of the NCAA," [American Broadcasting Co., "Big 12 Championship Game Halftime Show", broadcast December 6, 2003."] , analyzed the video of the fifth lateral from Ford to Moen and concluded that the ball traveled laterally along the 25 yard line, thus making it a legal action.
*In 2007, as part of the buildup to The Play's 25th anniversary, the Bay Area News Group asked Verle Sorgen, the Pac 10 Conference's supervisor of instant replay, to review the two disputed laterals according to modern NCAA instant replay review rules. (Sorgen was not asked to rule on the larger issue of the Stanford band's outside interference.) After watching enhanced footage on a modern, large-screen monitor, Sorgen opined that there was insufficient video evidence to overturn the third lateral, from Garner to Rodgers. However, Sorgen believed that the fifth lateral from Ford to Moen "was released at the 22 and touched at the 20-1/2 (sic). From that, it clearly appears forward." Asked for his "ultimate call", Sorgen replied, "I would be tempted to reverse it...then go out and get the motor running in my car."

Officials' ruling

The chaos at the end of The Play made the officials' task very challenging. In particular, the questionable fifth lateral took place in the midst of the Stanford band, greatly reducing visibility. The officials huddled and ultimately ruled that all five laterals were legal. All of the penalty flags that had been thrown were for Stanford having too many men on the field.

Moffett later recalled the huddle:cquote|I called all the officials together and there were some pale faces. The penalty flags were against Stanford for coming onto the field. I say, 'did anybody blow a whistle?' They say 'no'. I say, 'were all the laterals legal'? 'Yes'. Then the line judge, Gordon Riese, says to me, 'Charlie, the guy scored on that.' And I said, 'What?' I had no idea the guy had scored. Actually when I heard that I was kind of relieved. I thought we really would have had a problem if they hadn't scored, because, by the rules, we could have awarded a touchdown [to Cal] for [Stanford] players coming onto the field. I didn't want to have to make that call."

"I wasn't nervous at all when I stepped out to make the call; maybe I was too dumb. Gee, it seems like it was yesterday. Anyway, when I stepped out of the crowd, there was dead silence in the place. Then when I raised my arms, I thought I had started World War III. It was like an atomic bomb had gone off." [ [] – The Play: The Defining Moment of the Big Game, by Jake Curtis, San Francisco Chronicle November 20, 1997]


Several days after the game, Stanford students published a [ parody version] of Cal's student newspaper, "The Daily Californian", with the lead story claiming that the NCAA had declared Cal's last play to be dead in a ruling three days after the game. According to that bogus paper, the official score would be recorded in the NCAA record books as Stanford 20, California 19. The Stanford students then distributed the parody on the Cal campus. A few days later, blue and gold t-shirts depicting the play with Xs and Os (much like a coach's diagram) complete with sqiggly lines for the laterals, appeared in the Cal bookstore and throughout the Bay Area. []

Whenever Stanford holds the Stanford Axe, the plaque is altered in protest so that the outcome reads as a 20-19 Stanford victory. When the Axe is returned to Cal's possession, the plaque is changed back to the official score: California 25, Stanford 20.

For many years, John Elway was bitter, on both a personal level and on behalf of his team, about the touchdown being allowed: "This was an insult to college football... They [the officials] ruined my last game as a college football player." [ [ full quote] ] The Play cost Stanford an invitation to the Hall of Fame Bowl, in addition to a winning season, and Elway completed his college career having never played in a bowl game. Elway would nevertheless enjoy a tremendously successful NFL career, winning two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos, being enshrined in both the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame, where he came to terms with The Play, stating that "each year it gets a little funnier." [ [ "And The Band Played On" by Jackie Krentzman, "Stanford Alumni Magazine" Nov/Dec 2002] ]

The participants in The Play faded into relative obscurity in the years since, with the only really memorable participants in the game being Elway and announcer Joe Starkey for his famous calling of The Play.

The most infamous participant in The Play is Mariet Ford. Ford, who briefly played wide receiver for the Oakland Invaders of the United States Football League, was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and 3-year-old son in 1997. He is serving a 45 years-to-life sentence. cite news | title = From The Play to hard time | publisher = San Francisco Chronicle | url = ]

Kevin Moen had a short-lived professional career and is now a [ real estate broker] in the Los Angeles area. He will also be the head football coach at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, starting in the 2008-2009 school year. Gary Tyrrell, the Stanford trombonist who was run over by Moen, is a [ venture capital CFO] and amateur brewer; he appeared on television's The Tonight Show along with the key Cal players shortly after The Play; his smashed trombone is now displayed in the College Football Hall of Fame. Dwight Garner, who later spent two years with the Washington Redskins and retired, is now a risk manager with The Sports Authority chain of sporting goods stores. Richard Rodgers played in the CFL and is now the [ defensive coordinator] at Holy Cross. Kenny Williams, a member of the Stanford team, is now the General Manager of the Chicago White Sox Major League Baseball team. Ron Rivera, a member of the Cal team, went on to play in the NFL, and is now a coach in the NFL.

Where it ranks

Based on online voting, Pontiac announced the California v. Stanford game of Nov. 20, 1982, as its "Ultimate High-Performance Play of the NCAA," crowning the play as "NCAA Football's most memorable moment of all-time" in December 2003. [Cite web|url=|title=Car Maker Announces Winning "High-Performance Play Of The NCAA"|accessdate=2008-01-19|year=2003|work=The Auto Channel]

Joe Starkey's call of The Play

Cal announcer Joe Starkey of KGO-AM 810 radio called the game. The following is a transcript [ [ Transcript] ] of his famous call:cquote|All right, here we go with the kickoff. Harmon will probably try to squib it and he does. The ball comes loose and the Bears have to get out of bounds. Rodgers is along the sideline, another one (lateral)... they're still in deep trouble at midfield, they tried to do a couple of (laterals)... the ball is still loose as they get it to Rodgers! They get it back now to the 30, they're down to the 20... Oh, the band is out on the field!! He's gonna go into the end zone! He's gone into the end zone!!

Will it count? The Bears have scored, but the bands are out on the field! There were flags all over the place. Wait and see what happens—we don't know who won the game. There are flags on the field. We have to see whether or not the flags are against Stanford or Cal. The Bears may have made some illegal laterals. It could be that it won't count. The Bears, believe it or not, took it all the way into the end zone. If the penalty is against Stanford, California would win the game. If it is not, the game is over and Stanford has won.

We've heard no decision yet. Everybody is milling around on the FIELD—AND THE BEARS!! THE BEARS HAVE WON! The Bears have won! Oh, my God! The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending... exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football! California has won the Big Game over Stanford! Oh, excuse me for my voice, but I have never, never seen anything like it in the history of I have ever seen any game in my life! The Bears have won it! There will be no extra point!

Uses in Other Media

A commercial that aired advertising Sony's High Definition Televisions during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 NFL seasons reenacted "The Play" via a tabletop vibrating football field toy, with sticks and human hands controlling the model football players and the model band, with Joe Starkey's famous call playing in the background. The commercial then asked that if you weren't watching the game on a Sony HDTV, then "what are you watching?"

imilar plays

The Play also provided the apparent inspiration behind the proliferation of game-ending multiple-lateral plays in the last decade. Some of the most famous game-ending lateral plays since "The" Play include:

"The Music City Miracle" (January 8, 2000)

The "Music City Miracle" was the game-winning play in a 2000 NFL Wildcard playoff game between the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills at Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville, Tennessee, the "Music City" (hence the name). With :16 remaining and a 16-15 lead the Bills kicked off to Tennessee. The ball was handed off by the receiving player to a teammate who, in turn, threw the ball across the field where it was caught and taken 75 yards for a touchdown with :03 remaining. The Bills were unable to respond on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Titans the win, 22-16.

"The River City Relay" (December 21, 2003)

The "River City Relay" was, like The Play, a game-ending multiple-lateral play resulting in a touchdown. It brought the New Orleans Saints to within one point of the Jacksonville Jaguars with no time remaining in a 2003 regular season game at ALLTEL Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. The Saints needed to win the game to remain eligible for the NFL Playoffs. Unlike The Play, the River City Relay was a play from scrimmage, not a kick-off return. The Relay began with :07 remaining on the game clock and consisted of a forward pass by the Saints which was caught and lateraled three times before they finally scored with no time left. However, the Relay did not give New Orleans the lead, and it became as infamous for its aftermath as it was famous for its brilliance; The Saints missed the ensuing extra-point attempt that would've tied the game and resulted in overtime, therefore losing 19-20 to the Jaguars and being eliminated from playoff contention.

"The Mississippi Miracle" or "Lateralpalooza" (October 27, 2007)

The "Mississippi Miracle" was, like The Play, a game-winning, multiple-lateral touchdown play. Similar to the "River City Relay" it was a play from scrimmage, and not a kick-off return. It occurred in a 2007 regular-season contest between Trinity University and Millsaps College, both members of the SCAC in Division III of the NCAA. It took place at Harper Davis Field on Millsaps' campus in Jackson, Mississippi (hence the name). Like the River City Relay, it consisted of a forward pass by Trinity that was caught and lateraled multiple times and resulted in a touchdown. However, the Miracle consisted of an astounding 15 laterals between seven players, six of whom touched the ball multiple times on the play, and covered 60 yards. Trinity took the final snap with :02 on the clock and scored after the ball was in play for over a minute of real time, possibly making it the longest play in the history of American football.cite news | url= | title=Upon Further Review -- 10/29/08 | author=Walters, John | | publisher=NBC | date=October 292007|accessdate=2007-11-03] It has also been suggested that the Mississippi Miracle may have eclipsed the greatness of "The" Play, which was previously acknowledged by many as the greatest play in the game's history.cite news | url= | title=15-lateral play gave other guys the run-around | | publisher=San Francisco Chronicle | date=October 292007|accessdate=2007-10-30]


External links

Videos of the Play

* [ Video of The Play on the UC Berkeley website]
*youtube|nYSsIuL5ku0|Video of the series of plays at the end of the game
* [ Versus Network, "Cal vs. Stanford: 25 Years Later," broadcast week of November 26-30, 2007.]
* [ Big Game Videos Summary of the entire 1982 game on]


* [ Map of the Play]


* [ The Play Lives On]
* [ Partial "where are they now" article]
* [ Ten Best Damn unforgettable sports moments] from FOX Sports
* [ "Nothing Compares to The Play"] , Ivan Maisel,
* [ "Up Was Down"] , Michael Silver,
* [ "And the Band Played On"] Stanford Magazine November/December 2002
* [ Thank heavens "The Play" wasn't ruined by instant replay] , ESPN Page2, November 29, 2007

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