“The Big Game” between California and Stanford is one of college football’s most treasured rivalries. While the very nature of college football makes even the most pedestrian game an intense contest, the bragging rights of a rivalry game raises this intensity level to a degree where out-of-the-ordinary events become the rule rather than the exception.
This Bay Area rivalry has had more than its share of exceptional events. The first matchup between Cal and Stanford in 1891 was delayed for an hour because nobody bothered to bring a ball. More than 15,000 fans anxiously waited as the owner of a sporting goods store who was in attendance sent a horse to ride to his store to obtain a ball.
But, the 1982 Cal-Stanford game set a new standard for unlikely rivalry-inspired events that may never be equaled. In his team’s final possession, Stanford Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway led the Cardinal on a 70-yard march where a 35-yard field with four seconds to play gave Stanford a 20-19 lead. The resulting Stanford celebration led to a 15-yard penalty where the ensuing kickoff would come from the Cardinal 25 yard line.
The squibbed kickoff was fielded by Cal’s Kevin Moen at his own 46, Moen flipped the ball to Richard Rogers, who gave it to Dwight Garner. Garner was nearly tackled before he pitched it back to Rogers, who then gave it to Mariet Ford. Ford got the ball to the Stanford 20 and with six tacklers approaching, blindly threw it back to Moen, the man who initially fielded the ball. Moen was hit by three more tacklers before he was able to weave his way past the Stanford band the final 15 yards before crashing into Cardinal trombone player Gary Tyrrell in the end zone. It took five minutes for the officials to gather and confirm that the play would count.
On the following Wednesday, Stanford students stole many of the copies of The Daily Californian replacing the Cal student paper with bogus newspapers they produced with the headline stating that the “NCAA Awards Big Game to Stanford.”
Ever mindful of this and many other rivalry-driven pranks, Tyrrell was skeptical when the College Football Hall of Fame contacted him about a donation of his famous trombone. “If this is a scam, it’s been the best one pulled on me yet,” stated Tyrrell as he told the story of having his dorm room broken into and having his concert trombone stolen.
Kent Stephens is the curator and historian at the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience. Kent has been a part of the Hall staff since 1990 when it was located in Kings Island, Ohio. He relocated with the Hall to South Bend, Ind., and moved to Atlanta in 2013, becoming the only member of the staff to serve at all three locations.