Four days after the “The Play” came “The Prank.”

Four days after the “The Play” came “The Prank.”

April, 01 2023

“The Play” lives in infamy. The November 20, 1982, Cal-Stanford game, a series known simply as “The Game,” ended in a most improbable manner. Cal won the game when they successfully returned a kickoff for a touchdown in a play marked by five successful laterals, the Stanford band coming on to the field during the return, and a collision between a Cal player and a Stanford trombonist in the end zone. The slapstick nature of the play has rendered Cal as the positive epitome of the “anything can happen” trope with Stanford on the negative end.

Lesser remembered is that several mischievous Stanford co-eds did not take the defeat lying down and they perpetrated what has come to be known as “The Prank.”

Several staff members of the Stanford Daily student newspaper created a realistic mockup of Cal’s paper, the Daily Californian. The bogus four-page “extra” featured a banner headline that caught the eye: NCAA Awards Big Game to Stanford. Below the headline was a doctored photo showing a referee blowing the play dead well before the touchdown. Several stories in the paper recounted how the NCAA determined that an “injustice” had been done to Stanford by “incompetence” in the officiating crew. Namely, that the official who blew the play dead did not overrule the rest of the crew. Using (phony) Rule 65, the NCAA overturned the final touchdown and awarded a 20-19 victory to Stanford.

The remaining stories included a (phony) interview with Cal head coach Joe Kapp, in which he was (fake) quoted saying: “This has to be the worst moment of my life.”

The key to the prank paper was its realism. Using early computers, the Stanford journalists were able to recreate the font and page layout of the Californian with little noticeable difference.

On Wednesday, November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, the Stanford students drove to Berkeley in the early-morning hours and surreptitiously placed their fake Californian in newspaper machines around the Cal campus. They thought they would only get a few out, but they were aided by the fact the Californian delivery was delayed. This extra time meant the fake papers would be there when the campus fully came to life. The Stanford newsmen camouflaged themselves as Cal students and spent the next hour watching with glee as bleary-eyed Cal students on the way to eight o’clock classes read the “news” of the NCAA decision. According to ESPN, they recalled seeing Cal students responding with anger, confusion and even some tears.

Eventually the regular deliveries of the Californian arrived, and the ruse was discovered. The Prank made national news and the staffers at the Stanford Daily were celebrated in the national media for their ingenuity. Cal students and staffers of the Californian were angry and embarrassed, but they could comfort themselves with the fact that the only victory Stanford earned was hollow. The result of The Game stood and all these years later it is the legitimate photo of Cal player Kevin Moen running over Stanford trombonist Gary Tyrrell that is remembered and not the doctored image of the play being blown dead.

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