About The Game
The 1982 Big Game will always be regarded as one of the greatest football games of all time. As John Elway says in the film, “When you look at the last two minutes of this game there’s not many that compare”. But the ’82 game will be remembered for other strange and remarkable things as well. Not all of them happened on the football field...
In the old days the Stanford Band staged guerrilla performances on the streets of San Francisco during Big Game week. In 1982 an out of control driver crashed into the band injuring several people. No one was killed but the accident cast a cloud over the Band, which by the end of the weekend would grow into a thick blanket of fog. Due to the car incident the band would never perform guerrilla style again.
The first half of the ’82 Big Game was a defensive stalemate which included 7 punts. In the second quarter Cal’s Gale Gilbert lofted a perfect pass to Mariet Ford who made an all-world acrobatic catch over a baffled defender. The referee signaled touchdown but Stanford fans packed into end zone seats cried foul. What they saw was a catch, drop, and trap by Ford. Replays are inconclusive. For years afterward- no matter what the sport- Stanford fans expressed outrage with referees by signaling touchdown.
The second half was a different universe. John Elway, who’d been blitzed mercilessly, began throwing short routes that exposed Cal's overly aggressive defense. Within minutes he took his team from a 10-0 deficit to a 14-10 lead. When Cal marched downfield on the next drive, Joe Starkey began to call the game like a horse race. That drive ended with another, almost mystical pass completion from Gale Gilbert to Wesley Howell. Cal took the lead 19-17.
On what seemed like their last drive John Elway fumbled in Cal territory with under four minutes to go. But the Stanford defense made an inspired stand that put the ball back in Elway's hands with a minute and change. Three plays drove them backwards to their own 13 yard line. On 4th and 17, with 53 seconds remaining in the game, John Elway threw a clutch bullet to Emile Harry to pick up a remarkable first down. The drive culminated in a 35 yard field goal by Mark Harmon and a Stanford lead with 8 seconds to go, setting set the stage for miracle/debacle that followed.
Hidden under the layers of lore, jubilation, and invective surrounding The Play are two important footnotes emanating from Harmon’s field goal. The first is that Stanford was penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration on the ensuing kickoff. The second, and more important, detail is that Stanford called their last timeout too soon- leaving 8 seconds on the clock. If they’d let the clock wind down it would have run out as they kicked the field goal. In the aftermath, Joe Starkey insists that a fist fight broke out between two Stanford assistant coaches in the press box. They should have been happy! Who else besides a few alumni would have remembered the game if not for The Play?