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“The Play” Ranks As One Of College Football’s All Time Best

It ranks up there among the Top 10 plays in college football history. For the Cal State football team in Berkley, it’s simply known as “The Play”.

It was when the Cal State Bears won an improbable last-second victory over their rival Stanford in their annual matchup. Even if it ranks as one of college football’s biggest plays, it’s still one of the most controversial.

Cal completed five lateral passes not only around members of the Stanford football team, but around the Stanford marching band, who had wandered on to the field a little bit too early to celebrate an upset victory they thought their team had won.

Just one play before, Stanford had taken a 20-19 lead on a 35-yard field goal. The Stanford players rushed out onto the field to celebrate, but they were hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty because there were still four seconds left to play. That moved the kickoff back to the 25 yard line.

Then it got crazy. Cal’s Kevin Moen scooped up the squib kick at the Cal 46-yard line. His first thought was to run for a touchdown, but that wasn’t the plan. He pitched the ball behind him to teammate Richard Rodgers, who tossed it to freshman Dwight Garner, who returned it to Rogers just as two Stanford defenders barreled into him.

Then Rodgers lobbed the ball to Mariet Ford, who tossed it over his shoulder back to Moen. He was just 25 yards away, and Moen had to pick his way thru the Stanford band into the end zone, where he slammed into one of the Stanford trombone players.

The referees huddled on the field for a moment, compared notes and decided the touchdown was good. Cal won it 25-20.

The quarterback of the losing team was the number one pick in the following year’s NFL draft, and he became one of pro football’s all-time stars. His name John Elway. He says the story gets a “little funnier each year,” but “it sure wasn’t a lot of fun at the time. We just wish we had the band come out for some tackling practice.”

The Play happened on this date, November 20, 1982.

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