This Day In History: November 20

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On November 20, 1982, the UC Berkeley football team, referred to as Cal, wins an improbable last-second victory over Stanford when they complete five lateral passes around members of the Cardinal marching band, who had wandered onto the field a bit early to celebrate the upset they were sure their team had won, and score a touchdown. 

After catching the last pass of the series, Cal’s Kevin Moen careened through the confused horn section and made it safely to the end zone. Then he slammed into trombone player Gary Tyrell. (A photograph from the Oakland Tribune of the jubilant Moen and the terrified Tyrell in the moment just before the collision is still displayed triumphantly all over Berkeley.)

Late in the game’s fourth quarter, with Cal leading 19-17, Stanford quarterback John Elway managed to nudge his team down the field and into field goal range with just eight seconds–a crucial few seconds too many, it turned out–left to play. Mark Harmon (not the actor, who played for UCLA) kicked a 35-yard field goal, and Stanford took a 20-19 lead. The Cardinals flooded the field to celebrate, and the ref ushered them back to the bench and slapped them with a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. As a result, Harmon had to kick off from the 25 with four seconds to play.

Harmon squibbed the kick, and Cal’s Moen scrambled to retrieve it at the Cal 46-yard-line. He considered trying to run the ball for a touchdown–but then, as he wrote later in an alumni journal, “I remembered ‘gra-bass,’ one of Coach Kapp’s training games. It had no rules, just one bunch of guys trying to keep the ball away from another bunch of guys.” So, that’s what he started to do. He pitched the ball behind him to teammate Richard Rodgers, who tossed it to freshman Dwight Garner, who returned it just as two Stanford defenders barreled into him. (Some people still say that he didn’t actually get rid of the ball before his knee brushed the turf. but Garner and his teammates swore that he did.) Then Rodgers lobbed the ball to Mariet Ford, who returned it to Moen by flinging the ball backwards over his shoulder just as he was about to get nailed by three panicking Stanford defenders. Moen caught the ball and bolted for the end zone, 25 yards away.

Meanwhile, Stanford’s band, confident that their team had won the game, had already gathered at the end of the field. Apparently without noticing that 22 football players were hurtling toward them, they began to play Free’s “All Right Now.” Before the band really knew what was happening, Moen crashed triumphantly into the end zone–and into trombonist Tyrell. The touchdown counted, and the Bears won the game 25-20. “The Play,” as it became known remains one of the most famous in college football history.

John Elway was a great college football player—he was the first-round pick in the next year’s NFL draft—and he went on to have an impressive professional career, but, thanks in part to the loss his team suffered at the hands of its marching band, he never did play in a college bowl game. “Each year it gets a little funnier,” he told a reporter, 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.”

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