With the college and pro football seasons in full swing, and Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s time to look back on a historic gridiron moment and give thanks that we weren’t part of the band.
November 20, 2022 will be the 40th anniversary of The Play at the end of The Big Game.
If you are unfamiliar, I’m not being generic or randomly capitalizing words like I normally do. The Big Game is one of the oldest college rivalries in the United States, which began in 1892 right here in the Golden State, when Stanford University played Cal Berkeley for the first time.
No one wore helmets or shoes, and the ball was not just pigskin – it was a live pig. The final score was Cal at a half pence and Stanford at a quarter shilling. It was a jolly-good contest!
The rules and scoring have been refined over the years, but The Big Game lives on. The 125th Big Game is this Saturday, November 19th. Home field swaps each year, and it’s an even year, so the game will be at Cal, as it was on that fateful day in 1982.
The Cal Bears led 19-17 in the final minutes of the 85th Big Game, but at the end of the fourth quarter, the Stanford Cardinal (named after a pine tree, of course) mounted an impressive comeback.
Starting from their own 13-yard-line, on a dismal 4th and 17, Stanford, led by THE John Elway himself, drove all the way down the field to kick a go-ahead field goal with only four seconds left on the clock.
I’m not sure why Cal had been ahead at all, because having John Elway was a clear advantage for the Cardinal since he was already the quarterback for the Denver Broncos at the time. He was just back in town visiting family over the Thanksgiving break.
Be that as it may, with what should have been the final score of Cal 19 – Stanford 20 up on the scoreboard, Stanford kicked off to run out the remaining four seconds on the clock, and so began, The Play.
The Cal Bears recovered the short kick and were immediately swarmed by the Stanford special teams defense. The Stanford special teams marching band was behind them, waiting patiently behind the end zone for the clock to say 0:00.
When the four seconds of regular time had expired, the Stanford special teams marching band proceeded jubilantly onto the field in a very disorderly fashion to celebrate their “win.”
The only problem was that the game was still going because the Bears were busy lateraling the ball backward. Three laterals later, the Cal Bears were inside a protective swarm of Stanford band members, many of whom were providing some of the necessary Cardinal-on-Cardinal blocking for the Bears players to pull off two more miraculous laterals and steamroll into the end zone for a touchdown.
Gary Tyrrell, a Stanford trombone player, was the Cardinal’s last line of defense, but he and his instrument were absolutely leveled in the end zone at the conclusion of the miraculous drive. As KGO radio’s Joe Starkey had an on-air aneurism, the scoreboard was changed to Cal 25 – Stanford 20, and so concluded what Joe hailed as "the most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heartrending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football!!" right before he dropped to the ground like Gary Tyrrell and his trombone.
So, as you enjoy The Big Game this Saturday, remember to give thanks. Give thanks that you weren’t one of those band members, or one of those Stanford players that was blocked by a member of their own band.
And also remember the important lesson that Trombone Tyrrell taught us all that day – if you’re going to go out on the field to help, at least learn how to tackle.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen
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