“The Band is out on the Field!!” is something we would expect to hear during the halftime show, not from the play-by-play broadcaster during regulation. Yet that is what happened on the final play on November 20, 1982, in Berkeley. There have been many famous endings in college football. Some are known only to each school’s fanbase, while others are known to all sports fans. Most involve one or two players. Only one of these famous endings involved four players, five laterals, and the opposing team’s band. Only one of these endings is officially known as “The Play.”
The most memorable and famous college football plays typically involve a rivalry. College football is replete with its famous rivalry games featuring unique names, each one wackier than the next from the Iron Bowl to the Red River Shootout to the World’s Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Only one rivalry game is known as “The Big Game.” Of course, the most famous college football play, simply known as “The Play,” occurred in a rivalry game simply known as “The Big Game.”
I’m sure lots of college rivalries would like to be known as the Big Game, but by being one of the oldest rivalries (first played in 1892), Cal and Stanford have been able to secure and preserve the simple moniker even despite challenges from the National Football League. Their Big Game pedestal aside, one could argue that Cal and Stanford are more famous for their academic pursuits than their football prowess. The Big Game features two schools that last won a recognized national championship in 1940.
Records indicate that the Cal Golden Bears have won 14 Pac 12 conference championships in football. Prior to November 20, 1982, their most famous football highlight might be one of their players running the wrong way in the Rose Bowl. Since November 20, 1982, Cal has produced perennial Pro Bowlers Aaron Rogers, Marshawn Lynch, and Tony Gonzalez among others. However, on that November afternoon 35 years ago, Cal football produced the greatest college football play of all time.
The Big Game of 1982 featured senior Stanford quarterback John Elway looking to lead his team to the only bowl game of his stellar college career, back when going to bowl games actually meant something. Stanford took the lead 19-17 on an Elway led drive (including a fourth and seventeen conversion from Stanford’s own thirteen-yard line ) for what looked like the game-winning field goal. With only four seconds left, Cal needed a miracle on the ensuing kick-off.
Stanford squibbed the kick, and The Play unfolded. After the third lateral, the Stanford band stormed the field assuming the runner’s knee had touched the ground. Cal announcer, Joe Starkey, called the events in disbelief. “Oh, The Band is out on the Field!!,” as Cal’s Kevin Moen sliced his way into the end zone taking out Stanford trombone player, Gary Tyrrell, in the process. The imagery of the football player leveling the band player is etched in every college football fan’s database. Starkey could barely compose himself. “THE BEARS HAVE WON!!! THE BEARS HAVE WON!!! Oh my God, the most amazing, sensational, traumatic, heart-wrenching... exciting thrilling finish in the history of college football! California has won...the Big Game...over Stanford. Oh excuse me for my voice, but I have never, never seen anything like it in the history of any game in my life! “ It’s hard to argue with him 35 years later.