Stanford vs California in 1982 Produced One of College Football's Most Memorable Plays

Published on December 26th, 2021 11:45 am EST
Written By: Dave Manuel

The Daily Californian headline from 1982 - The Play - Stanford vs. Claifornia - The Big Game. "The Play" took place on November 20th, 1982, and is still intensely debated by college football fans, even to this day.

If you watch year-end highlights on TV, there is a very good chance that you will see this play each and every year, as it remains one of the craziest plays in the history of college football.

"The Play" took place between Stanford Cardinal and the California Golden Bears.

Stanford vs California was an intense rivalry at the time, and both teams and their fan bases badly wanted to win the game.


There were many points that increased the drama in this game.

To start, this was the 85th "Big Game" between the two teams, and both teams really wanted to win.

In addition, both teams were looking to make bowl appearances, and both teams would have bolstered their chances with a win in the "Big Game".

Lastly, this was to be John Elway's last regular season game for Stanford, as he would be entering the NFL the next year.


The game preceding "The Play" was a very good one.

California jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, only for Stanford to come back with two straight touchdowns.

California would put up the next two scores - a touchdown (with a failed two point conversion) and a field goal to make the score 19-17 for them.

Stanford would march down the field at the end of the game, converting on a 4th and 17 to reach field goal range.

Elway called a timeout with 8 seconds left in the game at this point - one of two costly errors that would subsequently cost Stanford the game.

Stanford kicked a 35-yard field goal, making the game 20-19 with just a few seconds left.

Stanford would get a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for excessive celebration of the field goal - another costly mistake.

At this point, Cal announcer Joe Starkey claimed that "only a miracle can save the Bears now!"


A miracle is exactly what would be dished up to California and their faithful fans.

With four seconds left in the game, Stanford called for a squib kick. California only had 10 players on the field when the play took place.

After California kicked the ball, Kevin Moen of California fielded the ball and lateraled it to the left to teammates Richard Rodgers.

Rodgers was swarmed and lateraled the ball to Dwight Garner.

Garner ran for five yards and was also surrounded, and lateraled the ball back to Rodgers.

At this point, many thought that Garner had been tackled. A number of Stanford players entered the field of play, and Stanford's marching band took the field.

The problem?

The game wasn't over, as Garner hadn't been tackled.

Rodgers would run and then pitch the ball to teammate Mariet Ford. At this point, all 144 members of Stanford's marching band were on the field.

Ford sprinted down the field and directly into the mass of Stanford's marching band. Ford would be caught by three Stanford players, and would lateral the ball over his head blindly.

Moen, who touched the ball to start the play, recovered the ball and charged into the endzone, running into trombone player Gary Tyrrell in the process.


The referees huddled.

Were any of the ball-carrying California players tackled? No, they decided.

Did any of the referees blow a whistle? No, they concurred.

Were all of the laterals legal? Yes, they agreed.

After minutes of discussion, the referees agreed that California had scored a legitimate touchdown, much to the dismay of the Stanford fans in the crowd and Stanford's coaches and players.


People continue to debate "The Play" to this day.

Was the third lateral from Dwight Garner to Richard Rodgers legal?

Was the fifth lateral from Mariet Ford to Kevin Moen an illegal forward pass?

At the time, referees were left to their own devices, as instant replay wouldn't be introduced until 2005.

Would instant replay have produced enough evidence to reverse the call? It's tough to make that claim, as people continue to debate the laterals to this day.


One thing is for sure - "The Play" remains one of the craziest plays in the history of college football.

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