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November 22, 2012

Cal Fans Recount The Play, 30 Years After The Fact



Of all the days to fire Cal football head coach Jeff Tedford, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour had to do it on the 30th Anniversary of The Play, to the day.

True story: Cal five-lateralled its way past John Elway's Stanford Cardinal in one of the greatest plays ever in the history of college football 30 years ago exactly on Tuesday.

Better late then never, BearTerritory.net's homage to the trombone-crushing-est touchdown run in Cal history: We tracked down three Cal fans (and even one Stanford fan) who were actually at the '82 Big Game, and let them retell the day's events, entirely in their own words.

Enjoy, Happy Thanksgiving, and feel free to share your own on the Memorial Stadium Message Board...

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ANGI MERLONE, CLASS OF '76

The day President Kennedy died, and I was 8-years-old, that was the first day where I could say I kind of remember a day. This was like that. I would never remember this stuff if something significant hadn't happened. I mean, it's not like when President Kennedy was shot, but still…

I remember it was wet. I don't remember if it was raining all day, but I remember the pavement being wet. And it wasn't dark when The Play happened, but it was getting dark. Until a few years after that, there weren't any night games. Somehow I think it was a 12:30 game.

I remember thinking, 'Oh, here we go again. We're just gonna lose, let's just go home.' And then after it happened, I think we were pretty high up, it wasn't like people could run down on the field easily. But, I remember thinking, 'God, if (my friend's husband) Jeff and (my husband) Steve run down there on the field and get beat up, I'll be so annoyed with them'.

We were in the end zone. But we were in the wrong end zone.

The Stanford band was always a problem. They were always where they weren't supposed to be.

It was like when you're in a car accident, and everyone always says after a car accident that it was like it was in slow motion. You can see what's going to happen, and you're scared, and you can't believe it's going to happen.

It was in the '80s. A lot of people had those Cal sweaters on and big chrysanthemum corsages. I remember my friend Michelle, I don't know why I remember this, but she had plaid pants on, yellow and navy blue plaid pants, and navy blue sweater. I don't remember what I had on, but I remember what she did.

We watched it hundreds of times on TV that night. At (my friend) Judy's house, at our home, we watched it the next day. It just kept being played over and over, on the national news, for days, and we'd stop -- as if we hadn't been there -- to watch it again every time.

I remember hearing Joe Starkey a lot.

It was kind of like this euphoric effect. The Bears screw up a lot, even in 1975 when I was a senior, they actually won, and tied with UCLA (in the standings), and they were handing out Roses after the game, and they still didn't let us go to the Rose Bowl. When you get a good moment with the Bears, you're so euphoric, because they lose a lot.

The Stanford people were just dumbfounded, but aren't they always?

-Grant Marek

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FRANK SPERLING, CLASS OF '75

I was five years out of school, living in Southern California, and my wife and I came up for the Big Game because she and I were then, and continue to be big Cal fans.

I almost always went to Big Game, the company my dad worked for had good access to good football and basketball tickets. And my father got great tickets.

Memory versus reality are two different things when it comes to this game. In my memory, we were on 50-yard line, but we were probably on the 30.

Stanford was potentially going to bowl game, they had a potential first round draft pick with John Elway. It meant a lot.

Big Game for many, many years could make or break a season for Cal, particularly back in '80s when they were not a stellar football team.

In spite of the last play, it was a memorable game either way.

I remember they drove down, kicked a field goal, and that was enough to put them ahead. I turned to mom, dad, wife, and just said "that's ok, Cal played a good game". My mom said "let's go". I just said "nah, there's four seconds left, lets see what happens".

There were people filing out of the stadium. And I knew we weren't going to get out any faster, or get to our car any faster.

I think i probably saw 85% of The Play. I thought it was over, but then saw someone running down the field with the ball.

The Play ended, and it took the longest time for the referees to consult one another, there were flags all around, no one was sure if they were against Cal or Stanford.

My mom, again, she didn't fully appreciate football. She asked me "what just happened?" I remember saying: "I don't want to tell you right now, I just want to focus on the referees in the end zone".

Then the cannon went off. And then umpires raised hands signaling touchdown. It was absolutely crazy. We jumped up and down. What a fucking unbelievable game.

Walking out of the stadium, everyone was talking to one another: Did you see everything? Why was the band on the field? Now remember, there were no smart phones to read what's going on.

I remember thinking: Cal's got to be able to catch kickoff, put a knee down, and try one play. Can't remember who caught ball, but I saw the first lateral, and thought "isn't that cute". Then all of sudden, there was a literal melee on the field, players running one way, the other way, then Cal running down the west sideline with ball, tossing over one shoulder to next player.

We talked about it for days, for years. I go to Lair of the Bear, a Cal alumni camp up in the Sierras, and on Friday evening, during the cocktail hour, we put on Joe Starkey's call of The Play every year. It's really interesting to hear that, his call has become famous and he doesn't tell anyone's what actually happening.

Two to three times before Big Game, I pull up the video and watch it. I still get goosebumps.

We went straight there, and straight home. My wife was pregnant at the time, so we weren't going to sit around drinking beers or anything. Traffic back to San Francisco was horrendous, but nobody cared.

Every year, I tell my daughter, "you were at that game". I'm sure she's totally sick and tired of that.

We parked at some fraternity on Piedmont Ave., and they had the kind of parking places where you park in back of another car. I remember getting back after the game and thinking "Crap, people are going to be out celebrating, we're never going to get out of here".

On the way back from stadium, people in houses and apartments on the walk to the car were hanging out of their windows, "Do you know what the final score of game was?" Trying to explain exactly what happened, to convey that emotional high, you just couldn't do it. It was totally euphoric.

-Grant Marek

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MEL VARRELMAN, CLASS OF '66:

There were alumni down in the tunnels with tears streaming down their faces. They didn't know what had happened, but they knew that Cal had won.

As Moen was running into the endzone, I said to myself, "I'll go to a thousand football games and I'll never see a finish as great as this one."

My wife was at the game. She's not a big football fan. One of the things that Starkey said afterward was that someday, millions of people will remember where they were at that moment. Well, my wife was there, but she was reading a book.

When the band was out there, you could tell there was no way Stanford was going to be able to tackle [Kevin] Moen - there were just too many blockers.

A couple days later, there was a cartoon in the paper that showed [Stanford Coach] Paul Wiggins calling a play out to his team. He says; "OK, tuba player around the left end." All the players had band instruments.

I still have friends that complain about Garner and say his knee was down. We still get in arguments about that.

People around me were just absolutely going crazy. It was one of the wildest scenes I've ever seen.

People forget what a great game it was before The Play even happened.

I knew immediately I had seen something pretty special.

I know that Stanford still refuses to acknowledge the victory. But you know what, whether they like the way it worked out or not, that's too damn bad! Live with it! They can't change it and we're going to rub it in their nose for the next thousand years.

-John Foletta

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ANNIE ROSKIN, STANFORD CLASS OF '85 AND FORMER ASSOC. DIRECTOR OF STANFORD ADMISSIONS

Thirty years after the running of the most iconic play in sports history, fans -- who were actually there to see it -- share their memories.

I had friends in the band. I had friends who were responsible for the demise.

Everybody on the Stanford side thought it was a bunch of nonsense. We thought "game's over, what is Cal doing? Why are they still behaving as if the game is still going on?"

At the time, for us, the band running out on the field denoted the end of the game. We didn't initially think the band had done anything wrong. It didn't seem strange to us that the band was on the field; it seemed weird that Cal was still running a play.

The most memorable thing was the sound. Emotionally, yes, it was deflating. But the craziest thing was how quickly the sound changed. The roar went from where we were and then picked up across the stadium almost instantly. Once that started happening, it was very disorienting.

It was so sudden. There wasn't any time to cope with it. It was a very weird sensation and I remember leaving the stadium feeling dazed.

I didn't think I had witnessed history, I just thought I had witnessed weirdness.

It was widely felt on the Stanford campus that we had won the game. The Play was so absurd.

It felt like all the air had been sucked out of the universe.

-John Foletta


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