The “Big Game” produced “The Play”. And as sports fans know, once you start capitalizing generic nouns it’s gotta mean something momentous. The final seconds of this 1982 Stanford vs. California football game are nothing short of legendary.
The two Bay Area rivals were in the final seconds of a tight contest at Palo Alto when Stanford’s John Elway drove down the field, leading to a field goal that put Cardinal up 20-19 with four seconds left. The home crowd went into full celebration mode, and the Stanford band got ready to take the field.
But there was still enough time for one more play, and the Golden Bears made it count. California received the kickoff and — in one of the most amazing collegiate football plays ever committed to film — used five laterals to keep the return alive. Amid the chaos of all the sideways and backwards passes —two of which are to this day hotly contested because of their questionable legality—the entire 140-member band, waiting behind Stanford’s end zone, figured the game was over and started wandering onto the field, along with most of the Stanford bench. But officials never blew the ball dead. Cal’s players weaved through both Stanford’s cover team and astonished musicians, adding in a final blind lateral among the crowd around the 25-yard line, to score a game-winning touchdown. The ending was punctuated with Cal defensive back Kevin Moen’s now historic smashing into Stanford trombone player Gary Tyrrell in the end zone.
In the hysteria of the play—the California announcer, Joe Starkey, exclaimed at one point, “Oh, the band is out on the field!”—the officials weren’t sure of the call, but huddled and awarded a touchdown and 25-20 victory to California.
Stanford coaches argued after the fact that at multiple points during the play Cal runners were either down or passing the ball forward. But as a certain trombone player can attest to, those claims fell on deaf ears.