Every November, as "The Game" nears, the conversation, debate, arguments and banter grow minute by minute, day by day. There is laughter. There are fights. There are warm memories. And bitter ones.
The world of sports has seen the weird, the bizarre, the odd, the comical and the shocking. But what transpired at Memorial Stadium in 1982 at the Stanford-Cal college football showdown stands out in a class all its own.
When Stanford University quarterback John Elway connected with receiver Emile Harry on a 29-yard pass on 4th-and-17 from his own 13-yard line with 53 seconds left to set up Mark Harmon's 35-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to give Stanford a 20-19 lead, all the Cardinal had to do was survive the kickoff to win another thrilling episode in this bitter rivalry.
It's November 20, 1982, Memorial Stadium, University of California-Berkeley campus.
Cal senior tight end Kevin Moen is so irate over Harmon's apparent game-winning field goal that he isn't even in the huddle before the kickoff. So he misses teammate Richard Rodgers' plea to his teammates "to keep pitching the ball back and forth, to keep the play alive ... no matter what."
Stanford coach Paul Wiggin instructs Harmon to execute a short squib kick. Moen, meanwhile, rushes onto the field, just making it in time to get in position for the kickoff. Rodgers yells instructions over to Moen to "keep the play alive ..."
Harmon's short squib kick bounces and rolls to the Cal 43-yard line, where Moen fields it. He immediately looks toward the sideline, to Rodgers, an agile defensive back. Moen throws an overhand pass -- Lateral Number 1 -- to Rodgers, who begins to weave and jut his way upfield, in and around Stanford defenders. He stops and ...
... pitches the ball to freshman running back Dwight Garner for Lateral Number 2. Garner quickly cuts to his left, toward Cal's sideline. As he approaches midfield, four Stanford players are heading right at him from two directions, straight on and from the left.
Just as Garner is about to get hammered, he turns his body away from the defenders and away from the nearest officials. He begins falling toward the turf. His right knee appears to skim the grass, replays later reveal. Official Jack Langley is positioned near Cal's sideline, a few feet from Garner, but does not blow his whistle. His view is blocked by several Stanford players. As he reaches for his whistle, to possibly call the play dead ...
... the ball comes flying out from the pile of players surrounding Garner for Lateral Number 3, as Garner somehow twists backward to get rid of the ball at the last possible moment, tossing it to Rodgers.
"I didn't see Garner get tackled, and I didn't see his knee hit the ground," Langley would say, years later. "All I saw was the ball come flying out."
With the play still miraculously alive, Rodgers circles back toward the middle of the field, where he alludes several Stanford players. He runs past midfield, and heads toward a wide-open field on the right side. Meanwhile, Mariet Ford, Cal's diminutive and agile wide receiver, runs along Rodgers' outside shoulder, just a few yards away, and ...
... Rodgers tosses Lateral Number 4 at the Stanford 45-yard line to Ford, who breaks into the open field and speeds toward the end zone. The crowd is in a wild frenzy as Ford races 17 yards past and around Stanford players, all the way to down to the 28, with Moen trailing right behind. As a pair of Stanford players closes in on Ford he jumps and crashes into them and ...
... flings the ball blindly over his right shoulder at the 27-yard line for Lateral Number 5, the most remarkable of all the laterals, but one Stanford fans are convinced is an illegal forward pass. The ball hangs magically in the air for a moment, the football gods toying with the outcome. The ball then drops neatly into the hands of Moen, who had initially set the whole wild and chaotic play in motion.
"I don't know how I knew Kevin was there, I just knew he was there," Ford would say later. "My goal was to take out the Stanford guys in front of me and hope my pitch stayed in the air long enough for Kevin."
As Moen pulls the ball in at the Cal 25-yard line, he see that the Stanford band is beginning to flood the field, thinking the game is over and that Stanford has won. But Moen says to himself, "Just put your head down and go to the end zone."
Moen, who had never scored a touchdown in four seasons, dodges several Stanford band members at the 5 then rams his way into the end zone, where he jubilantly leaps into the air, holds on to the ball tightly. He then crashes into Stanford trombone player Gary Tyrrell, knocking him to the ground.
No one on the Cal side of the field, no one on the Stanford side, actually knows if the final score is 20-19 Stanford or 25-20 Cal. The stadium falls silent as the referees huddle on the far sideline. Did Garner's knee touch the ground? They're not sure. Was Ford's behind-the-shoulder, no-look fling to Moen an illegal forward pass? They don't know.
A scruffy Cal fan maneuvers his way past security and to the edge of the referees' huddle; it is this unknown fan who first emerges from the crowd and throws his hands skyward, indicating that the wild play is being ruled a touchdown.
As referee raises his arms, indicating a touchdown and a 25-20 Bears victory, Cal radio announcer Joe Starkey gasps and blares one final exultation: "The Bears have won! Oh my God! The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football!"