10 MOST MEMORABLE BIG GAMES#10 - Bowing Out in Style
CALIFORNIA 24 STANFORD 27 (November 20, 1976)
Jack Christiansen, who was canned as the Indians' head coach the day before the game, was carried onto the field by his players. His inspired Cardinals were matched against a 5-5 Cal team led by Joe Roth, playing his final game in Berkeley. Cal led 24-19 with 2:20 left and the ball on its own 2 yard line. Bears' RB Markey Crane fumbled a pitch from Roth, Stanford recovered, and scored with 1:31 remaining to win one last game for their soon to be ex-coach. Things only got better for the Furdies, since their next head man was a fella named Walsh.
#9 - No Roses for You
CALIFORNIA 16 STANFORD 0 (November 29, 1941)
With a win, Stanford could clinch a share of the PCC championship. The Indians featured Frankie Albert, the greatest QB in school history to that point, and were defending national champions. Cal was a mediocre 3-5, but the Bears somehow shut down the vaunted Indian attack and led 9-0 in the 4th quarter. John Herrero blocked a Stanford punt deep in Indian territory, and Cal All-American tackle Bob Reinhard grabbed it and spun into the end zone for the game's final points. A stunned Stanford Stadium crowd could barely believe its eyes - mighty Stanford had been shut out, and the Axe was California's once again.
#8 - Twelve Seconds Over Berkeley
CALIFORNIA 25 STANFORD 27 (November 17, 1990)
The only time I've cried at a sporting event. Everything that could go wrong, did. Tuan Van Le was one thing, but this was a series of catastrophes - like a bad wreck on the highway. Stanford scored. Russell White somehow missed the onside kick. John Belli got a ticky-tack roughing penalty on Jason Palumbis on a simple throwaway pass. And then the field goal, and that song. That song. It's frankly too painful to write about, so let's move on.
#7 - Win One for the Zipper
CALIFORNIA 17 STANFORD 11 (November 22, 1986)
After a 50-18 blowout loss to UW, Coach Kapp offered to show a reporter his block and tackle. His descent from failed football coach to self-parody complete, Kapp was a dead man walking heading into the Big Game. The Bears were 1-9 and had been outscored 104-12 in their previous three games. Stanford was 7-2 and headed for the Gator Bowl, led by stars John Paye, Dave Wyman and bruising fullback Brad Muster. And of course, the 18.5-point underdog Bears won 17-11 in an ugly defensive struggle that sent Joe out a winner. Following the game Hardy Nickerson, who along with Majette Whiteside had terrorized Paye all afternoon long, climbed the tower and led the Cal band in a joyous celebration on the field.
#6 - The Duel
CALIFORNIA 21 STANFORD 21 (November 21, 1953)
Bobby Garrett. Paul Larson. The greatest matchup of quarterbacks in Big Game history. Cal's Larson led the NCAA in total offense that year, and Stanford's Garrett would be the #1 overall pick in the 1954 NFL Draft. Ironically, the two would shine on defense, each making a crucial interception of the other to stop scoring drives and preserve the 21-21 tie. The program from that day (right) is fairly typical of the era - demure but unabashedly sexual imagery used to sell a football game. Pity the poor Rock Hudson look-alike in the back. Who should he choose?
#5 - Mud Bowl
CALIFORNIA 24 STANFORD 21 (November 18, 1972)
Heavy rains had left Memorial Stadium a quagmire by kickoff, and the ensuing game was appropriate sloppy. The classic see-saw battle involved several lead changes and lots of turnovers. Cal QB Vince Ferragamo was picked off four times, but somehow kept the Bears in the game with clutch passes to WR Steve Sweeney. Stanford QB Mike Boryla drove the Cardinals to a go-ahead touchdown and a 21-18 lead with three minutes left to play. All looked lost for the Bears when Ferragamo threw his final interception of the day on the next possession, but inexplicably Boryla returned the favor, and Cal took possession with 1:13 to play. The Bears' sophomore QB seemed to relax under the mounting pressure, and calmly drove his team through the muck to the Stanford nine yard line with three seconds to play. On the game's last snap, he hit a mud-covered Sweeney in the back of the end zone for the score which secured the upset for the 3-8 Bears.
#4 - Mike Fucking Langford
CALIFORNIA 20 STANFORD 22 (November 23, 1974)
A powerful Cal offense, led by QB Steve Bartkowski and RB Chuck Muncie, figured to steamroll the Cardinals in Berkeley. The Bears had lost only twice - to Florida and UCLA, while Stanford came in 4-4-2, having struggled to beat lowly Oregon State and Washington State for two of those victories. But Cal struggled to run the ball, netting only 28 yards on the ground for the afternoon. Bartkowski's passing kept Cal in the game, but they still trailed 19-10 with seven minutes remaining. Jim Breech's 40 yard field goal cut the margin to six, and then Bartkowski led the Bears on a last-minute drive for the go-ahead score. His last pass of the 75 yard drive hit Steve Rivera in the corner of the end zone with 26 seconds to play, and Cal had seemingly won 20-19. Stanford returned the kickoff to the 25, and then backup QB Guy Benjamin connected on two long passes to bring the Cardinals to the Cal 33 with two seconds to play. In came Langford, and his 50-yarder ended one of the more remarkable Big Games in history.
#3 - Put Me in Coach
CALIFORNIA 21 STANFORD 18 (November 22, 1947)
Cal came into Palo Alto at 8-1; Stanford was winless for the first time since 1918. What figured to be an easy Golden Bear victory was anything but, as an inspired Stanford team climbed to an 18-14 lead late in the fourth quarter. Halfback Paul Keckley, who was out with a separated shoulder, begged Coach Pappy Waldorf to insert him on defense. Waldorf agreed, and Keckley made a crucial tackle against the Indians to turn the ball over on downs to Cal. On Cal's first offensive snap, Jackie Jensen threw a swing pass to Keckley, who ran through the entire Stanford defense for an 80-yard game-winning score, the longest in Golden Bear history.
#2 - The End of the Wonder
CALIFORNIA 20 STANFORD 20 (November 22, 1924)
Walter Camp, who had ventured west for the game, called it one of the finest games he had ever witnessed. Certainly there was never a matchup of such elite teams in a Big Game. Cal was nearing the end of the Wonder Team years under coach Andy Smith; the Bears had gone 43-0-3 in its previous 46 games. Stanford, under legendary coach Pop Warner, was 7-0, having surrendered only 22 points all season. The Indians were led by Hall of Fame running back Ernie Nevers, but Nevers had broken his ankle in the previous game and was unavailable in Berkeley. Stanford rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game, and secure its spot in the Rose Bowl, where it would at least lose to Notre Dame's Four Horsemen. This game marked the end of an era in Berkeley - Cal's 1925 squad would lose three games and its coach when Andy Smith died suddenly of pneumonia the following January.
#1 - "The Ball is Still Loose"
CALIFORNIA 25 STANFORD 20 (November 20, 1982)
What else can be said about this game? Only that it would still be #1 if The Play had never happened. John Elway's final drive was greater than anything he did as a professional. His 4th and long bullet to Emile Harry through the Cal zone was a thing of beauty, even to blue and gold eyes. Diving touchdown catches by Mariet Ford and Wes Howell kept Cal in the game up to the end. And oh, what an ending. The Play alone doesn't make 1982 the most memorable of all Big Games. No, the inspired playground lunacy of Messrs. Moen, Rodgers, Garner and Ford makes the 1982 Cal/Stanford game the greatest in the history of the sport.