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The Play

The Play

Overview
The Play refers to a last-second kickoff
Kickoff (American football)
A kickoff is a method of starting a drive in American football and Canadian football. Typically, a kickoff consists of one team – the "kicking team" – kicking the ball to the opposing team – the "receiving team"...

 return during a college football
College football
College football refers to American football played by teams of student athletes fielded by American universities, colleges, and military academies, or Canadian football played by teams of student athletes fielded by Canadian universities...

 game between the and the Stanford University Cardinal
1982 Stanford Cardinal football team
The 1982 Stanford Cardinal football team represented Stanford University in the 1982 NCAA Division I-A football season.-Regular season:John Elway's last football game at Stanford was one of the most famous games of all time, the 1982 Big Game versus California , which ended with "The Play." It was...

 on Saturday, November 20, 1982
1982 NCAA Division I-A football season
The 1982 NCAA Division I-A football season saw Paul "Bear" Bryant retire as head coach at Alabama with 323 career victories in 38 seasons.The Penn State Nittany Lions won their first consensus national championship, closing out an 11-1 season by defeating Georgia and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel...

. Given the circumstances and rivalry, the wild game that preceded it, the very unusual way in which The Play unfolded, and its lingering aftermath on players and fans, it is recognized as one of the most memorable plays in college football history and among the most memorable in American sports
Sports in the United States
Sports in the United States is an important part of American culture. The four most popular team sports are ones that developed in North America: American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey...

.

After Stanford had taken a 20–19 lead on a field goal with four seconds left in the game, the Golden Bears used five lateral pass
Lateral pass
In American football, a lateral pass or lateral, officially backward pass , occurs when the ball carrier throws the football to any teammate behind him or directly next to him...

es on the ensuing kickoff return to score the winning touchdown
Touchdown
A touchdown is a means of scoring in American and Canadian football. Whether running, passing, returning a kickoff or punt, or recovering a turnover, a team scores a touchdown by advancing the ball into the opponent's end zone.-Description:...

 and earn a disputed 25–20 victory.
Discussion
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Quotations

You don't figure to get the long runback. But on the sideline Richard Rodgers, without a doubt the real team leader on defense for the Golden Bears team last year as well as this year, had told his teammates 'The ball will not fall.' Those were his exact words in that situation. If it looks like you're going to be tackled, do something with it, throw it up for grabs, lateral it, do anything.

There were so many things to see, you almost didn't know what to look at. I don't think I've ever had more stimuli coming at me.

I just lost it. I lost it like I've never lost it in any sporting event I've ever covered. Because to me it was just the zaniest, most bizarre, and unheard of play that I'd ever seen at any level of sports.

I was standing there with Stanford president Donald Kennedy, and he's being a gracious winner. And as the play develops, his face turns ashen.

We learned to play a game called grabass. ... It's really a free-spirited game with not many rules, in fact no rules. We learned to play that game in practice, on Sundays, where everybody could get a sweat, run as much as you wanna run. It's a keep away type game. We only had 10 players on the field, and, as it worked out, successfully.

And I guess if I had to think about it, if I look at the film, and thought about it again... nah, wasn't down. We won. We won.

You look back and you go, 'Wow, you never know what life holds for you.' The subconscious is an incredible tool that we as humans have. We get fed subliminal messages all the time, through music and advertising. Subconsciously, you think back and you begin to say, 'As long as you have a breath, there's always hope and opportunity.' I think it really helps you be an optimist. You think there's still four seconds on the clock in everything you do.

At that point I start to notice the Stanford Band on the field, and my first thought was, hey, put your head down and go.

I was kind of floating on air at that point. I realized I had gotten in the end zone, jumped up, [Stanford trombonist Gary Tyrrell] happened to kind of stroll in front of me, hit him, and then I just kept goin' on my celebration and I was like suck my dick trombone dude.

Encyclopedia
The Play refers to a last-second kickoff
Kickoff (American football)
A kickoff is a method of starting a drive in American football and Canadian football. Typically, a kickoff consists of one team – the "kicking team" – kicking the ball to the opposing team – the "receiving team"...

 return during a college football
College football
College football refers to American football played by teams of student athletes fielded by American universities, colleges, and military academies, or Canadian football played by teams of student athletes fielded by Canadian universities...

 game between the and the Stanford University Cardinal
1982 Stanford Cardinal football team
The 1982 Stanford Cardinal football team represented Stanford University in the 1982 NCAA Division I-A football season.-Regular season:John Elway's last football game at Stanford was one of the most famous games of all time, the 1982 Big Game versus California , which ended with "The Play." It was...

 on Saturday, November 20, 1982
1982 NCAA Division I-A football season
The 1982 NCAA Division I-A football season saw Paul "Bear" Bryant retire as head coach at Alabama with 323 career victories in 38 seasons.The Penn State Nittany Lions won their first consensus national championship, closing out an 11-1 season by defeating Georgia and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel...

. Given the circumstances and rivalry, the wild game that preceded it, the very unusual way in which The Play unfolded, and its lingering aftermath on players and fans, it is recognized as one of the most memorable plays in college football history and among the most memorable in American sports
Sports in the United States
Sports in the United States is an important part of American culture. The four most popular team sports are ones that developed in North America: American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey...

.

After Stanford had taken a 20–19 lead on a field goal with four seconds left in the game, the Golden Bears used five lateral pass
Lateral pass
In American football, a lateral pass or lateral, officially backward pass , occurs when the ball carrier throws the football to any teammate behind him or directly next to him...

es on the ensuing kickoff return to score the winning touchdown
Touchdown
A touchdown is a means of scoring in American and Canadian football. Whether running, passing, returning a kickoff or punt, or recovering a turnover, a team scores a touchdown by advancing the ball into the opponent's end zone.-Description:...

 and earn a disputed 25–20 victory. Members of the Stanford Band
Stanford Band
The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band is the student marching band of Stanford University. Billing itself as "The World's Largest Rock and Roll Band", the Stanford Band performs at sporting events, student activities, and other functions...

 had come onto the field midway through the return, believing that the game was over, which added to the ensuing confusion and folklore. There remains disagreement over the legality of two of the laterals, adding to the passion surrounding the traditional rivalry of the annual "Big Game."

Background



This was the two teams' 85th Big Game, and was played on Cal's home field, California Memorial Stadium
California Memorial Stadium
California Memorial Stadium is an outdoor football stadium on the campus of the University of California in Berkeley. Commonly known as Memorial Stadium, it is the home field for the University of California Golden Bears of the Pacific-12 Conference...

. Although Cal was guaranteed a winning record (with bowl eligibility) for the season, no bowl game
Bowl game
In North America, a bowl game is commonly considered to refer to one of a number of post-season college football games. Prior to 2002, bowl game statistics were not included in players' career totals and the games were mostly considered to be exhibition games involving a payout to participating...

 was looking to invite them. The implications of this game were far more important to Stanford, led by quarterback
Quarterback
Quarterback is a position in American and Canadian football. Quarterbacks are members of the offensive team and line up directly behind the offensive line...

 John Elway
John Elway
John Albert Elway, Jr. is a former American football quarterback and currently is the executive vice president of football operations for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League . He played college football at Stanford and his entire professional career with the Denver Broncos...

, playing in his last regular season game before heading off to become a future National Football League
National Football League
The National Football League is the highest level of professional American football in the United States, and is considered the top professional American football league in the world. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing...

 star enshrined in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is the hall of fame of professional football in the United States with an emphasis on the National Football League . It opened in Canton, Ohio, on September 7, 1963, with 17 charter inductees...

 and College Football Hall of Fame
College Football Hall of Fame
The College Football Hall of Fame is a hall of fame and museum devoted to college football. Located in South Bend, Indiana, it is connected to a convention center and situated in the city's renovated downtown district, two miles south of the University of Notre Dame campus. It is slated to move...

. The Cardinal football squad was in the midst of an exciting season—they were 5–5 but had victories over highly ranked Ohio State and Washington
University of Washington
University of Washington is a public research university, founded in 1861 in Seattle, Washington, United States. The UW is the largest university in the Northwest and the oldest public university on the West Coast. The university has three campuses, with its largest campus in the University...

—and needed a win to be eligible to play in a bowl game. In fact, representatives of the Hall of Fame Classic committee were in attendance, apparently to extend an invitation to Stanford, should the Cardinal win.

Also at stake was possession of The Stanford Axe
The Stanford Axe
The Stanford Axe is a trophy awarded to the winner of the annual Big Game, a college football match-up between the University of California Golden Bears and the Stanford University Cardinal. The trophy consists of an axe-head mounted on a large wooden plaque, along with the scores of past Big Games...

, an axe-head trophy that is awarded to the winner of this annual matchup. Its origins date back to 1899, but in 1933, after years of increasingly more elaborate thefts of the Axe by students from one or the other school, the two schools agreed that the winner of the Big Game would take possession of the Axe. The plaque upon which the Axe is mounted carries the scores of previous Big Games.

The situation


With Cal leading 19–17 late in the fourth quarter, quarterback John Elway
John Elway
John Albert Elway, Jr. is a former American football quarterback and currently is the executive vice president of football operations for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League . He played college football at Stanford and his entire professional career with the Denver Broncos...

 and the Cardinal overcame a 4th-and-17 on their own 13-yard line with a 29-yard completion, then managed to get the ball within field goal
Field goal (football)
A field goal in American football and Canadian football is a goal that may be scored during general play . Field goals may be scored by a placekick or the now practically extinct drop kick.The drop kick fell out of favor in 1934 when the shape of the ball was changed...

 range for placekicker
Placekicker
Placekicker, or simply kicker , is the title of the player in American and Canadian football who is responsible for the kicking duties of field goals, extra points...

 Mark Harmon. Elway called a timeout with 8 seconds left on the clock. Had Elway let the clock run down to four seconds before calling time, the ensuing kickoff would not have taken place since the clock would have run out on the field goal. But Elway was under instruction from coach Paul Wiggin to call time out at the 8 second mark to allow time for a second field goal try in case Stanford drew a penalty on the first attempt. Harmon's 35-yard kick was good, putting Stanford ahead 20–19. However, the team's celebrations drew a 15-yard penalty, enforced on the ensuing kickoff. This was crucial, as Stanford was now kicking off from their 25 instead of the 40. At that point, Cal announcer Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey is an American sportscaster who has served as the radio play-by-play announcer of California Golden Bears football since 1975...

 praised Stanford and Elway for their efforts, and added, "Only a miracle can save the Bears now!"

With 4 seconds left, Stanford special teams coach Fred von Appen called for a squib kick
Squib kick
A squib kick is a term used in American football meaning a short, low, line drive kickoff that usually bounces around on the ground before it can be picked up by a member of the receiving team. The ball is kicked so short that it forces the receiving team's slower players to recover the ball first...

 on the kickoff. Due to confusion, Cal took the field with only ten men, one short of the regulation eleven, but still legal in American football. What happened next became one of the most debated and dissected plays in college football history.

The Play

  • Harmon squibbed the kick and Cal's Kevin Moen received the ball inside the Cal 45 near the left hash mark. After some ineffective scrambling, Moen lateraled
    Lateral pass
    In American football, a lateral pass or lateral, officially backward pass , occurs when the ball carrier throws the football to any teammate behind him or directly next to him...

     the ball leftward to Richard Rodgers.
  • Rodgers was very quickly surrounded, gaining only one yard before looking behind him for Dwight Garner, who caught the ball around the Cal 45.
  • Garner ran straight ahead for five yards, but was swallowed up by five Stanford players. While Garner was being tackled, however, he managed to pitch the ball back to Rodgers. It was at this moment, believing that Garner had been tackled and the game was over, that several Stanford players on the sideline and the entire Stanford band (which had been waiting behind the south end zone) ran onto the field in celebration.
  • Rodgers dodged another Stanford player and took the ball to his right, toward the middle of the field, where at least four other Cal players were ready for the next pitch. Around the Stanford 45, Rodgers pitched the ball to Mariet Ford, who caught it in stride. Meanwhile, the Stanford band, all 144 members, had run out past the south end zone—the one the Cal players were trying to get to—and had advanced as far as twenty yards downfield. The scrum of players was moving towards them.
  • Ford avoided a Stanford player and sprinted upfield while moving to the right of the right hash mark, and into the band, which was scattered all over the south end of the field. Around the Stanford 27, three Stanford players smothered Ford, but while falling forward he threw a blind lateral over his right shoulder.
  • Moen caught it at about the 25 and charged toward the end zone
    End zone
    In gridiron-based codes of football, the end zone refers to the scoring area on the field. It is the area between the end line and goal line bounded by the sidelines. There are two end zones, each being on an opposite side of the field...

    . One Stanford player missed him, and another could not catch him from behind. Moen ran through the scattering Stanford Band
    Stanford Band
    The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band is the student marching band of Stanford University. Billing itself as "The World's Largest Rock and Roll Band", the Stanford Band performs at sporting events, student activities, and other functions...

     members for the touchdown
    Touchdown
    A touchdown is a means of scoring in American and Canadian football. Whether running, passing, returning a kickoff or punt, or recovering a turnover, a team scores a touchdown by advancing the ball into the opponent's end zone.-Description:...

    , which he famously completed by running into unaware trombone
    Trombone
    The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate...

     player Gary Tyrrell.


The Cal players celebrated wildly—but the officials had not signaled the touchdown. Stanford coach Paul Wiggin and his players argued to the officials that Dwight Garner's knee had been down, rendering what had happened during the rest of the play moot. Meanwhile, the officials huddled. The chaos at the end of The Play made the officials' task very challenging. In particular, the questionable fifth lateral took place in the midst of the Stanford band, greatly reducing visibility. Referee Charles Moffett recalled the moment:
After determining that Cal had scored and no one had ruled any of the laterals illegal, Moffett signaled the touchdown, rendering the illegal participation penalty
Penalty (American football)
In American football and Canadian football, a penalty is a sanction called against a team for a violation of the rules, called a foul. Officials initially signal penalties by tossing a bright yellow or orange colored "penalty flag" onto the field toward or at the spot of a foul...

 on Stanford irrelevant and ending the game. The final score was Cal 25, Stanford 20.

Controversy


The officials' ruling of a Cal touchdown was highly controversial at the time, and The Play has remained a source of often intense disagreement throughout the intervening decades, particularly between ardent Stanford and Cal fans. The controversy centers on the legality of two of the five laterals as well as on the chaos that ensued when the Stanford team and band entered the playing field while the ball was still live.

Many Stanford players and coaches objected immediately to the third lateral, from Dwight Garner to Richard Rodgers, asserting that Garner's knee was down moments beforehand. Kevin Lamar, a Stanford player who was in on the tackle, maintains that Garner's knee had hit the turf while he was still in possession of the ball; Garner and Rodgers themselves, however, assert the opposite. TV replays were inconclusive; due to the distance from the camera and the swarm of tacklers, one cannot see the exact moment Garner's knee may have touched.

Afterward, upon viewing the game footage, some suggested that the fifth lateral, from Mariet Ford to Kevin Moen, could have been an illegal forward pass
Forward pass
In several forms of football a forward pass is when the ball is thrown in the direction that the offensive team is trying to move, towards the defensive team's goal line...

. Ford was being tackled at about the 26-yard-line when he released his blind, over-the-shoulder heave, which Moen appeared to catch while crossing the 25. Because both players were in full stride, and because the lateral traveled some distance, some thought the ball had in fact gone forward. Under the rules of football, the direction of a pass is judged relative to the field. Complicating this was the fact that Ford was falling forward upon releasing the ball, while Moen reached backwards to catch it, thus making it quite possible that the ball itself traveled sideways or backward.

Finally, while the replays of the tackle of Garner and the fifth lateral are inconclusive, Stanford was definitely guilty of illegal participation, both from too many players on the field and from the band. At least two game officials immediately threw penalty flags on Stanford for having too many men on the field. An American football game cannot end on a defensive penalty, so had any of the Cal ball-carriers been tackled short of the end zone from this point on, Cal would have, at the least, been granted one unclocked play from scrimmage, and perhaps a touchdown outright for outside interference, which was not unprecedented. The game referee, Charles Moffett, noted this as a likely outcome in a subsequent interview (see above). Rule 9-1, Article 4 of official NCAA football rules, "Illegal Interference", allows the referee to award a score if "equitable" after an act of interference. Officials in the 1954 Cotton Bowl Classic awarded a touchdown to Rice after an Alabama player jumped onto the field from the sideline to tackle a Rice ballcarrier.

The NCAA's instant replay
Instant replay
Instant replay is the replaying of video footage of an event or incident very soon after it has occurred. In television broadcasting of sports events, instant replay is often used during live broadcast, to show a passage of play which was important or remarkable, or which was unclear on first...

 rules were not adopted until 2005, more than two decades later, so the officials could not consult recorded television footage to resolve these issues. It is unclear whether instant replay would have had any impact, as a field ruling cannot be overturned unless there is "indisputable video evidence" to the contrary.

Analysis of the controversy


Many attempts have been made to analyze the disputed areas of The Play and resolve its controversies. This has proven to be a difficult task for several reasons. Only one television replay is available, and it is from a distant and elevated midfield camera. The rules of college football do not precisely cover The Play's bizarre final seconds. Finally, the intense passions from both Cal and Stanford fans often make objective analysis of The Play a great challenge.

Among the notable attempts at deconstructing The Play are:
  • The national magazine Sports Illustrated
    Sports Illustrated
    Sports Illustrated is an American sports media company owned by media conglomerate Time Warner. Its self titled magazine has over 3.5 million subscribers and is read by 23 million adults each week, including over 18 million men. It was the first magazine with circulation over one million to win the...

    , as part of a 12-page article that appeared the following fall ("The Anatomy of a Miracle," September 5, 1983), found no mistakes in officiating. Cal's only error was having four men in the restraining area before kickoff, an issue that did not result in a penalty. In the article, Garner said that his knee was parallel to the ground when he tossed the third lateral. Of the fifth lateral, SI determined that it was "clearly thrown backwards" and would have hit the 27 had Moen not caught it.
  • ABC
    American Broadcasting Company
    The American Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network. Created in 1943 from the former NBC Blue radio network, ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Company and is part of Disney-ABC Television Group. Its first broadcast on television was in 1948...

    , as part of the show prepared for the award of "Pontiac's Ultimate High-Performance Play of the NCAA,", analyzed the video of the fifth lateral from Ford to Moen and concluded that the ball traveled laterally along the 25 yard line, thus making it a legal action.
  • In 2007, as part of the buildup to The Play's 25th anniversary, the Bay Area News Group asked Verle Sorgen, the Pac 10 Conference's supervisor of instant replay, to review the two disputed laterals according to modern NCAA instant replay review rules. (Sorgen was not asked to rule on the larger issue of the Stanford band's outside interference.) After watching enhanced footage on a modern, large-screen monitor, Sorgen opined that there was insufficient video evidence to overturn the third lateral, from Garner to Rodgers. However, Sorgen believed that the fifth lateral from Ford to Moen "was released at the 22 and touched at the 20-1/2 (sic). From that, it clearly appears forward." Asked for his "ultimate call", Sorgen replied, "I would be tempted to reverse it...then go out and get the motor running in my car."

Aftermath


Four days after the game, students at The Stanford Daily
The Stanford Daily
The Stanford Daily is the student-run, independent daily newspaper serving Stanford University. The Daily is distributed throughout campus and the surrounding community of Palo Alto, California, United States. It has published since the University was founded in 1892.The paper publishes weekdays...

published a bogus version of Cal's student newspaper, The Daily Californian
The Daily Californian
The Daily Californian is an independent, student-run newspaper that serves the University of California, Berkeley campus and its surrounding community. It is published Monday through Friday during the academic year, and twice a week during the summer...

, with the lead story claiming that the NCAA
National Collegiate Athletic Association
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a semi-voluntary association of 1,281 institutions, conferences, organizations and individuals that organizes the athletic programs of many colleges and universities in the United States...

 had declared Cal's last play to be dead in a ruling three days after the game. According to that bogus paper, the official score would be recorded in the NCAA record books as Stanford 20, California 19. The Stanford students then distributed 7,000 copies of the phony "extra" on the Cal campus. A few days later, blue and gold t-shirts depicting the play with Xs and Os (much like a coach's diagram) complete with squiggly lines for the laterals, appeared in the Cal bookstore and throughout the Bay Area. In the ensuing years, students at Stanford retaliated by wearing Big Game buttons that said "WE GOT IN."

The season after The Play, the Cardinal went 1-10 and Paul Wiggin was fired. Wiggin later said The Play "had a big effect on our program, especially on recruiting." Athletics director Andy Geiger said the loss devastated the program. Others blamed the loss on the Stanford Band. Of the band's role, Geiger said, "Although the Band did not cause the Play, it was typical that they would have been in the wrong place at the wrong time." The incumbent Stanford band leader now annually passes the baton to the new band leader with 4 seconds left in the Stanford–Cal game.

Whenever Stanford holds the Stanford Axe, the plaque is altered in protest so that the outcome reads as a 20–19 Stanford victory. When the Axe is returned to Cal's possession, the plaque is changed back to the official score: California 25, Stanford 20.
For many years, John Elway was bitter, on both a personal level and on behalf of his team, about the touchdown being allowed: "This was an insult to college football... They [the officials] ruined my last game as a college football player." The Play cost Stanford an invitation to the Hall of Fame Classic
All-American Bowl
The All-American Bowl was an annual postseason college football bowl game played at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama from 1977 to 1990. The game was known as the Hall of Fame Classic from 1977 to 1985....

, in addition to a winning season, and Elway completed his college career having never played in a bowl game
Bowl game
In North America, a bowl game is commonly considered to refer to one of a number of post-season college football games. Prior to 2002, bowl game statistics were not included in players' career totals and the games were mostly considered to be exhibition games involving a payout to participating...

. Andy Geiger, the athletics director of Stanford, said that the loss cost Elway the Heisman Trophy. Elway would nevertheless enjoy a tremendously successful NFL
National Football League
The National Football League is the highest level of professional American football in the United States, and is considered the top professional American football league in the world. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing...

 career, winning two Super Bowl
Super Bowl
The Super Bowl is the championship game of the National Football League , the highest level of professional American football in the United States, culminating a season that begins in the late summer of the previous calendar year. The Super Bowl uses Roman numerals to identify each game, rather...

s with the Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos are a professional American football team based in Denver, Colorado. They are currently members of the West Division of the American Football Conference in the National Football League...

, and was inducted in both the Pro Football
Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is the hall of fame of professional football in the United States with an emphasis on the National Football League . It opened in Canton, Ohio, on September 7, 1963, with 17 charter inductees...

 and College Football
College Football Hall of Fame
The College Football Hall of Fame is a hall of fame and museum devoted to college football. Located in South Bend, Indiana, it is connected to a convention center and situated in the city's renovated downtown district, two miles south of the University of Notre Dame campus. It is slated to move...

 Halls of Fame. Years later, Elway came to terms with The Play, stating that "each year it gets a little funnier."

The participants in The Play faded into relative obscurity in the years since, with the only really memorable participants in the game being Elway and announcer Joe Starkey for his famous calling of The Play.

Ron Rivera
Ron Rivera
Ronald Eugene Rivera is the head coach of the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Rivera was a linebacker on the 1985 Chicago Bears, who won Super Bowl XX. Rivera was the defensive coordinator for the 2006 Chicago Bears, who won the National Football Conference championship and competed in Super Bowl XLI...

, a starting defensive end for California, was a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears
1985 Chicago Bears season
The 1985 Chicago Bears season was their 66th regular season and 16th post-season completed in the National Football League. The club posted a 15-1 record, earning them the top seed in the NFC for the playoffs. The Bears defeated their three post season opponents by a combined score of 91-10 en...

, which went 15-1 during the regular season
1985 NFL season
The 1985 NFL season was the 66th regular season of the National Football League. The season ended with Super Bowl XX when the Chicago Bears defeated the New England Patriots.-Major rule changes:...

 and won Super Bowl XX
Super Bowl XX
Super Bowl XX was an American football championship game played on January 26, 1986 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana to decide the National Football League champion following the 1985 regular season...

 over the New England Patriots
1985 New England Patriots season
The 1985 New England Patriots season was the 16th season for the team in the National Football League and 26th season overall. The Patriots had a record of eleven wins and five losses, and finished tied for second in the AFC East division. They lost in Super Bowl XX to the Chicago Bears...

. Rivera was named head coach of the Carolina Panthers
Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers are a professional American football team based in Charlotte, North Carolina. They are currently members of the South Division of the National Football Conference in the National Football League . The Panthers, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars, joined the NFL as expansion...

 in January 2011.

Gary Plummer
Gary Plummer (American football)
Gary Plummer is a former American football linebacker in the National Football League and the United States Football League. He was signed by the San Diego Chargers as a free agent in 1986 after playing three years in the USFL...

, a linebacker for the Golden Bears, was drafted into the United States Football League
United States Football League
The United States Football League was an American football league which was in active operation from 1983 to 1987. It played a spring/summer schedule in its first three seasons and a traditional autumn/winter schedule was set to commence before league operations ceased.The USFL was conceived in...

 in 1983. He played 8 seasons with the San Diego Chargers
San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers are a professional American football team based in San Diego, California. they were members of the Western Division of the American Football Conference in the National Football League...

 before joining the San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are a professional American football team based in San Francisco, California, playing in the West Division of the National Football Conference in the National Football League . The team was founded in 1946 as a charter member of the All-America Football Conference and...

 in 1994, as part of their Super Bowl XXIX
Super Bowl XXIX
Super Bowl XXIX was an American football game played on January 29, 1995 at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Florida to decide the National Football League champion following the 1994 regular season...

 winning team. Plummer retired from the NFL after the 1997 season.

The most infamous participant in The Play is Mariet Ford. Ford, who briefly played wide receiver for the Oakland Invaders
Oakland Invaders
Oakland Invaders was a professional American football team that played in the United States Football League from 1983 through 1985.-In reaction to the Raiders relocating to Los Angeles:...

 of the United States Football League
United States Football League
The United States Football League was an American football league which was in active operation from 1983 to 1987. It played a spring/summer schedule in its first three seasons and a traditional autumn/winter schedule was set to commence before league operations ceased.The USFL was conceived in...

, was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and 3-year-old son in 1997. He is serving a 45 years-to-life sentence.

Kevin Moen had a short-lived professional career and is now a real estate broker in the Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

 area. In 2002, he coached the Palos Verdes Colts, a Pop Warner football team. He is also the head football coach at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School
Palos Verdes Peninsula High School
Palos Verdes Peninsula High School is one of three public high schools on the Palos Verdes Peninsula...

, starting in the 2008–2009 school year.

Gary Tyrrell, the Stanford trombonist who was run over by Moen, is a venture capital CFO and amateur brewer. He became friends with Moen and coach Joe Kapp. He appeared on television's The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show is an American late-night talk show that has aired on NBC since 1954. It is the longest currently running regularly scheduled entertainment program in the United States, and the third longest-running show on NBC, after Meet the Press and Today.The Tonight Show has been hosted by...

along with the key Cal players shortly after The Play; his smashed trombone is now displayed in the College Football Hall of Fame
College Football Hall of Fame
The College Football Hall of Fame is a hall of fame and museum devoted to college football. Located in South Bend, Indiana, it is connected to a convention center and situated in the city's renovated downtown district, two miles south of the University of Notre Dame campus. It is slated to move...

. He has also said, "I thought I'd be famous for my talent as a musician, not for being knocked down at a football game."

Dwight Garner
Dwight Garner
Dwight Eugene Garner is a former American football running back. He played college football at California and had a brief stint as a kick returner for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League during the 1986 season.Garner is best known for his participation in The Play during the...

, who later spent two years with the Washington Redskins
Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins are a professional American football team and members of the East Division of the National Football Conference in the National Football League . The team plays at FedExField in Landover, Maryland, while its headquarters and training facility are at Redskin Park in Ashburn,...

 and retired, is now a risk manager with The Sports Authority chain of sporting goods stores. Richard Rodgers played in the CFL
Canadian Football League
The Canadian Football League or CFL is a professional sports league located in Canada. The CFL is the highest level of competition in Canadian football, a form of gridiron football closely related to American football....

 and is now the defensive coordinator at Holy Cross
College of the Holy Cross
The College of the Holy Cross is an undergraduate Roman Catholic liberal arts college located in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA...

.

Gale Gilbert
Gale Gilbert
Gale Reed Gilbert is a former American football quarterback who played eight seasons in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills, and the San Diego Chargers.-Early life:...

 was the starting quarterback for the Cal Bears. His son, Garrett Gilbert
Garrett Gilbert
Garrett Gilbert is a current quarterback for the SMU Mustangs college football team. Gilbert was regarded as one of the best high school quarterbacks of his class and was named the 2008 Offensive Player of the Year by USA Today....

 was formerly the starting quarterback for the Texas Longhorns. Gilbert was granted his unconditional release from Texas on October 5, allowing him the opportunity to seek a transfer.

It was earlier in the school year that Football Coach Joe Capp had a conversation with Cal Rugby Coach Jack Clark about having some of the running backs come play rugby in preparation for the upcoming 1983 football season. As it was, Cal Rugby already had a number of the offensive line enlisted in their forward pack. Though none of the running backs stayed with the Rugby team to play that season, it is suspected that "THE PLAY" was the result of the football team's involvement with the Rugby Team earlier in that school year.

Where it ranks

List Rank
TV Guide
TV Guide
TV Guide is a weekly American magazine with listings of TV shows.In addition to TV listings, the publication features television-related news, celebrity interviews, gossip and film reviews and crossword puzzles...

 and TV Land
TV Land
TV Land is an American cable television network launched on April 29, 1996. It is owned by MTV Networks, a division of Viacom, which also owns Paramount Pictures, and networks such as MTV and Nickelodeon...

 Present: The 100 Most Unexpected TV Moments
16th
The Best Damn Sports Show Period
The Best Damn Sports Show Period
The Best Damn Sports Show Period is an American sports television show on Fox Sports Net and Comcast SportsNet. The show regularly featured irreverent and opinionated interviews with top athletes, coaches, celebrities, and entertainers. It also aired Top 50 countdown shows and other sports...

 The 50 Most Outrageous Moments in Sports
3rd
The Best Damn Sports Show Period The 50 Greatest Football plays of All Time 1st
The Best Damn Sports Show Period The 50 Greatest Touchdowns of All Time 4th

Based on online voting, Pontiac announced the California v. Stanford game of Nov. 20, 1982, as its "Ultimate High-Performance Play of the NCAA," crowning the play as NCAA Football's most memorable moment of all-time in December 2003.

The game was placed in NCAA Football video games as a "College Classic", challenging players to recreate the ending. The challenge begins with the player controlling the Bears as the Cardinal kick the field goal leading up to the final kickoff.

Joe Starkey's call of The Play


Cal announcer Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey
Joe Starkey is an American sportscaster who has served as the radio play-by-play announcer of California Golden Bears football since 1975...

 of KGO-AM 810
KGO (AM)
KGO is a news/talk-format radio station radio with offices and studios in San Francisco, California. Unlike most other American news/talk stations, KGO originates nearly all of its own programming locally. Since 1978, KGO radio has received Arbitron's number-one ranking in the Bay Area...

 radio called the game. The following is a transcript of his famous call:

Similar plays


The Play also provided the apparent inspiration behind the proliferation of game-ending multiple-lateral plays in the last decade. Some of the most famous game-ending lateral plays since The Play include:

"The Music City Miracle" (January 8, 2000)



The "Music City Miracle" was, like The Play, a kickoff return with a controversial lateral that resulted in a game-winning touchdown. In an NFL
National Football League
The National Football League is the highest level of professional American football in the United States, and is considered the top professional American football league in the world. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing...

 Wild Card Playoff game between the Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans are a professional American football team based in Nashville, Tennessee, United States. They are members of the South Division of the American Football Conference in the National Football League . Previously known as the Houston Oilers, the team began play in 1960 as a charter...

 and the Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills are a professional football team based in Buffalo, New York. They are currently members of the East Division of the American Football Conference in the National Football League...

 at Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the county seat of Davidson County. It is located on the Cumberland River in Davidson County, in the north-central part of the state. The city is a center for the health care, publishing, banking and transportation industries, and is home...

, the Bills took a 16–15 lead on a 41-yard field goal by Steve Christie
Steve Christie
Geoffrey Stephen Christie is a former Canadian American football placekicker in the National Football League, who, as a member of the Buffalo Bills, became known for his ability to kick clutch field goals, even in poor weather.-Early career:Christie, who grew up in nearby Oakville, Ontario,...

 with 16 seconds remaining. The ensuing kickoff was fielded by the Titans' Lorenzo Neal
Lorenzo Neal
Lorenzo LaVonne Neal is an American football fullback who played in the NFL from 1993–2009. He was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the 1993 NFL Draft...

, who handed the ball off to Frank Wycheck
Frank Wycheck
Frank John Wycheck is a former American football tight end in the National Football League. Wycheck attended Archbishop Ryan High School in Northeast Philadelphia. Drafted in sixth round of the 1993 NFL Draft out of the University of Maryland by the Washington Redskins...

. Faced with oncoming defenders, Wycheck turned to his left and passed the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson
Kevin Dyson
Kevin Tyree Dyson is a former American football wide receiver of the National Football League. He was originally drafted by the Tennessee Oilers 16th overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. He played college football at Utah....

, who was protected by a wall of blockers. Dyson ran untouched 75 yards down the sideline to score a touchdown. Unlike The Play, NFL rules in 2000 allowed for a replay official to call for video review of any questionable on-field call in the final two minutes of a game, and such a review was immediately declared to determine if Wycheck's pass to Dyson was an illegal forward pass
Forward pass
In several forms of football a forward pass is when the ball is thrown in the direction that the offensive team is trying to move, towards the defensive team's goal line...

. After a lengthy delay, officials determined that video evidence was inconclusive to overturn the ruling on the field, and the play was upheld as a touchdown. Although there were 3 seconds left on the clock when Dyson scored, nothing came of the Bills' ensuing kickoff return and the Titans went on to win the game 22–16. Later, computer analysis established that Dyson caught the ball on the same yard marker that Wycheck threw it from, confirming that the pass was indeed a lateral.

The Titans special teams coach at the time, Alan Lowry
Alan Lowry
Alan Lowry is the special-teams coordinator for the Tennessee Titans of the National Football League.He completed his 25th season in the NFL, the last 11 with the Titans.-College career:...

, said he got the inspiration for the play from another game in 1982 between Texas Tech and SMU. The idea was to draw the kickoff coverage to one side of the field and throw the ball back across the field to the other, where a wall of blockers would be set up.

"The River City Relay" (December 21, 2003)



The "River City Relay" was, like The Play, a game-ending multiple-lateral play resulting in a touchdown. It brought the New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are a professional American football team based in New Orleans, Louisiana. They are members of the South Division of the National Football Conference of the National Football League ....

 to within one point of the Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a professional American football team based in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. They are currently members of the South Division of the American Football Conference in the National Football League...

 with no time remaining in a 2003 regular season game at ALLTEL Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville is the largest city in the U.S. state of Florida in terms of both population and land area, and the largest city by area in the contiguous United States. It is the county seat of Duval County, with which the city government consolidated in 1968...

. The Saints needed to win the game to remain eligible for the NFL Playoffs
NFL playoffs
The National Football League playoffs are a single-elimination tournament held at the end of the regular season to determine the NFL champion. Six teams from each of the league's two conferences qualify for the playoffs based on regular season records, and a tie-breaking procedure exists in the...

. Unlike The Play, the River City Relay was a play from scrimmage, not a kick-off return. The Relay began with :07 remaining on the game clock and consisted of a forward pass
Forward pass
In several forms of football a forward pass is when the ball is thrown in the direction that the offensive team is trying to move, towards the defensive team's goal line...

 by the Saints which was caught and lateraled three times before they finally scored with no time left. However, the Relay did not tie the game or give New Orleans the lead, and it became as infamous for its aftermath as it was famous for its brilliance; after a long delay, Saints kicker John Carney missed the ensuing extra-point attempt that would have tied the game and resulted in overtime, therefore losing 20-19 to the Jaguars and being eliminated from playoff contention (although, as it turned out, other results on the same day would have eliminated the Saints even if they had won).

"The Mississippi Miracle" or "Lateralpalooza" (October 27, 2007)



The "Mississippi Miracle" was, like The Play, a game-winning, multiple-lateral touchdown play. Similar to the "River City Relay" it was a play from scrimmage, and not a kick-off return. It occurred in a 2007 regular-season contest between Trinity University
Trinity Tigers
The Trinity Tigers is the nickname for the sports teams of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. They participate in the NCAA's Division III and the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. The school mascot is LeeRoy, a Bengal Tiger...

 and Millsaps College
Millsaps Majors
The Millsaps Majors is the nickname for the sports teams of Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi and their colors are purple and white. They participate in the NCAA's Division III and the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference....

, both members of the SCAC
Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference
The Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference , founded in 1962, is an athletic conference which competes in the NCAA's Division III. Member institutions are located in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas...

 in Division III of the NCAA. It took place at Harper Davis Field on Millsaps' campus in Jackson, Mississippi
Jackson, Mississippi
Jackson is the capital and the most populous city of the US state of Mississippi. It is one of two county seats of Hinds County ,. The population of the city declined from 184,256 at the 2000 census to 173,514 at the 2010 census...

 (hence the name). Like the River City Relay, it consisted of a forward pass
Forward pass
In several forms of football a forward pass is when the ball is thrown in the direction that the offensive team is trying to move, towards the defensive team's goal line...

 by Trinity that was caught and lateraled multiple times and resulted in a touchdown. However, the Miracle consisted of an astounding 15 laterals among seven players, six of whom touched the ball multiple times on the play, and covered 60 yards. Trinity took the final snap with :02 on the clock and scored after the ball was in play for over a minute of real time, possibly making it the longest play in the history of American football
American football
American football is a sport played between two teams of eleven with the objective of scoring points by advancing the ball into the opposing team's end zone. Known in the United States simply as football, it may also be referred to informally as gridiron football. The ball can be advanced by...

.

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