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The 5 Most Bizarre Moments In Cal Football History

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Cal has over 120 years of football history. 120 years of highs. 120 years of lows.

And 120 years of some of the most bizarre moments of really any football team. Today, we're looking at some of these moments and considering, "Why is Cal so star-crossed?" We haven't made it to the Rose Bowl in 52 years and that's, unfortunately, not even the weirdest part of Cal history.

Today, we are looking at some of these bizarre moments. The Play. Wrong Way Riegels. 1892 Big Game delay (easily the worst thing Herbert Hoover ever did!). Whatever the hell happened at the end of the 1990 Big Game (nobody tell me, I'm trying to keep that one a secret forever). Extra minute at 1988 Oregon State game. Each moment more jaw-droppingly confusing than the last. Is there another school that can rival our weirdness? Only at Berkeley!

There is a lot to discuss, so instead of me writing more introduction just come and meet me on the other side of this jump. Let's do this thing! Many thanks to Kodiak, OhioBear, and CalBear81 for their invaluable help putting this post together. GO BEARS!

5. 1990 Big Game

For more than 59 minutes, there was nothing bizarre about the 1990 Big Game. It was just a fantastic college football game, highlighted by epic all-purpose running performances by Cal's Russell White and Stanfurd's Glyn Milburn. When Cal scored a touchdown (by White) and a two-point conversion midway through the 4th quarter, Cal had a 25-18 lead and could taste victory, which would have brought the Axe back to Berkeley for the first time since Cal lost it in 1987.
Stanfurd had one last chance for a game-winning drive when it took possession after a Cal punt with 1:54 left on its own 13 yard line. The ensuing drive was torture for Cal fans. Stanfurd methodically marched down the field, converting one fourth down and a third-and-long on its way to the Cal 19 yard line with less than 20 seconds remaining. That's when it started to get weird.
Prematurely anticipating victory during Stanfurd's final drive, Cal students had slowly trickled down onto the field, making it past the crack event staff at Memorial Stadium . By the time Stanfurd drove down to the Cal 19 yard line, the south end of the field and the Cal bench area were completely surrounded by Cal students.
Quarterback Jason Palumbis threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Ed McCaffery in the right corner of the south end zone to bring the Cardinal within 1 point with 12 seconds remaining. Stanfurd coach Dennis Green opted to go for the two-point conversion and the win. Before the ball was snapped for the conversion, Cal students were implored to stand back of the playing surface. When order was restored, Cal's John Hardy intercepted the 2-point conversion pass attempt in the end zone, preserving the Bears' 25-24 lead. Pandemonium ensued: Cal students rushed the field. It was epically surreal, if not stupid. What the hell were we doing?!?
Penalty flags were all over the place. The Memorial Stadium PA announcer repeated over and over, "The game is not over, please leave the field. The game is not over." When order was restored after what seemed like an eternity, Cal was penalized 15 yards on the kickoff, placing the ball on the 50. Predictably, Stanfurd recovered the onside kick at the Cal 37 with just 9 seconds remaining. Stanfurd had time for one more play before trying a potential game-winning field goal.
That one more play was gut wrenching. Palumbis was flushed out of the pocket and threw an incomplete pass. But Cal defensive tackle John Belli was called for roughing-the-passer! Belli's act consisted of two-hand touch just after Palumbis released the ball. Down went Palumbis. While Palumbis did not win a Golden Globe for the performance, he got the coveted 15-yard penalty.
Five seconds remained. Because of the controversial penalty, the field goal attempt for Stanfurd went from 54 yards to 39 yards. John Hopkins nailed it for the Stanfurd win, leading the Stanfurd section to pour onto the Memorial Stadium field in exuberant celebration.
Strange. Painful. In essence, Cal football.

4. 1892 Big Game Delay

Oddly, the first Big Game did not take place in the fall. It happened on March 19, 1892 and, unfortunately, those damnable Lobsterbacks won. Triple Le Sigh!

Stanford had just started football recently when a bunch of players from Lowell High School (then named San Francisco Boys' High School) brought football with them to Stanford. They also brought their cardinal red high school color. So, that's where that came from!

Cal was excited, because since they started up a team in 1882, Cal had been a dominant West Coast team. They needed a key rival and SJSU or U of Pacific weren't good enough. Stanford could be that rival. Cal extended an invitation in 1891. However, for a variety of reasons, it didn't work for then. So, the game was rescheduled for the spring of 1892. And that's why the first Big Game was held in March of 1891!

The game was held in San Francisco and the night before, gaiety was the name of the evening. Cal fans and Stanford fans paraded about Market Street in celebration all night long. The city was alive with Blue and Gold or Red and White!

So, even 120 years ago, passions were high for the Big Game. On the day of the game itself, fans streamed towards Haight Street where the game was being played. According to 66 Years On The California Gridiron by S. Dan Brodie, where I get my information, thousands packed into the stadium to watch the first Big Game.




It was a gilded age of sports. It was the start of an era and a tradition unrivaled! And it nearly didn't happen! From the Brodie book on page 17:

Without hesitation, Referee Jack Sherrard blew his whistle and called the captains together. It was at this point that it was suddenly discovered that in the mad rush to get into the "Tally-Ho's" and away to the game, no one had remembered to bring the all essential football! Fortunately, David Goulcher, owner of the sporting goods store which to this day bears his name, was present in the audience, and he was prevailed upon to ride his horse downtown and get a bal, which he did, except that what he brought back was only partially a football. The otuside was a regulation football, but the inner bladder was something from a punching bag outfit. It was with this makeshift equipment that the first game of the greatest annual football classic in the West took place.

Nobody brought the ball! What the hell?????? Only at Cal. The greatest rivalry in the West delayed, because nobody brought a ball. And when they got a ball, apparently, it was deflated. Now, this is bizarre.

So, not only does nobody remember to bring a football, but when one is finally obtained it is pathetically deflated. Only to Cal! How many times do you think people showed up to a football game to find out that nobody had brought a ball? Truly bizarre, dear reader. Truly bizarre!

Hoover entered Stanford University in 1891, the new California college's first year. None of the first students were required to pay tuition.[2] Hoover claimed to be the first student ever at Stanford, by virtue of having been the first person in the first class to sleep in the dormitory.[3] While at the university, he was the student manager of both the baseball and football teams and was a part of the inaugural Big Game versus rival California (Stanford won).[3]
First, this and then, later, the Great Depression. Damn you, Stanford! You have been ruining America for over 100 years!

3. The Corvallis Minute - From CalBear81

The 1989 Cal football media guide calls it "one of the most bizarre occurrences of the college football season." So, of course, it happened to the Bears. They lost a football game 44 seconds after time expired.

On September 17, 1988, Bruce Snyder's 1-0 Golden Bears traveled to Corvallis to play Oregon State. The game started well for the Bears, who built up a 16-3 lead at the end of the third quarter, and appeared to have things well in hand. Oregon State trimmed the lead to 16-6 early in the fourth quarter, but things still looked good for Cal.

But then something odd happened. With 10:00 left in the game, the clock at Parker Stadium malfunctioned and, instead of moving to 9:59, it showed 10:99 left. The referee ordered the clock re-set. But instead of re-setting it back to 9:59, the Oregon State time-keeper set it to 10:59. He added a minute to the game, giving the Beavers 60 extra seconds to try to make a comeback. Was it an accident? That has always been the OSU party line. Some of us still wonder. In any event, no one on the Cal bench noticed the extra minute. Not Bruce Snyder, not any of the assistant coaches, not one of the Cal players. Joe Starkey noticed. Sitting in her living room in Oakland, listening to the game on the radio (there was no TV broadcast), CalBear81 knew about the extra minute. But no one on the team knew it.

But, hey, not a big deal, right? Cal still had a 10-point lead with 10, no make that 11, minutes left in the game. The victory seemed to have been sealed when Cal's John Hardy intercepted a pass at the Cal goal line and took it back to mid-field with 6, no make that 7, minutes to go. And then Cal drove down to the OSU 21, with 3:17, er, 4:17 left. Robbie Keen missed the field goal, but it was still 16-6 Bears. Then the Beavers drove the ball to the Cal 26. Still, the game once again seemed over when Cal stopped OSU on 4th-and-1 with 1:56, make that 2:56, to go. But the Bears fumbled on the next play. OSU recovered and scored a touchdown with :53 left. Except the clock showed 1:53 left. Then the Bears went three and out, punting back to the Beavers. By now, Joe Starkey was going wild. And CalBear81 was also going wild, screaming at her radio for the Cal coaches to do something about that extra minute. It didn't help.

24 seconds after time expired, the Beavers drove down to the Cal 6-yard-line. And 44 seconds after time had expired, Oregon State kicked a 23-yard field goal, to win the game 17-16. Go Bears?

2. Wrong Way Riegels

Roy Riegels was a star player for Cal football in the late 1920s. After USC decided to not attend the 1929 Rose Bowl, Cal was selected to take their place against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

At that game, Riegels cemented his legacy:

Midway through the second quarter, Riegels, who played center, picked up a fumble by Tech's Jack "Stumpy" Thomason. Just 30 yards away from the Yellow Jackets' end zone, Riegels was somehow turned around and ran 65 yards in the wrong direction.

Teammate and quarterback Benny Lom chased Riegels, screaming at him to stop. Known for his speed, Lom finally caught up with Riegels at California's 3-yard line and tried to turn him around, but he was immediately hit by a wave of Tech players and tackled back to the 1-yard line. The Bears chose to punt rather than risk a play so close to their own end zone, but Tech's Vance Maree blocked Lom's punt for a safety, giving Georgia Tech a 2-0 lead.

He ran the wrong way for 65 yards! Now, it ended up with GaTech up 2-0. Tons of game left, right? But GaTech ended up winning 8-7. Cal scored a TD and when GaTech scored a TD, Cal blocked their kick. So, the safety that GaTech earned after Wrong Way Riegels Wrong Wayed His Riegelsness down the field was the key difference.



Now, how bizarre is this????? The game turning on a player running 65 yards the wrong direction. Only Cal would lose a Rose Bowl over this! Only Cal!

On page 110 of Ron Fimrite's history of Cal football, called "Golden Bears" (which you can purchase here) you can see how the QB Lom, accurately understanding what was happening, tried to stop Riegels, but was unsuccessful initially:

Lom caught up with Riegels near the Cal 20, but instead of tackling him there, he called for a ball, hoping against hope to salvage something positive from the disaster. Riegels was a lineman, though, and he knew how few chances to score there were for his kind. "Get away from me," he called out to his teammate, "This is my touchdown.

Ouch! Only to Cal, my friends. Only to Cal. From CalBear81's post on Cal coach Nibs Price, we have some further photo and videos:


Roy Riegels Wrong Way Run: a series of photos showing Riegels picking up the fumble, turning around, running toward the wrong end zone, and being chased down and tackled on the one-yard line by Benny Lom

And here is the film of the infamous run:

1. The Play

Like we need to discuss this one much. What's that? A crazy multi-lateral play to win the Big Game in the last second against John Elway? But if you've been living in the Bid Laden compound for the last 30 years, here is Wikipedia:

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 passes on the ensuing kickoff return to score the winning touchdown and earn a disputed 25–20 victory. Members of the Stanford Band had come onto the field midway through the return, believing that the game was over, which added to the ensuing confusion and folklore

Bizarre doesn't even begin to cover this. Even the refs were confused:

I called all the officials together and there were some pale faces. The penalty flags were against Stanford for coming onto the field. I say, 'did anybody blow a whistle?' They say 'no'. I say, 'were all the laterals legal'? 'Yes'. Then the line judge, Gordon Riese, says to me, 'Charlie, the guy scored on that.' And I said, 'What?' I had no idea the guy had scored. Actually when I heard that I was kind of relieved. I thought we really would have had a problem if they hadn't scored, because, by the rules, we could have awarded a touchdown [to Cal] for [Stanford] players coming onto the field. I didn't want to have to make that call.

I wasn't nervous at all when I stepped out to make the call; maybe I was too dumb. Gee, it seems like it was yesterday. Anyway, when I stepped out of the crowd, there was dead silence in the place. Then when I raised my arms, I thought I had started World War III. It was like an atomic bomb had gone off.

An atomic bomb of pure awesomeness!

The lore of The Play was enhanced by radio announcer Joe Starkey's call:

All right, here we go with the kickoff. Harmon will probably try to squib it and he does. The ball comes loose and the Bears have to get out of bounds. Rodgers is along the sideline, another one ... they're still in deep trouble at midfield, they tried to do a couple of ... the ball is still loose as they get it to Rodgers! They get it back now to the 30, they're down to the 20... Oh, the band is out on the field!! He's gonna go into the end zone! He's gone into the end zone!!

Will it count? The Bears have scored, but the bands are out on the field! There were flags all over the place. Wait and see what happens—we don't know who won the game. There are flags on the field. We have to see whether or not the flags are against Stanford or Cal. The Bears may have made some illegal laterals. It could be that it won't count. The Bears, believe it or not, took it all the way into the end zone. If the penalty is against Stanford, California would win the game. If it is not, the game is over and Stanford has won.

We've heard no decision yet. Everybody is milling around on the FIELD—AND THE BEARS!! THE BEARS HAVE WON! The Bears have won! Oh, my God! The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending... exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football! California has won the Big Game over Stanford! Oh, excuse me for my voice, but I have never, never seen anything like it in the history of I have ever seen any game in my life! The Bears have won it! There will be no extra point!

Years later, they are still buzzing about how bizarre this moment is. CalBear81 reported back from an alumni event celebrating the 25th anniversary a few years ago.

But which one is the most bizarre moment? Vote in the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments!