Happy birthday, college football! You were brought forth from the loins of the Princeton Tigers and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on this day in 1869.
To commemorate the anniversary, ESPN has already taken a look at the 150 best teams of all time (which included the 1920 Wonder Team), but this week, they’re looking at the 150 best games. The California Golden Bears are involved in two of them, which were made legendary by two very particular Cal plays—True Blues can probably guess which games these are.
I’m always a fan of getting the bad news out of the way first, so we’ll start with the game that’s all bad news for the Bears. It’s just 89th on the list, it involves some mystical game that probably doesn’t even exist called a “Rose Bowl”, Cal lost, and Cal’s involvement is all on the basis of a massive blunder.
89. Georgia Tech 8, California 7
Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 1929
In the second quarter, the Golden Bears’ Roy Riegels picked up a fumble by the Yellow Jackets’ Stumpy Thomason and inexplicably headed toward his own goal line, 65 yards away. Riegels stunning move created a big head start, but his teammate Benny Lom chased him down and tackled him. Cal had the ball on its 1. When Lom tried to punt the ball out, Georgia Tech blocked it for a safety. Riegels graciously acceded to being called “Wrong Way” for the next 64 years.
With the bad memories out of the way, let’s look to something better. “Wrong Way” Riegels is a hair more obscure of the pair, so every Cal fan should know what’s coming. It was one of the many ways in which Cal ruined the career of Stanfurd quarterback John Elway (see CalBear81’s incredible recounting of how we plagued Elway, including a far more fulfilling retelling of the game in question). It’s the first lesson in any Cal Football 101 course. It’s widely-considered one of the greatest moments in sports and a play so iconic that it’s literally known simply as “The Play”. Let’s talk about the 1982 Big Game.
22. California 25, Stanf[u]rd 20
Nov. 20, 1982
Actually, it was a great game: three lead changes in the fourth quarter, two, of course, in the last :04. Cardinal senior John Elway led one of the greatest drives of his career, college or pro, to put Mark Harmon in position to kick a 35-yard field goal with :04 to play. Cal took the squib kick and off the laterals went: Kevin Moen to Richard Rodgers to Dwight Garner back to Rodgers to Mariet Ford and back to Moen, who weaved through a crowd (“The band is on the field!”) to trample a Stanf[u]rd trumpet player.
Unfortunately, there’s a bit of bitter with this bite—whatever unqualified fool wrote up this section on the Play editorialized the hell out of it by inserting some unverified opinions about knees being down and forward laterals. I shall spare your eyes and stop the spread of this malarkey by omitting it from the excerpt above. (It’s also rife with comma abuse that led to lack of clarity—throw some em dashes or at least some parentheses in there.)
Instead, let’s end on a blue-and-gold-er note—Avi did some insane video breakdown to see if a broken-down Elway flipped-off a Cal fan. (Warning to my fellow Ugly-Americans that this post does use some derogatory language on the basis of Elway’s messed-up face.) We’ve also got another post by CalBear81 (which means it’s redundant to tell you how phenomenal it is) about Cal’s biggest Big Game triumphs, including a bit more narrative on the 1982 Big Game.
Go Bears! Boo Stanfurd!