Special Teams Have Played Large Role in Big Games in Berkeley

Nov. 21, 2008

STANFORD, Calif. - Many stories have been written about the Stanford-Cal football rivalry, known to fans and alumni of both schools as simply 'The Big Game.' There have been so many varieties of outcomes, so many future NFL stars, so many single-game heroes, that it is difficult to find a common thread or a recurrent theme in the 106-year series history.

Except for one theme. Stanford special teams, in recent games in Berkeley.

Every knowledgeable Stanford fan knows about 'The Play,' the five-lateral, 50-yard, through-the-band kickoff return touchdown by Cal in the final seconds of the 1982 Big Game. This will not be one of the thousands of articles about that Stanford special teams moment of, depending on your point of view, injustice or infamy.

Stanford football fans need not dwell on that. Not when there are several equally-memorable and more-fruitful moments involving Stanford special teams inside Cal's Memorial Stadium. Sometimes, in fact, there have been more than one spectacular Stanford special teams play in the same Berkeley Big Game.

There has been a Stanford kickoff return for a touchdown (1988), a punt return for a touchdown (1990), and two punt-return blocks (2000). And that is just the beginning of the list.

The Immortal 21 is a special team in Stanford campus lore. It refers to the 21 Stanford students who, in 1930, daringly and cleverly stole the 'Axe' -- the symbol of the Stanford-Cal football rivalry annually awarded to that year's winner -- from the Cal campus where it was being housed.

As far as the Stanford football special teams in Berkeley, well, one could say that there are an 'immortal three.'

November 19, 1988. Late in the 91st Big Game, with the score tied, Cal was driving toward the Stanford end zone. The Bears pushed inside the Stanford 10-yard line, then inside the five. With the ball on the Stanford two-yard line and only four seconds on the clock, Cal coach Bruce Snyder sent out All-American kicker Robbie Keen for a potential 20-yard, game-winning field goal. It was a chip-shot attempt, the hardest of all kicks to block. But in a shocking and glorious moment for the Stanford faithful in the Memorial Stadium in the south end zone, Tuan Van Le exploded off the snap and blocked Keen's kick.

Because of a Stanford special teams play, Cal victory denied.

November 30, 1974. Stanford came into the 77th Big Game with a two-game losing streak in games in Berkeley, including a last-minute loss on the famous Vince Ferragamo-to-Steve Sweeney touchdown pass. The 1974 game was tight, with Stanford putting together a furious last-minute drive to advance to the Cal 33-yard line. There was time only for one final play, and Stanford coach Jack Christiansen opted to send kicker Mike Langford onto the field to try a 50-yard field goal. Langford, one of the last college straight-ahead kickers, strode into the ball and hit it as hard as he could. The ball sailed high, straight and dropped through the lower portion of the north goalposts, instigating wild Stanford celebrations on the field and in the stands.

Because of a Stanford special teams play, Cal victory denied.

November 17, 1990. If there is one special moment, let alone a special teams moment, for a Stanford football team in a Big Game in Berkeley, it is the 1990 Big Game. With 12 seconds remaining, Stanford scored a touchdown to cut the Cal lead to one, but Stanford failed to convert a potential game-winning, two-point conversion after the touchdown. Though Cal was penalized 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff because of an excessive celebration, Stanford looked cooked, down 25-24.

Then came two stunning special teams plays. Stanford had to try the low-percentage onside-kick play, and the combination of kicker John Hopkins' excellent squib kick and Kevin Scott's recovery on the Cal 37 suddenly gave Stanford chance at a miracle win. A Cal late-hit penalty on the first play from scrimmage gave Stanford the ball on the Cal 22-yard line for one final play. Hopkins then came in for the pressure-filled, game-on-the-line, 39-yard opportunity. The left-footed, soccer-style kicker drilled the ball through the goalposts with no time left. Hysteria erupted on the Stanford sideline and in the Stanford rooting section.

Because of not one but two Stanford special teams plays, Cal victory denied.

John Platz graduated from Stanford in 1984 with a bachelor or arts degree in economics. For the past 20 years, he has served as a radio analyst on Stanford's basketball broadcasts and has also handled play-by-play duties for both basketball and football on occasion. Platz also served as the lead play-by-play voice of Stanford baseball during the Cardinal's back-to-back NCAA Championship seasons of 1988 and '93, earning him the distinction of being the only announcer in Stanford history to have broadcast Stanford games in the Final Four and College World Series.

A former basketball letterman, Platz received joint J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from the Stanford's Law School and Graduate School of Business in 1989. A native of San Marino, he currently served as senior counsel at Cisco Systems, Inc. in San Jose.

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