TO COMMEMORATE THE 40th anniversary of "The Play," the Stanford Historical Society hosted an event at Cemex Auditorium at Stanford's Graduate School of Business that was headlined by Tyler Bridges '82, author of a new book called Five Laterals and a Trombone: Cal, Stanford, and the Wildest Ending in College Football History.
A panel consisted of former Stanford cornerback Rod Gilmore '82, ex-Cal defensive back Ahmad Anderson, Gary Tyrrell '83, the trombonist for Stanford Band who was unceremoniously bowled over by Cal touchdown scorer Kevin Moen, and Adam Berns '84, the Stanford Daily editor who orchestrated the infamous fake Daily Cal that pronounced that the NCAA negated "The Play" and awarded the 1982 Big Game to Stanford.
However, a member of the audience had one the most interesting roles in the game. Jack Langley was the head linesman and was closest to Cal's Dwight Garner, whose knee may or may not have touched the ground on the return before he lateraled the ball to a teammate. That debate remains central to acceptance or non-acceptance of the result of "The Play" to this day.
Langley was among three officials close to Garner.
"I was probably the closest official," Langley told the audience. "Was he down? I don't know.
"We're all taught to make a positive decision on what we see, and the positive decision by all three of us was we did not see a knee down. If you look at the video, you will see three, four, five husky Stanford players surrounding this guy. I was there and all I saw was a ball come out.
"I will tell you the truth … I had a breath in my lungs about ready to blow that whistle, when I saw the ball."
"Thank you, Jack," Bridges said. "That's not the answer Stanford wanted."
A photo of The Play from the 1982 Big Game. Photo by Robert Stinnett, The Tribune.
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THE 125th BIG GAME on Saturday at Memorial Stadium "is going to be a battle," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "Two years ago, our seniors were able to hold that Axe. They know what it feels like. Before they leave this campus, we'd love to get that Axe back for them."
The Big Game is bigger than the game itself, Shaw said.
"I think about all those people who have coached and played in these games," he said. "So many great players, so many great moments. You have some reverence for this game, and the appropriate attention that it gets in the Bay Area. A lot of alums, a lot of pride on the line, a lot of bragging rights."
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STANFORD PLAYS FOR two trophies every year in their rivalry games. The Legends Trophy goes to the Stanford-Notre Dame winner. The Cardinal beat the Irish, 16-14, at Notre Dame on Oct. 15. The winner of Saturday's Big Game in Berkeley, of course, gets the Axe.
The last time Stanford beat Notre Dame and Cal in the same season and claimed both trophies was 2017 during a 9-5 season.
Cameron Scarlett in Stanford's 17-14 win over California in the 120th Big Game. Photo by David Bernal, ISIPhotos.com.
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IN THE MIDST of a 3-7 season, Cal fired its offensive coordinator and offensive line coach on Sunday. The change can affect Stanford's defensive game-planning.
"We just don't know" what to expect, Shaw said. "You don't know what's going to get emphasized, whether it's by the coordinator, the playcaller, or the head coach. You don't know what the different approach is going to be, or what the run-pass ratio is going to be, or what the tendencies are.
"That makes it difficult. At the same time, when there's a change like this, it's also a little bit freeing because you can't do the endless 'if-then' statements. You have to focus on yourselves, your rules and your calls, and making sure you're sound against whatever you see.
"We can see their personnel on the film and know they're not going to have a completely different offense in a week, but different things may be emphasized as opposed to just playing percentages of just run-pass or situational football. You focus on the things that we can do, that we want to do for our own personnel."
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AN UNDERRATED PART of quarterback Tanner McKee's game is his mobility. He would not be put in the 'athletic quarterback' category, but Stanford often uses a moving pocket with McKee and he has some good runs after the protection breaks down. He also scored the Cardinal's only touchdown against Utah, on a sneak.
On one play against Utah, McKee avoided a rusher coming from the edge and while slightly off-balance, flicked the ball downfield to Elijah Higgins for a 51-yard gain.
Though not as extreme as Andrew Luck's 44-yard pass to Doug Baldwin in a 2010 game at Arizona State as the quarterback was falling to the ground, it was reminiscent in that the throw showed how gifted McKee is.
"Tanner does have athletic ability and as much as anything, he's got a very quick release," Shaw said. "He doesn't need a lot of room, doesn't need to wind up to get the ball out. He can get the ball out with people around him."
Tanner Mckee showcasing his quick release against Oregon State, Oct. 15, 2022. Photo by Karen Ambrose Hickey, ISIPhotos.com.
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ASKED ABOUT CAL players in the past who caused the most trouble, Shaw named two in particular – quarterback Chase Garbers and inside linebacker Evan Weaver.
Garbers, (the quarterback for current Cardinal receiver John Humphreys at Corona del Mar High) beat Stanford, 24-20, in 2019 with a 16-yard scoring scramble with 1:19 remaining.
Weaver was so impressive in that game, even breaking up a possible winning touchdown pass to tight end Colby Parkinson, that Shaw waited outside the Cal locker room to shake the player's hand.
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A YOUNG DEFENSIVE line was a question mark this year. With two games left, Shaw summarized the group's season as "solid."
"We've improved," Shaw said. "They gained a lot of experience, even through some tough situations. Their play would be more enhanced over the last month if the inside linebackers were healthy, because they all play together, with gap responsibility and taking on double teams so a linebacker can make the play."
Shaw praised junior Tobin Phillips, and the group will have the benefit of edge Stephen Herron back for a fifth season.
"All those guys are coming back and I expect them to have great off-seasons and get better next year," Shaw said.
True freshmen David Bailey and Jaxson Moi already have become vital parts of that line, and classmate Tevarua Tafiti, who is redshirting, figures to be impactful as well.
"The first thing I love about all of them is they want to learn," Herron said. "They're always asking me questions. Their enthusiasm to learn the game, to fix mistakes … The best thing they brought is the ability to want to be coached.
"I'm really excited about what they do well, which is getting off blocks and making big plays. I'm really excited to see what all three of them can do. All these young men are really figuring out how to assess a game quickly and how to take it over. They're going to be some big players for Stanford in the future."
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THE LAST TIME Stanford lost in Berkeley was in 2008, by a 37-16 score. The Cardinal has won six consecutive games at Memorial Stadium.
Stanford celebrates with the Axe after a 48-14 Stanford victory over the University of California, Berkeley, at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California, November 10, 2010. Photo by ISIPhotos.com.
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GOING BACK TO 1991 when Cal receiver Brian Treggs claimed he would move to Palo Alto if Cal lost (it did, he didn't), and considering pre-game skirmishes, such as in 2010, sometimes the Stanford-Cal rivalry can get heated.
But over the past decade, the extracurriculars have largely subsided.
"We compete against each other like crazy," Shaw said of facing Justin Wilcox's Bears. "We want each other to compete really hard between the lines. But we also want it to be fair and physical. We want this game to be an example of how you play a rivalry game with energy, passion, and emotion, but without the extra things that cause a negative light to be put on individuals or either program.
"What you've seen the last couple of years … Yes, there have been crazy games, difficult finishes, great finishes. But what you've also seen is when the game's over is two teams shaking hands with a lot of respect."
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CARD CORNERBACK Kyu Blu Kelly is "the best corner in our conference," Shaw said. "Kyu has affected pretty much every game he's played this year. When teams have gone after him, he's gotten pass breakups and made it difficult. For the most part, the balls are getting funneled other places.
"If we can know that the ball's not going over there, we can favor other things, and help other guys going away from Kyu. That's how Jonathon McGill got an interception late in the Utah game.
"Kyu Kelly is one of the best corners in America. It's tough to pitch a shutout, but he's played great, and he'll continue to play great. He's going to play great at the next level."
Kyu Blu Kelly forces an incomplete pass against Washington State. Photo by Bob Drebin, ISIPhotos.com.