No. 22 Stanford, Cal meet 30 years after The Play

No. 22 Stanford, Cal meet 30 years after The Play

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) California tight end Richard Rodgers never heard of The Play for most of his childhood, even though he was raised by one of its masterminds.

Growing up in Massachusetts, he had watched the television replays of the five increasingly improbable laterals that led to the winning touchdown on the last-second kickoff return into a band-blocked end zone, with Cal's Kevin Moen flattening a Stanford trombone player to punctuate one of the most iconic moments in college football history.

Not until about fifth grade did Rodgers recognize a particular player involved.

``Seeing it on TV all those times and then actually realizing that it was my dad, that's basically when I knew,'' said Rodgers, whose father, Richard Rodgers Sr., tossed two of the laterals that stunned Stanford 25-20 in the 1982 Big Game. ``Now we laugh about it and joke with my dad about it. It's pretty cool.''

Thirty years since those famous - or infamous, depending on which side of San Francisco Bay one belongs - laterals lifted the long running rivalry into the national spotlight, the 115th Big Game at remodeled Memorial Stadium on Saturday will be a chance for the next generation of players to make their own memories.

After all, most of them have little ties to The Play - and none were even born yet.

Stanford (4-2, 2-1) is trying to stay in contention for the Pac-12 North Division title and rebound from a devastating defeat in overtime at Notre Dame, while California (3-4, 2-2) is looking to stop a two-game losing streak to the Cardinal and move a win closer to bowl eligibility after a slow start this season.

The Play? Well, it's just another scintillating subplot now.

``I remember when I first started getting recruited by Cal, I was like, `Oh, this is where The Play happened,''' said Golden Bears center Brian Schwenke, who grew up in Hawaii and Southern California and also was recruited by Stanford. ``I knew The Play, really, before I knew Cal.''

This week has been more of a history lesson than reliving the past for present players on both sides.

Rodgers, whose father is now an assistant special teams coach for the Carolina Panthers, didn't even know until last year who Joe Starkey was. The broadcaster's famous, frenetic call - ``Oh, the band is out on the field!'' - might be more synonymous with The Play than anybody actually involved.

After a game last year at San Francisco's AT&T Park, where the Bears played during Memorial Stadium's renovation, Rodgers' mother told him that anybody on the street in the Bay Area would know Starkey's name. So she pulled the car over and had him ask a stranger to prove the point.

``The person I asked was Joe Starkey,'' Rodgers said, laughing. ``That was pretty crazy.''

One's perspective on The Play really depends on where his or her allegiances lie.

Most Stanford sympathizers still wonder whether The Play should have been blown dead at least twice, either on what looks like an early tackle or a late forward lateral. Those in Berkeley bristle at that notion and believe Stanford fans are bitter that they spoiled John Elway's final game and maybe even cost him the Heisman Trophy won by Georgia's Herschel Walker.

The contentiousness is so strong that depending on which team holds the Stanford Axe, which goes to the winner, the score of the 1982 game is changed.

``There's a significant portion of those of us here at Stanford that just don't believe that play should have continued,'' Cardinal coach David Shaw said. ``That's never going to change, and I think that only adds to the lore of that play.''

Asked for his response this week, Cal coach Jeff Tedford said: ``Of course it was a legal touchdown. What kind of question is that?''

Tedford's ties to The Play run on both sides.

In the summer of 1979, he played quarterback opposite Elway - and with Moen - in the North-South Shrine Game at the Rose Bowl, joking, ``I was just happy to be there.'' Then Tedford's Fresno State team played UNLV on Nov. 20, 1982, and he was excited to learn later that night that Moen scored Cal's winning touchdown.

``At the time, you didn't know what kind of impact or history it would make,'' Tedford said. ``It's probably the most famous play in football history.''

While The Play has become the single largest part of the Big Game's hefty history, it's hardly the only memory of a rivalry that dates back to 1892 - when future President Herbert Hoover was Stanford's team manager.

Shaw's favorite Big Game moment came watching from the Stanford sideline as a true freshman in 1990, when Ed McCaffrey caught a 19-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds left. Stanford went for the winning two-point conversion but missed, leaving Cal ahead 25-24.

Cal fans rushed the field but referees called a 15-yard delay of game penalty because time still remained. Stanford recovered the ensuing onside kick, and somehow in the scrum kicker John Hopkins' practice net on the sideline had been taken away.

``He just shrugs his shoulders and starts putting balls down and just starts to nail them into the stands,'' Shaw said. ``Here I am this freshman. I was in absolute disbelief.''

Hopkins kicked a 39-yard field goal to give Stanford a 27-25 win in what many consider the second greatest Big Game ending - or perhaps the best for those in Cardinal colors.

Tedford considers his best Big Game memory his first as Cal's co/ach in 2002.

The Bears stopped Stanford's record seven-game winning streak in the series with a 30-7 rout. Players carried quarterback Kyle Boller off the field, fans tore down the goal posts and students publicly paraded the Stanford Axe around campus all week. Even now, the photos of that game line Cal's football offices.

``It was a great environment,'' Tedford said. ``I think that will be a memory of the Big Game and the Memorial Stadium environment that was really special.''

This week might take a special ending for anybody to remember.

Stanford, which has yet to score an offensive touchdown in two road losses, is hardly the force it was a year ago behind Andrew Luck and three others drafted in the top 42 picks. Cal looked awful at times in losses to Nevada and Utah, but then nearly pulled off an upset at Ohio State and has started to find its rhythm in back-to-back wins against UCLA and Washington State.

In what is the earliest Big Game since the inaugural edition played in March because of the expanded Pac-12's squeezed schedule, an October surprise seems unlikely. Then again, as those involved always say, the Bay Area rivalry has produced some unexpected moments many times before.

``All the tradition and all the history and all that is really important. Most of the guys understand that, what the Big Game is all about,'' Tedford said. ``Every year, there's always a history lesson that goes into the Big Game.''

Maybe this year more than most.


Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick and the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:


Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 7 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Another test

The Wizards continue their difficult stretch coming out of the All-Star break against a very dangerous Sixers team. Philly has proven to be very streaky this season, but right now they are rolling. They come to Washington having won their last seven games dating back to Feb. 6 when they beat the Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. The Wizards are also playing well, having won eight of their last 11, despite their loss to the Hornets on Friday.

The Sixers are currently seventh in the East and appear on track to make the playoffs. If they keep rising the standings, they could meet the Wizards, who are currently fourth, in the first round. 


Season series

Speaking of the playoffs, this game could end up looming large for postseason seeding. The Sixers have won two of the three matchups between these teams this year. If they win on Sunday, they will take the season series and own the tiebreaker over Washington.

If the two teams tie head-to-head and end up with the same record at the end of the season, it will then come down to conference record. The Sixers currently have a better record against East teams than the Wizards. But if they can beat Philly this time, the Wizards will have a chance to secure the conference tiebreaker down the stretch of this season.


Sixers are tough to guard

The Wizards have found out the hard way this season just how difficult it can be to match up with the Sixers, who are led by two emerging stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid is 7-foot-1 with rare abilities to stretch the floor and beat opponents off the dribble. Simmons is 6-foot-10, yet can lead the fastbreak with rare speed and vision to find his teammates with crisp passes.

The mobility for their size is almost unmatched and it has not been easy for the Wizards to answer. In their last meeting earlier this month, Simmons had 15 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. Embiid had 27 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The Wizards have to try to limit those guys while also dealing with other challenges like Robert Covington, Dario Saric and J.J. Reddick.


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Need to Know: Five Redskins who must step up in 2018

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Need to Know: Five Redskins who must step up in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 25, 17 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

Five Redskins who will have to step up in 2018

Originally published 12/26/17

WR Josh Doctson—This list is in no particular order but if it was, Doctson would be right here at the top. The watchword for Doctson is consistency. He makes some incredible catches and then there are throws that he drops or doesn’t quite seem to make enough of an effort to catch. There is promise there. The first-round pick has shown his ability and his teammates say he has a chance to be elite. But the potential must translate into production on the field, week in and week out.  

RB Samaje Perine—There is plenty of chatter about the Redskins’ need to sign or draft a top running back. But a look at this team’s recent history tells us that they are unlikely to invest major assets in the position. That means that Perine, a fourth-round pick in 2017, will have to become a more consistent runner. It’s not all his fault that he hasn’t done much since he had back-to-back 100-yard games in Weeks 11-12; tough defense, offensive line issues, and game score situations have slowed his production. But he needs to be consistently productive in 2018 no matter who he lines up against.

CB Josh Norman—Unless he gets a pick against the Giants, he will go through the year without any interceptions. Sure, they don’t throw his way all that often and INT’s don’t give you the complete picture of his play. But a CB taking up $20 million in cap room needs to get a couple of picks almost by sheer accident. Norman battled some injury problems and if he wants to justify the final two years and $23 million of salary remaining on his contract, his age 30 2018 season needs to be more impactful.

OLB Preston Smith—The third-year player started strong, with at least half a sack in the first five games. And he’s finishing strong, with three sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble in the last two games. But in between, he had a total of just half a sack in eight games. This follows the pattern he displayed his first two years in the league of being dominant in some games and invisible in others. If he can develop some consistency in his 2018 contract year, he could cash in huge in free agency the following year.

Head coach Jay Gruden—Normally I only include players on lists like this one but if Gruden doesn’t do something to get the Redskins out of their near-.500 rut then nothing else will matter. He needs to change up something, whether it’s pushing the players hard in training camp or perhaps fine tuning his friendly approach to the players. Sure, better luck regarding injuries and a schedule that right now appears to be a bit less challenging will help. But Gruden needs to look at what he can change, too.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 4
—NFL Draft (4/26) 60
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 196