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.


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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers


Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.


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George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final


George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues -- when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West -- to get to the final.

Vegas will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.

Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves.

Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa's point shot past Hellebuyck for his first goal of the playoffs.

Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn't muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets' attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.

The Jets pressed with under 4 minutes to go, with Fleury stopping captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.

The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, and knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games.

The Jets had the NHL's second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city's history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.

The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place -- not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon -- were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Tuch jumped on Morrissey's turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.

The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.

After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.

Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury's glove.

One of Winnipeg's downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets' goal in each of the first four games -- a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 -- but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.

Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.

Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career -- and first since 2015 with St. Louis -- Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.