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:

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NFC East Update: Division race tightens as Redskins stumble, Cowboys surge

USA Today Sports

NFC East Update: Division race tightens as Redskins stumble, Cowboys surge

When the sun came up Sunday morning, the Redskins held a two-game lead in the NFC East and looked to have a clear route to a division title. 

By the time the sun went down, a lot changed. 

Washington lost at home in a crazy game to Houston, but big picture, the more important outcome was the broken leg for Alex Smith. The Redskins now turn to backup Colt McCoy, and while the Burgundy and Gold remain in first place, their lead shrunk.

  1. Washington Redskins (6-4, 2-0) - Talk about a roller coaster game. The Redskins got down early to the Texans, trailing 10-0 in the first quarter, but fought all the way back. In the process, the team lost Smith for the season, but McCoy played well when he entered the game. A veteran in Jay Gruden's system, McCoy should be able to step in and run the offense without any hesitation. Will that be enough? What isn't being talked about in Washington: a suddenly slumping run defense. A huge game looms Thursday against Ezekiel Elliott and a surging Cowboys squad. Up next: Nov. 22 @ Dallas, 4 p.m.
  2. Dallas Cowboys (5-5, 2-1) - It seemed like the Cowboys season was over a few weeks ago after a humbling home loss on Monday Night Football to the Titans. Two weeks later, the script has flipped. Dallas won their second straight game on Sunday, holding off a late Atlanta rally and winning the game on a last-second field goal. Elliott went for 201 total yards from scrimmage and the Cowboys young defense continued to make impressive plays. Jerry Jones' team struggles on the road, but at home, the Cowboys are 3-1 this season. Up next: Nov. 22 vs Washington, 4 p.m.
  3. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6, 1-1) - Fans waiting for the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles to get it together might want to stop waiting. Philly got boat raced in New Orleans on Sunday, losing 48-7 and dropping to two games below .500. Carson Wentz threw three INTs in New Orleans and really, while the QB was bad in the Superdome, it's hard to pin the Eagles' woes on any one thing. The offense hasn't been very good, and the defense hasn't either. Sitting just two games back of the 'Skins and one behind Dallas, don't count the Eagles out yet. But don't really count them in either. Up next: Nov. 25th vs New York Giants, 1 p.m.
  4. New York Giants (3-7, 0-3) - Don't look now but the Giants might be the hottest team in the division. Or at least not the coldest team in the division. The Giants won their second game in a row on Sunday, a nail-biting 38-35 victory over Tampa. New York got out to a big lead before the Bucs crept back in it, but powered by four combined TDs between Saquon Barkley and Eli Manning, the Giants did enough. Simple arithmetic suggests the Giants are closer to a Top 5 draft pick than a playoff run, but hey, they haven't been eliminated yet. Crazy things happen in this league. Up next: Nov. 25th @ Philadelphia, 1 p.m.



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Five observations from Wizards' 119-109 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, including Dwight Howard's injury

Five observations from Wizards' 119-109 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, including Dwight Howard's injury

The Washington Wizards lost to the Portland Trail Blazers 119-109 on Sunday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Not good: It just keeps getting worse. The Wizards have been playing a sleepy, uninspired brand of basketball in recent games and on Sunday they met a Blazers team that does just the opposite.

The result was probably predictable. Though the Wizards edged the Blazers last month in Portland, this time they lost a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score suggested. 

Portland led by as many as 29 points and the Wizards only cut that down late when head coach Scott Brooks emptied his bench. He brought in a host of young guys who were hungry and just happy to be playing like Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant. Hopefully the starters, who have been missing those qualities, were paying attention.

These teams are currently on two entirely different trajectories. The Blazers are trending up, while the Wizards, who have lost two straight, are sliding quickly.

Washington is now 5-11 on the season. That's worse than their mark at this point two years ago when they mounted the famous comeback.

Howard hurt again: Things were already going terribly for the Wizards when they got much worse. Dwight Howard, who was coming off a huge game against the Nets, left in the second quarter after aggravating his strained piriformis muscle injury. 

Howard, of course, missed the first seven games of the year with the injury, which has also been referred to as gluteal soreness. We knew he was still dealing with discomfort when he came back and it has never really gone away.

The injury affects his ability to run and jump. He can't even sit on the bench because of the pain. The fact it's bothering him enough to leave a game is a really bad sign.

Too many fouls: Just like last game, Howard found himself entangled in foul trouble and this time he got started earlier. By the midway point of the first quarter, he had two. By the 5:30 mark of the second quarter, he had three.

At least against the Nets on Friday, Howard was effective when he was on the floor. This time, he couldn't find a rhythm. His time on the court was basically a wash.

These two games show just how easy it is for Howard to rack up fouls and how much it hurts the Wizards when he gets in foul trouble. 

Horrid start: The Wizards have had some lifeless stretches this season, far too often for the talent they have on the roster. The way they began this game was them at their absolute worst.

They just couldn't keep up with the Blazers, who were zipping the ball around the court to find open shooters. Portland built a 20-point lead in the first quarter, 32-12, as they shot 7-for-9 from three. The seventh was a wide open look by C.J. McCollum.

That's C.J. McCollum, as in one of the best shooting guards in basketball. Somehow the Wizards completely lost him and paid for it. Those are the types of plays that are hard to excuse.

Bright spots: If there were any positives to draw from this game, it was the play of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tomas Satoransky. Neither shot the ball well, but their energy and effort were noticeable on a night when most of their teammates just didn't have it.

They were among the few Wizards players active on defense and closing out on the three-point line. They helped key a 13-0 run to end the first quarter and helped the team show some life in the second half when the game was already out of hand.

Oubre finished with 19 points, four assists, four rebounds, and three blocks. He was +14. Satoransky had 10 points, seven assists and was +22. If Brooks wants some more energy from his team, those two could provide it.