Top 10 Finishes in College Football History

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The Play

Stanford at California, Nov. 20, 1982

The Setup: The rivalry between Cal and Stanford is known as the Big Game, and in 1982 the 85th such meeting ended up being the most memorable of them all. Neither team was particularly great that year, but John Elway's Stanford Cardinal had beaten highly ranked Washington and Ohio State and needed a win to claim a bowl berth. 

The Finish: Elway, who would later earn fame for comeback wins as an NFL quarterback, led the Cardinal into field-goal range (including a 29-yard completion on 4th-and-17), trailing 19-17. As instructed, Elway called timeout with 8 seconds left so Stanford could attempt a second field goal if it drew a penalty on the first. Kicker Mark Harmon hit the 35-yarder and the Cardinal celebrated what seemed to be their 20-19 win. There was still time on the clock, however, and Stanford was flagged for a 15-yard celebration penalty applied to the ensuing kickoff.

Stanford then kicked from its own 25, squibbing it to the shorthanded Bears, who by mistake only had 10 players on the field. Cal's Kevin Moen fielded the kick and after not gaining much ground lateraled to Richard Rodgers, who in turn lateraled to Dwight Garner, which was where things got crazy.

In the process of being tackled, Garner pitched the ball back to Rodgers. Stanford's sideline thought Garner had in fact been down, and began celebrating. The Stanford Band, waiting behind the south end zone, flooded the field even as the play continued. Rodgers pitched the ball to Mariet Ford, who now had to avoid not only 11 Stanford players but 144 band members to get to the end zone. Ford got as far as the Stanford 27 before throwing the ball over his shoulder as he was swarmed by Cardinal players.

Moen caught Ford's lateral and ran straight into the end zone, famously running over a trombone player. Cal celebrated and the officials conferred, eventually ruling the play a touchdown. There was controversy over whether all of the laterals were legal, and whether or not Garner had been down before his lateral to Rodgers, but no referee had blown a whistle on what became known as The Play. Referee Charles Moffett stated later, however, that Cal would likely have been awarded a touchdown based on Stanford's illegal interference anyway.

Final Score: California 25, Stanford 20

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