Thirty years ago today, I was here in Dallas, covering the Arkansas–SMU game for the newspaper for which I was working. I was only a few months removed from college, and covering a big football game like that at Texas Stadium was a huge deal for me.
That weekend, I stayed with my parents, who were planning to attend the game with some friends. And, because I was about to observe my birthday later that week, we had to do birthday type stuff during that visit, too — like eating cake.
My point is that there was a lot going on that day — and I completely missed seeing the biggest moment of the day until several hours after it happened.
When I saw it, though, I knew it was one of those clips that would live forever in the sports world.
I am talking about "The Play" — the multilateral kickoff return on the final play of the 1982 California–Stanford game. For more than a century now, that Bay area grudge match has been called the "Big Game," but it may never have been bigger or had a bigger finish that it did 30 years ago today.
Call it the "Big Play."
John Elway had already led Stanford down the field for the field goal that appeared to put Stanford in front for good, 20–19. Eight seconds remained on the clock, and Cal's announcer cryptically told his listeners, "Only a miracle can save the Bears now."
And a miracle is precisely what happened.
Stanford squibkicked the ball. After a lot of scrambling and at least four laterals, Kevin Moen took the ball into the end zone for the winning score, dodging members of the Stanford band who had been prematurely celebrating.
He couldn't dodge the trombone player, though. (Last month, Kelli Anderson shared her memories of being in Stanford's band that afternoon with SI.com's readers.)
Most of the people I have heard speak about fantastic finishes and the history of the Stanford–Cal game seem to agree that "The Play" was the most memorable of them all.
And it may have been.
It was certainly the most costly for Elway. It always seemed likely to me that "The Play" cost Elway the Heisman Trophy less than a month later to Georgia's Herschel Walker. Being a senior, he never had another chance to win it.
"The Play" also cost him what would have been the only bowl bid of his collegiate career; nevertheless, he was taken first by Baltimore in the draft, then traded to Denver, where Elway eventually led the Broncos to five Super Bowls — and two Super Bowl titles.
If most think "The Play" was one of the most exciting finishes ever in college football, then there are some, writes Vytas Mazeika in the San Jose Mercury News, who don't even think it is one of the top finishes in the history of the "Big Game."
But the Big Play was still big.