The Big Game: A history of unpredictability

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
8:39
PM ET
In looking for a historical perspective on the Big Game -- which will be played between Stanford and Cal for the 114th time on Saturday -- who better to ask than Jim Rutter -- archivist for Stanford athletics.

[+] EnlargeThe Play
AP File Photo/Carl VitiThe Stanford band goes wild on the field at the end of the California-Stanford game in 1982, thinking Stanford had won.
He's a fourth-generation Stanford graduate, and his mother, grandmother and great-grandfather are Cal grads.

"I've gone to almost every one since I was born and my freshman year at Stanford was 'The Play,' Rutter said. "I didn't talk to anyone for 24 hours."

He understands -- as do most people who grew up or live in the Bay Area -- what this rivalry is all about.

"This isn't LSU or Alabama where they are both Top 5 every time they run into each other, or Oklahoma and Nebraska in the old days," Rutter said. "It's not like that. But at the same time, the rivalry itself is pretty unique. These two schools are not neighboring states. They are in the same community basically if you look at the Bay Area. You have a unique interaction of the alumni working together, living next door to each other. How often do you have two conference schools that are less than an hour away -- maybe USC and UCLA -- and they have a great rivalry, too. Other than that, it's pretty unique."

Here's a look at some of the best games in the history of the series, and a little insight from Rutter.

  • 1924: Might be considered the best of them all -- a 20-20 tie. Stanford scored on a last-second touchdown by Murray Cuddeback. The tie was Stanford's only blemish on the year until they went to the Rose Bowl and lost to Notre Dame 27-10.

"If you talk to the real old-timers, they will say that was the best one," Rutter said.

  • 1947: That was a tough year for head coach Marchmont Schwartz and the boys -- finishing 0-9. But the 50th Big Game almost turned out to be one of the biggest upsets in the history of the series. It's sometimes dubbed "The Plea," because Cal's Paul Keckley hadn't played the entire game with a shoulder injury. He begged coach Pappy Waldorf to go in during the final minutes with Stanford leading 18-14. Keckley caught an 80-yard touchdown from Jackie Jensen and Cal won 21-18.

"It came down to a wobbling duck," Rutter says. "Paul Keckley and Jackie Jensen saved Cal's [butt] because Stanford was like a 10-1 underdog."

  • 1982: The Play. Enough said.
  • 1990: Known as "The Revenge" John Hopkins connected on a 39-yard field goal as time expired, leading Stanford to a 27-25 win. But it was the series of events that led up to the field goal that were so dramatic. Jason Palumbis hit Ed McCaffrey for a touchdown with 12 seconds left, but Stanford missed the two-point conversion and trailed 25-24. Cal fans stormed the field, which led to a 15-yard penalty on the kickoff -- and Stanford recovered the onside kick. A questionable (depending which colors you wear) roughing the passer call turned a 54-yard field goal into a 39-yard field goal which Hopkins nailed to close out the game.

"There were a lot of unusual things in that one," Rutter said. "Tremendous back-and-forth and it came down to a phenomenal exchange at the end. For some, it healed some of those wounds from The Play."

And then there are a couple of notable upsets:

Riding a 9-0 start in 1951, Stanford had locked up the Rose Bowl, but lost to Cal 20-7. Again in 1970, Stanford had clinched its Rose Bowl berth and then lost to Cal in the season finale, 22-14.

"You don't ever want to get a big head going into this game," Rutter said. "In fact, I'd probably be more scared if Stanford had beaten Oregon (last week). It seems like that's always the perfect time for Cal to get up and bite."

As the saying goes with the Big Game, anything can happen, and usually does.

"That's what makes this game so exciting," Rutter said. "You don't know what is going to happen."

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