Stanford Football: Big Game

Video: Previewing Stanford-Cal

November, 19, 2011

Kevin Gemmell previews The Big Game from Stanford Stadium.
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."

Big Game means plenty to Cal

November, 17, 2011
California's Sean Cattouse is a good safety. A sure tackler. An NFL prospect. And you already know where this is going, right?

Cattouse was cast as the part of roadkill for one of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck's most replayed highlights -- his 58-yard scramble in last year's Big Game blowout of the Bears. "Roadkill" is not a role any football player wants.

"A lot of jokes. It's all fun and games," Cattouse said when asked -- again and again -- this week about the play. "I'm just more sickened with myself with how I went about trying to tackle him. It looked like nothing I've done before."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAndrew Luck and the Cardinal won back the Axe after beating Cal 48-14 last season.
How much do you think Cattouse enjoys hearing about that play? How much do you think he wants a rematch with Luck, one on one? And how much do you think all the Cal players enjoy hearing about how super-awesome Luck and the Cardinal are?

The Big Game is always a big game. It's a rivalry game between elite schools that like to tout how they are more elite really than the other.

And it means plenty to Cal.

For one, they'd get the Axe back. While the Bears have split the last four Big Games, they have won seven of nine under coach Jeff Tedford.

Tedford is another issue. While he's been successful against the Bears' biggest rival -- Stanford was riding its longest winning streak in the series with seven consecutive Big Game victories from 1995-2001 when he arrived in Berkeley -- there is considerable fan frustration with his program's inconsistency over the past few years. A win over a highly ranked Stanford team would mute that, at least in the short term.

Further, Cal is playing for its own stakes. If it beats the Cardinal, it improves to 7-4 and moves up in the pecking order with bowl selections.

That said, there are unintended consequences of playing the spoiler. It would cost the Pac-12 about $6 million because Stanford wouldn't be the pick for an at-large BCS bowl berth. And then the Cardinal likely would end up in the Alamo Bowl, which would knock every other bowl-eligible team down a notch.

"It's not about spoiling anything for them," Cal quarterback Zach Maynard said. "It's a huge rivalry game for us."

Cal also has a strong history of upsets in the series, particularly when the Cardinal boasts a celebrated quarterback.

The Bears beat John Elway twice, producing the greatest play in college football history -- "The Play," in fact -- to do so in 1982. They knocked off Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett in 1970. And, of course, they upset Luck in 2009, 34-28, with Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed grabbing an interception in the waning moments with Stanford on the Bears' 3-yard line.

That, in fact, was one of the worst games of Luck's career. He was 10-of-30 for 157 yards with no touchdowns.

Before that game, Tedford repeatedly tweaked his players with how the media and fans believed then-No. 14 Stanford and running back Toby Gerhart were too physical for the Bears. In response, Cal's Shane Vereen rushed for 193 yards on 42 carries with three touchdowns and outplayed Gerhart.

It was a successful motivational angle that Tedford might revisit. Young people often seem to respond well to the underdog, no-respect role.

"Those are always motivational pieces," Tedford said. "We have a great deal of respect for them. Their accolades -- they are worthy of them."

Still, in the end, all rivalry games are like this. There are Cal men and Stanford men. Blues and Cardinal. And when they meet -- their own and the other -- they will remember who won, and when and how it went down.

Said Cattouse, "It's a big game every year. Every year we want to win it."


Drive Through: Top Early Games of the Season
Highlighted by the top ten matchup between Oregon and Michigan State in week two, Chris Low and Cary Chow look at the best of the best games to start the college football season.


Thursday, 8/28
Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30