Paye totaled 295 yards and two touchdowns through the air, peppering the Illini on 19 completions in 33 attempts. Making its home debut following a 1-10 season, the Cardinal never trailed against a foe that entered that January's Rose Bowl 10-1 and No. 4 in the country. Stanford (1-1) moved to .500 after losing 19-7 at Oklahoma.
A supporting cast of future NFL starters among did its part as well. Linebacker Dave Wyman made a key second-half interception of Jack Trudeau. Tight end Greg Baty hauled in a 35-yard reception to set up an early touchdown. When Kaulana Park bobbled a Paye bullet near the goal line, senior wide receiver Emile Harry scooped up the tipped ball in paydirt for one of his two touchdown grabs.
Stanford spent the day "dominating both sides of the scrimmage line," according the Sacramento Bee. In watching the spoiled homecoming of former Stanford assistant and then-Illinois head coach Mike White, the nearly 44,000 in attendance had the "opportunity to cast dirt upon the memory of last season's 1-10 record."
Two years earlier, a pair of locals with Cardinal connections emerged as possible Elway successors. Paye, son of a former Stanford player and a star at tiny Menlo School, put up numbers still found in California high school record books. The son of a Stanford assistant, Jim Harbaugh aired it out for the Palo Alto High Vikings.
Harbaugh of course starred at Michigan, leading the Wolverines to Fiesta and Rose Bowls. Paye lacked the supporting cast Harbaugh did in Ann Arbor, but credit him with keeping Stanford's quarterback tradition alive during those inconsistent '80s days. He totaled 7,669 career yards through the air, good for fourth all-time in the Cardinal record book.
An injury hampered Paye in 1984, one of the more treacherous seasons in Pac-10 history for quarterbacks. He broke a finger against Arizona State in late September, missing all of five games and most of another. Steve Bono, Sean Salisbury and Jeff Van Raaphorst also fell by the wayside due to various ailments. Alfred Jenkins of Arizona led the conference with a whopping 2,202 passing yards. In Paye's place, Fred Buckley threw 17 interceptions.
On the other side, White groomed the Illini in his own tanned, West Coast image. Livermore-bred Trudeau followed the lineage of fellow California preps Dave Wilson and Tony Eason. However, the 1983 success soon turned into a Champaign hangover once New Year's occurred.
Illini players were invited to the Playboy Mansion in the days leading up to the Rose Bowl (their UCLA counterparts were not). The sluggish Midwesterners then embarrassed themselves, Hugh Hefner and every other Illinois alum in being throttled 45-9 by the underdog Bruins. In the ensuing offseason, the program was put on probation after being found guilty of 70 NCAA rules violations. The Illini were ineligible for postseason play in 1984.
The Cardinal reverted to their 1983 selves on the first play from scrimmage, with fullback Brian Morris fumbling and the visitors recovering. Chris White's field goal made it 3-0 for the Illini. From the sidelines watched redshirt freshman running back Brad Muster, still a week away from his first college carry.
Morris and sophomore Thomas Henley – not yet the fine wide receiver he'd become by career's end – helped the ground game gain 132 yards on the day. The Cardinal answered, leading 14-3 by the end of a quarter. Paye found Harry for a 12-yard touchdown. Henley, whose 151 receiving yards earned him Sports Illustrated player of the week honors, later turned a toss sweep from the Illinois 7 into a score.
Trudeau helped his club inch back. He hooked up with David Williams on a short touchdown pass. Stanford's 14-13 edge looked like it would remain until the break. Then luck smiled on the Cardinal with 55 seconds remaining in the half.
Dropping back from the 17, Paye aimed for Park near the goal line. The senior from Hawaii dove for, juggled, and then inadvertently flipped the pigskin towards the end zone. From the Cardinal Kids Club seats came a diving Harry, whose snare made for a 21-13 score.
"If that was a play we've practiced, I've never seen it before," Elway cracked between cigarette drags. "I've had plenty of those go the other way, so I figure I've got about 10 more coming."
Stanford actually got the ball back before the half, adding a field goal after moving to the Illini 39-year-line. Mark Harmon drilled the 57-yard attempt over the crossbar with a few paces to spare. It remains the longest field goal in the history of Stanford Stadium.
"The John Paye era," as Elway called it afterwards, had begun. Stanford finished a respectable 5-6 that season, including wins at UCLA and Cal. Within two years, the Cardinal were 8-3 with Paye at the helm and at the Gator Bowl, pushing the dog days of 1983 further into history.
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