When Joe Theismann changed the pronunciation of his name but didn't win the award that rhymed with it, he still had a postseason prize. His Notre Dame side reached the 1971 Cotton Bowl for the school's first bowl since The Four Horsemen faced Ernie Nevers.
Out west on New Year's Day 40 years ago this week, would you believe one side didn't want to be there?
"The workload was such that we didn't want to go through that again," said former Ohio State defensive back Tim Anderson, years later explaining his team's sluggish play against Stanford in the 1971 Rose Bowl. "Actually we voted we didn't want to go as seniors, but we were talked into it."
Not that No. 12 Stanford (8-3) embraced everything about preparing for the unbeaten and second-ranked Buckeyes. Head coach John Ralston ran two-a-day practices leading up to the Rose Bowl, but only until captains Jim Plunkett and Jack Schultz asked him to stop.
Ohio State aimed for its second national championship in three years. The Bucks had captured their last four Rose Bowls dating back to a loss in 1921. They'd suffered one defeat in three years, thriving behind their vaunted power run game. And facing fourth-and-inches at the Stanford 20 as the fourth quarter began, the Buckeyes held a 17-13 lead before turning to their usual methods.
That's when one sequence proved which team had the greater resolve. Into the line went John Brockington. There to meet him square was Indians linebacker Ron Kadziel, who stopped the Buckeye fullback for no gain.
"I guess you'd have to call that the big play," John Ralston told reporters afterwards.
Said coaching counterpart Woody Hayes: "When we were stopped there, that had to be the turning point."
Great players pounce on their opportunities, and Plunkett seized the chance to capitalize. He went up the middle on a quarterback draw for 10 yards before completing four straight passes. Facing third-and-15 at the Ohio State 37, he sent tight end Bob Moore down field instead of keeping him for pass protection. The Buckeyes responded with a heavy rush.
Plunkett rolled right and looked for Randy Vataha, who was covered. He lofted a deep ball down the middle for Moore, who came down with the low-percentage pass – a "mad dog pass" was how a dejected Hayes described it – at the two. It was Stanford's longest completion of the game, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
Three plays later, tailback Jackie Brown scored from a yard out to give the Indians a 20-17 lead. Ohio State, which ran for 364 yards on the day, proved unable to mount a comeback. Schultz intercepted Rex Kern's third-and-12 attempt at the Buckeye 25. Plunkett would fire a 10-yard dart over the middle to Vataha in the end zone for the clinching touchdown.
Stanford won because it overcame losing two fumbles (Ohio State lost none). Stanford won because of the crafty Plunkett, who threw for 265 yards and constantly audibled into and out of plays. With Notre Dame beating top-ranked Texas earlier in the day in the Cotton Bowl, a Buckeye win would have secured another national title. But motivation defeated pure talent.
Dec. 31, 1978: Stanford 25, Georgia 22
Once upon a time, talk of college football's bowl season being inflated beyond belief seemed appropriate. The established Bluebonnet Bowl had just folded after 28 years in existence, swallowed by six figures of debt and an inability to find a sponsor.
The year was 1988. There were 18 bowl games.
While the Bluebonnet Bowl didn't survive to exist in today's postseason glut, This Week in Stanford History feels it deserves some props. In each of its last 20 years of existence, the contest featured a ranked opponent – how many of today's bowls can say that? The Houston Astrodome hosted one of Stanford football's all-time best postseason moments this week in 1978, when the 7-4 Cardinals roared back against 9-1-1 Georgia in the 20th Bluebonnet Bowl.
Facing a 22-0 third-quarter deficit, Stanford's star power overpowered the nation's 11th-ranked team. NCAA passing leader Steve Dils threw for 210 yards and completed three touchdown passes, two to Ken Margerum. All-American linebacker Gordy Ceresino made 20 tackles and led a defense that recovered four Bulldog fumbles.
The biggest Georgia miscue occurred just after Stanford got on the board with a 32-yard strike hauled in by Margerum. The two-point conversion failed and the Cards now trailed 22-6. On the Bulldogs' ensuing possession, SEC player of the year Willie McClendon took the handoff and was promptly decked by Ceresino, jarring the ball loose.
Stanford recovered and was in the end zone two plays later, on a 20-yard pass from Dils to Darrin Nelson. A little trickery brought the Cards to 22-14, as Ken Naber took a pitch on the PAT attempt and took it in for the two-point conversion. The Wonderdogs – so nicknamed by Georgia fans for winning four games by two points or less – had yet another nail-biter on their paws.
Georgia's next drive stalled. After the punt, Dils and Margerum connected for a 14-yard touchdown pass. Another try for two points resulted in another conversion, with Nelson catching the pass from Dils to knot the game at 22-22.
It stayed that way going into the fourth quarter, when Naber – following yet another Bulldog fumble – booted a 24-yard field goal to put Stanford ahead to stay. The Cards had piled up 25 unanswered points in the span of six and a half minutes.
As rumors swirl about Jim Harbaugh's coaching future at Stanford, it's worth noting that Bill Walsh had already tentatively agreed to take the 49ers head coaching a job by the time this game kicked off. Walsh added his name to list of Bluebonnet Bowl notables that includes Earl Campbell, Ted Hendricks, Bob Lilly and Lawrence Taylor. The game, like the Astros' old rainbow uniforms, has faded into memory, but there's always time to reminisce.
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