Rivalry Revisited: 1993 Stanford vs. SJSU
Like a lot of you, I miss the multifaceted intrigue that once defined “Stanford vs. San Jose State”. The recent trends have turned this supposed football “rivalry” into everything a rivalry is not: A one-sided series, where neither team is good at the same time, a game that lacks memorable moments and is often played in front of swaths of empty seats, even in a downsized Stanford Stadium. That’s hardly Bill Walsh’s legacy.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Once upon a time, San Jose State inspired a sense of dread in the minds of Stanford players and fans. Consider that of the 11 meetings between 1981 to 1992, the Cardinal lost six times. Crowds in excess of 60,000+ were the norm. Stanford Stadium became an annual stage for class conflict in chinstraps: the state school underdogs seeking to embarrass the private school snobs.
And for anyone who was there in person, the September 11, 1993 contest remains one of the most exciting games ever played on The Farm. Years before fighting over who would become Steve Young’s heir for the San Francisco 49ers, quarterbacks Steve Stenstrom and Jeff Garcia staged a duel for the ages.
In a 31-28 victory for Stanford, Stenstrom completed 30 of 39 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns – yet was still overshadowed by his red-haired, freckle-faced counterpart. Garcia put together a virtuoso performance, generating 454 yards - 380 through the air on 23 completions, in addition to 74 rushing yards on 10 carries - of total offense. He tossed two touchdowns and ran for two more. Just two Spartan drives ended in punts (though the Cardinal forced a pair of fumbles and intercepted Garcia twice, miscues that ultimately decided the outcome).
For a pair of teams who finished the season with a combined five wins, their quarterbacks stole the show. Or as current San Francisco Chronicle scribe Ron Kroichick wrote in the Sacramento Bee. Garcia and Stenstrom were “oblivious to 11 players weakly fiddling with the concept of defense.”
“Garcia is just a great, spontaneous player,” Bill Walsh said afterwards. “I don’t think we’ll face a better quarterback all year. He almost did it single-handedly.”
Almost. It would be Stenstrom who marshaled the game-winning drive, firing the deciding touchdown pass to the man who would be coach. David Shaw’s 14-yard scoring reception had the Cardinal leading 31-28 with 1:43 remaining, the culmination of a 67-yard march. Shaw earlier had snagged a 51-yard touchdown from the Cardinal’s all-time leading passer. They could only hope to contain #84!
Yet back came San Jose State, which was in business at the Cardinal 37-yard-line by the 1:07 mark. Garcia dropped back and aimed for receiver Ronnie Scott, a late substitution who hadn’t caught a pass all game. The ball slipped through his hands – and into the grasp of senior cornerback Vaughn Bryant, one of the Cardinal defense’s few holdovers from the Blockbuster Bowl-winning season of 1992.
The two sides combined for 1,041 yards of total offense. San Jose State, with tailback Nathan DuPree and wide receiver Brian Lundy doing much of the damage, gaining 593 of those combined. But the Cardinal, with the always reliable Justin Armour hauling in nine catches for 103 yards, overcame a 28-21 fourth-quarter deficit.
“I don’t see what more we can do to pull out a victory,” a clearly dejected Garcia told reporters.
Lundy took it a few steps further: “This loss hurts…because it’s Stanford. There’s really no love between these two teams.”
Here’s hoping for a happy return of that mutual, good-natured hatred.
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