Rivalry Revisited – 1982: San Jose State 35, Stanford 31
September 18, 1982. A day that will live, unfortunately along with a number of other rueful days during the most decidedly downer decade of the 1980s, in Stanford Football infamy.
While not on the exact same calendar date, tonight's highly anticipated season-starting home opener against South Bay rival San Jose State, still properly being marketed as "The Bill Walsh Legacy Game", essentially represents the 30-year anniversary of one of the most entertaining, yet damaging season openers in Stanford Football history.
The Spartans did what you have to do to win most games, score more points than the opponent.
In front of 57,027 fans, a crowd that would exceed the capacity of the current stadium, but at the time left nearly 30,000 seats empty and tarp-less. The two teams combined for 788 yards passing! Elway's 385 was at the time the fourth-highest single-game passing total in school history. Vincent "The Love Bug" White, one of my personal all-time favorite Stanford players, would kick off a sensational senior season in which he would lead the entire nation in receiving by corralling nine passes for 152 yards and two TDs.
Stanford wasn't bad, but SJSU was a little bit better on that afternoon.
It certainly wasn't one of the program's "worst losses" (the brutal loss at ASU three weeks later on a Sun Devil score with 0:11 left would be worse), but it hurt, really hurt. It came in front of a CBS Sports %%MATCH_5%% regional broadcast. It came against a non-conference opponent the entire nation expects Stanford to be able to handle every year. The lost had season-impacting ramifications. It ended up allowing "The Play" Big Game at the end of the year (a fraudulent, criminal "non-loss" if there ever was one) to keep 5-6 Stanford out of a bowl game.
On the surface, Stanford senior All-American quarterback John Elway's performance against his own father Jack's San Jose State Spartans should have been more than enough: 24-36 for 385 yards with two TDs and no INTs. It would have been more than enough….. with the 2012 Cardinal defense! In 1982 almost every game was a rollercoaster. Stanford's offense always kept the Cardinal in a game and the Stanford defense, despite a few outstanding individual players, kept every opponent in those games, finishing deal last in the conference in rushing defense, passing defense, and total defense. Yikes.
As the '82 season kicked off, things at sunny Stanford Stadium got off to a rather foreboding start. Of course, chicanery was involved. It was a play indicative of an entertaining, but annoying surge by the always-crafty Spartans in the long-lopsided, but unpredictable rivalry. On the first San Jose possession, WR Tim Kearse (wearing of course, jersey #1), took a handoff from QB Steve Clarkson and on a fake reverse stopped, and launched an option bomb to fellow wide-out %%MATCH_6%%. The Stanford secondary was caught with their pants down and got summarily scorched. It gave ever-scrappy Sparta a mighty spark, which fanned into flames two minutes later when Clarkson found that same annoyingly athletic Kearse on a 53-yard score, right up the Cardinal's gridiron gut. 14-0 SJSU and LSJU was in big trouble early.
It was no surprise that Kearse would be a handful for the home team. As a junior in 1981, he was part of an embarrassing defeat handed to the Cardinal in a stunning 28-6 defeat that saw a gimpy John Elway endure his career-worst outing. Kearse caught eight balls for 78 yards and two second-half touchdowns. Sitting in the stands were thousands of Stanford fans doing their best Dean Woermer imitations ("I…. HATE that guy!") In the course of the ‘81 campaign, Kearse had produced a remarkable 71-catch, 946-yard season with seven touchdowns and was named first-team All-PCAA. In 1982 he would make first-team All-West Coast, partially because of his devastating performance in Palo Alto. Kearse was "legit" and would be drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 11th round of the 1983 NFL Draft.
He'd go on to play professional football, primarily in the Canadian Football League, where he later he would spend a number of years as receivers coach for the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders. He is a member of the San Jose State Hall of Fame.
Anyway…How much of a mismatch was Kearse that day 30 years ago? Think Devon Hester in Pop Warner. Think Usain Bolt in a 100-meter-sprint against a fifth-grader. Ok, that is probably a slight exaggeration - Think Usain Bolt in a 100-meter-sprint against a seventh-grader!
After leading his team to victory against Stanford in 1982. Kearse was named the Sports Illustrated‘s Player of the Week and, we are greatly pained to admit… deservedly so.
So, back to that game - Yes, the Sons of the South Bay™ got off to a great start. But a 0-14 was never that daunting with #7 around. Stanford fought back not once, but three times to regain the lead, but in the end, a late fumble by White would lead to San Jose's winning score.
There was a final shot in the closing minutes, still a chance of salvaging the contest, but Elway was sacked four straight times to end the last-possession attempt at a comeback. That may never have happened before – we don't have records. Ouch. Credit an inspired San Jose State defensive front that got after it. I hate to point a finger at the Stanford OL because a lot of those guys are friends of mine. It must have been a bad protection scheme (c'mon, OL coach Dick James, who got moved to recruiting coordinator for the next campaign) because those guys up front could play ball: C Mike Teeuws, OGs %%MATCH_8%% and Dennis Engel, OTs Jeff Deaton and Chris Rose. Heck, Rose was Second-Team All-Pac 10 in '82.
The next year, 1983 would be brutal without those fine fellas. 1-10. Ugghh. My own sophomore year on the Farm and it was frustrating to experience – sort of like 2006's 1-11, but with one satisfying upset of ranked %%MATCH_9%%. In '83, not a single Stanford player on the first or second-team all-conference on offense or defense and offensively, only WR Emile Harry on the second team.
It is part of why John Elway is not Jim Plunkett, hanging in the Chuck %%MATCH_7%% every weekend with a bevy of former teammates. No, you are right, the circumstances are totally different. It would be silly to compare personalities and experiences (and geography), but if Elway & Co. had gotten to a few bowl games, I guarantee there would be a lot more homecoming reunions for the Classes of 1979 through 1982.
But there is no question that the 1982 San Jose State game damaged us.
Had "Sir John" had a bit more support from the defense, Stanford would have won this game.
Had "Sir John" had a bit more support from the defense, Stanford would have won this game and had a winning season in 1982.
Had "Sir John" had a bit more support from the defense, Stanford would have won this game and had a winning season in 1982 and the team would have gone to a bowl game even after "The Play".
Had "Sir John" had a bit more support from the defense, Stanford would have won this game and had a winning season in 1982 and the team would have gone to a bowl game even after "The Play" and Paul Wiggin would have survived another year or two.
Had "Sir John" had a bit more support from the defense, Stanford would have won this game and had a winning season in 1982 and the team would have gone to a bowl game even after "The Play" and Paul Wiggin would have survived another year or two and Jack Elway never would have been hired and fired.
Had "Sir John" had a bit more support from the defense, Stanford would have won this game and had a winning season in 1982 and the team would have gone to a bowl game even after "The Play" and Paul Wiggin would have survived another year or two and Jack Elway never would have been hired and fired and John might not have harbored mixed feelings about Stanford Athletics for many years thereafter.
Time to let it
Time to let it go....
Yes, it was a psychologically damaging loss, but not the end of the world. Actually the Stanford team did not despair. After all, they showed admirable fortitude by traveling back to Columbus, %%MATCH_12%% the next week and hanging a dramatic 23-20 loss on THE %%MATCH_10%% University, a tremendous game that along with the carving up of %%MATCH_11%% in Norman in 1980 ranks as one of the decade's great road wins.
Look, all of these painful look-back articles can be avoided easily. By getting a nice "W' and staying healthy in tonight's edition of class warfare or whatever people want to call it, we can start the 2012 season off right..and try to forget the Curse of the Kearse™.
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