Pigskin Flashback: 1980's "The Throw"

It's one of the most frequently-recalled plays in Stanford Football history, on the level of Rod Garcia's FG to win the 1972 Rose Bowl, Casey Moore's 'Run for the Roses' in '99 and Andrew Luck's famous 'Cattousing' of 2010, but it came during a loss to what was, at least on paper, an athletically superior team. It wasn't a throw, it was 'THE Throw' and part of the legend that was & is John Elway!

Pigskin Flashback: November 8, 1980 "The Throw"


If you aren't old enough to remember the FBI sting operation "Abscam", the establishment of Polish trade union Solidarity, and the start of the "Reagan Revolution", and if you never wondered with great anticipation "Who Shot J.R.?", you probably weren't present at the old Stanford Stadium for what over the years has become known simply as "The Throw". If you were there, it's certain to be etched eternally on your cerebral hard drive. It was the year of the infamous "Pac-5" when half the teams in the Pacific 10 were on one form of double secret probation or the other. $C was in the midst of a major scandal regarding its brazenly shame less "open admissions" policies for the school's mercenary, pseudo-student-athletes.


The Trojans' then-head coach "Slick Johnny" Robinson was quoted as follows in the Oct. 27,1979 edition of the New York Times: "In essence the University has said to us, if he meets the NCAA requirements, and there's not too manv, vou can have him." ….Wow, really?


Then the USC student newspaper, the Daily Trojan, admitted in October of '79 that the graduation rate for U$C players from 1960-77 was a pathetic 51%). A university report conceded that from 1970-80, 330 USC players had been let in "based chiefly on athletic prowess as judged by the athletic department, and without normal admissions review"……Again, wow!


Nevertheless, back in November of 1980, Tommy Trojan was taking yet another crack at the national championship. Between national TV and a rare Stanford Stadium sell-out, the Stanford AD, Andy Geiger was about to score the most prodigious payday in school history and a possible berth in the Holiday, Sun or Fiesta Bowl.


LSJU's first-year head coach Paul Wiggin's 7 1/2-point Under-Cards, led by rising soph-sation™ (sophomore sensation) John EIway, all-purpose marvel Darrin Nelson, split end Andre Tyler and 1979 & 1980 consensus All-American flanker Ken Margerum (playing in his final home game), comprised the most awesome aerial arsenal in college football.

In the aftermath of his stunning performance in a 31-14 Serious Sooner-Kicking™ at Oklahoma, the Granada Hills Golden Boy was already being projected as the greatest college quarterback ever. In fact, though the Cardinal would finish a disappointing 6-5 in 1980 (the only winning record during Elway's four years), offensive coordinator Denny Green's high-octane assault would place an amazing six offensive players on the Pac-10's first-team and "Big John" would be crowned the 1980 Pac-10 Player of the Year.


Offensively the fourth-ranked, but Rose-ineligible Trojans were the polar opposite! Having upped their record to 6-0-1, U$C had future Heisman winner and 2,000-yard rusher Marcus Allen running rampant behind gigantic and skilled future pro linemen like Roy Foster and Keith Van Horne. Troy had gone 27 straight games without a loss (you'll recall the 21-21 tie Stanford pinned on them the prior year to spoil their 1979 national championship hopes).


Elway, the "Sultan of Scramble", would be running for his life all day, getting sacked eight times for  negative 86 yards, enduring a savage beating on a day when a brutal Trojan defense would knock half our squad off the playing field with ill-inflicted injuries. With his tattered and torn team trailing 12-0, Elway defiantly dropped back to pass on 1st & 10 from the Trojan 46. With mammoth all-conference tackle Dennis Edwards tearing right toward him, Elway sensed the pressure immediately, backpedaled and reversed his field on a scramble that took him 21 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Edwards, along with 6'5" 250-lb. monster nose guard George Achica and half the population of Greater Los Angeles came after #7 on an all-out jailbreak! Quite understandably, cornerback Jeff Fisher (now head coach of the NFL's St. Louis Rams), along with sadistic safeties Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith, had relaxed on their coverage, thinking Elway was "Trojan Toast".

This allowed Margerum, who was slowed by a painful hip pointer sustained on the first play of the game, to slip behind future 49er and Pro Football Hall of Famer Lott and hand-signal to his still-searching QB.


With 84,892 incredulous observers watching him in utter amazement, Elway ran to the western shadyside side-line, turned upfield with his eyes facing south and literally launched the leather on a dead run, sending it spiraling 61 yards downfield and hitting Margerum in the chest in the South Endzone for a devastating 46-yard scoring strike. It would be Stanford's only touchdown core of the game.


The game and "The Throw" were televised nationally on ABC, so naturally the Cardinal got smoked (34-9) as we so often did when we were televised. "St. John", who had been named "Pac-5 Offensive Player of the Week" for his six-TD performance against shell-shocked Oregon State the previous week, ended up with 260 hard-fought passing yards.


For many long-time Cardinal fans, however, it was that singularly exciting play of the decade that defined the God-given talent that was, and for so many years in the NFL remained, John Elway. It also symbolized the peak of the glorious, but frustrating  Pass-Happy Era™ on The Farm and represented the sky-high skill-position standard that once allowed season ticket-holders to witness regular glimpses of top- notch football, despite getting consistently creamed by the conference's shadier, less academically-concerned and therefore less legitimate programs.


Fast forward to 2012. If USC Football is anything, it is still "illegitimate". We have a number of colorful words to express that very sentiment.

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