We begin on a picture-perfect Saturday in Bill Walsh’s first season on The Farm as head coach, when the most accomplished pass-catcher in Cardinal history literally took the game in his hands.
Oct. 10, 1977: Stanford 32, UCLA 28.
Torchio. Tommy Maddox. Tommy Rees. With so many instances of quarterbacks coming off the bench to burn the Cardinal through the years, there remains no better example of a backup slinger actually helping the Stanford cause.
Steve Dils made good on 24 of 37 passes while replacing an injured Guy Benjamin, totaling 287 yards as the Cardinals barely outlasted a game Bruin edition. Of course, it helped to have a future Hall of Famer on his side.
Of James Lofton’s five catches in front of over 64,000 fans, two could not have come at a better time. Trailing 28-25 with 1:45 remaining and his team facing 2nd-and-8 on its own 33, Dils play-action faked before uncorking a deep ball into double-coverage.
Uh-oh, right? Not with a 6-foot-3 track NCAA long jump champion on the other end. Lofton hauled in the offering despite the best intentions of corner Levi Armstong and freshman safety Kenny Easley. The play gained 40 yards.
A few plays later at the UCLA 27, Stanford stood ready for the kill-shot. Again it was Lofton working against Armstrong and Easley. Again it was Dils putting the ball in the perfect place for his receiver to complete the transaction. Lofton snared the pass at the 5 near the right hash-mark, absorbed a hit by Easley before breaking free of Armstrong’s grasp. He hadn’t even crossed into paydirt when he raised the pigskin skyward in celebration.
“I was no hot dog,” explained Lofton, who totaled 126 receiving yards. “I was happy. I knew I was going to score.”Dils confessed he didn’t think his offering was quite good enough “I didn’t throw a very good pass,” he said. “He made a great catch.”
A contest that saw the Cards tally 552 total yards and punt only three times came that close to ending in the Bruins’ favor. UCLA trailed 16-0 in the second quarter before it had gained a first down. The heart-stopping finish was outdone only by the sheer number of all-time greats who participated.
The Bruins’ backfield boasted Olympic hurdler James Owens, together with Theotis Brown (two 1,000-yard seasons at UCLA) and Card-killer Freeman McNeil. Their ball-control offense almost stole the game, thanks in part to 75-yard touchdown runs from both Brown and McNeil. Brown hauled in a 21-yard touchdown from Rick Bashore to give UCLA their late 28-25 advantage.
Stanford countered with Gordy Ceresino, Lofton (53 catches for 931 yards that year), and Darrin Nelson. The shifty freshman tailback accounted for 189 yards on 23 rushing attempts, including touchdown runs of 31 and four yards. They overcame a defense featuring linebacker Jerry Robinson and lineman Manu Tuiasasopo. Between that pair, Easley and McNeil, that’s nine Pro Bowls and 40 NFL seasons combined.
Lofton remains one of only three Stanford alums, alongside Ernie Nevers and John Elway, enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His is generation of receivers who not only performed in an era quite unlike today’s quarterback-friendly game, but who let their results (in his case, 18.3 yards per reception and eight Pro Bowls in 15 NFL seasons after earning All-American honors in 1977) do the talking.
“Perfectly thrown,” was how he described Dils’ game-winning throw.
Oct. 6, 1951: Stanford 23, Michigan 13
Rain? An early deficit? The legendary home field of one of college football’s storied programs? None of that derailed the upset-minded Indians. Quarterbacks just don’t have days anymore like the one Gary Kerkorian enjoyed.
He completed 9-of-14 passes for 160 yards in the first half alone, leading Stanford on three touchdown drives in the second period to take a 20-6 halftime lead. He scored on a short run. He kicked a late field goal to seal the game for the Indians. He was described in the United Press wire story as a “handsome Armenian.”
The afternoon saw the senior from Inglewood “ step back behind almost impenetrable defenders” and “suavely pitch strike after strike to his top-flight ends,” according to the AP account.
Bill McColl and Sam Morley provided a chunk of the receiving yardage, while halfback Bob Meyers scored on two short touchdown plunges. The contest marked a milestone effort in the 1951 Rose Bowl season, where Stanford ended Cal’s three-year run atop the conference.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!