Pigskin Flashback: September 29, 1979
Stanford 33, Boston College 14
Yes, hard to fathom, but it's been 22 years! McEnroe had just beaten Gerulaitis for his first Grand Slam victory and first of his four U.S. Open titles. Back then, it was still a time of the Times Tribune and the Old Mill Six, of Eastern Airlines and Hughes Airwest. A young Greg Kihn was scheduled to tear up the Keystone Palo Alto in two weeks! Maggie Thatcher had just come to power. Reagan had not been elected president yet. Britney Spears hadn't even been born yet. The Shah had fled Tehran just as the Knack's "My Shah-rona" started attacking the music charts. The Soviets had yet to invade Afghanistan. America was worried about the fallout from Three Mile Island. Let us take you back…
September 29, 1979. On a clear and promising Saturday, the Stanford Cardinal was still feeling the painful sting of a stunning, season-opening upset loss to perennial Southern doormat Tulane at the Superdome in New Orleans (actually the "Green Wave", coached by Larry Smith, was an under-appreciated team that would throttle Boston College later that same year 41-8). It had been followed by the annual auto-victory over SJSU, and a humiliating 13-17 home loss to lowly Army.
A not-near sell-out crowd of 36,412 sweltered in sunshine, fanning themselves with folded copies of Cardinals Today, as program cover girl Pam Guzzy and her fellow dancin' Dollie co-eds kicked up their heavenly heels in those fabulously fetish-inducing, knee-high white boots! Yeah, baby! The "Chestnut Hill Chumps" were the third visiting opponent on the Cardinals' rare seven-game home schedule. Yes, Stanford's teams were referred to regularly as "Cardinals" at that time so don't run to call me out and pummel me with poisonous posts on the freakin' BootBoard! While I am at it, for all you Sears' Cup fanatics out there, Stanford's Field Hockey team defeated both Cal and Oregon that very same day! Happy now? Back to football….
The memorable '79 campaign may be looked upon by future generations of Cardinalmaniacs as a sister–kisser of a season: 5-5-1. Clearly a major disappointment following thrilling back-to-back bowl wins and Top-20 finishes, Coach Rod Dowhower's '79 Cardinal varsity would win five, lose five, and pull off a spectacular comeback tie against otherwise unblemished NCAA runner-up Southern Cal. If not the "right stuff", the 36-year-old Dowhower certainly had the "right staff". Current NY Giants head coach Jim Fassel (then a youthful 30) guided the Card receiver corps, current Carolina Panthers and former 49er chief George Seifert oversaw the secondary, and the irascible post-Parcellsian Giants strongman and Stanford alum Ray Handley handled the linebackers. All four would later become head coaches in the NFL. The first four games were supposed to be "locks," but the Cards had already dropped two of their first three! Success-spoiled shady-side alumni, were getting antsy. The BC contest was clearly considered a "make or break" game at the time, the final game of the four-game "pre-season." Dowhower was being second-guessed openly for his overly-aggressive play-calling the previous week against 17-point underdog Army, a fair criticism to which he himself owned up candidly. We had failed to score three times from inside the 10-yard line. Despite ranking 8th in the nation in passing, Schonert, dubbed by teammates "The Old Man", was feeling considerable pressure from a cannon-armed young freshman QB from the San Fernando Valley: John Albert Elway. The straw-haired, cowboy drawl-sportin' Elway, whose early Fall practice performances caused not one, but two Cardinal quarterbacks to transfer to other schools, was respectful of the 5th-year senior veteran, but nevertheless itching for action. Schonert had been sacked seven times by the Cadets and "Better-Win-Now-hower" was trying desperately to avoid both a quarterback controversy and a divisive split between the team's proud veterans and a highly-touted incoming freshman class, a remarkable eleven of whom would see meaningful playing time in 1979. Dowhower, who was well-liked by most, met with the team after the Army game disaster and solicited suggestions and constructive criticism. There was a "very candid exchange" of f-bombs and finger-pointing. After the air cleared, Ken "Buffy" Margerum, among others, spoke up and helped guide the team back onto the same page. The "shotgun" formation would begin to work its way to the whiteboard.
All-everything all-purpose back Darrin Nelson, arguably the most exciting player in college football, was redshirting, having torn a hamstring in track. He was replaced by a dynamic freshman backfield duo of Mike Dotterer, the Orange County Back of the Year in '78, and Vincent "VW" White, aka "The Love Bug", a two time Colorado Player of the Year out of Denver's Mullen Prep. The biggest guy on the field was 6'7" 270-pound tackle Brian Holloway, considered giant-size at the time and one of the largest players in college football. Incredibly, Holloway would be more than thirty pounds lighter than the average offensive lineman on today's team.
The Cardinal's speed-challenged defense was beset by a number of injuries, including to All-American candidate Milt McColl. It was led by magnificently malevolent, if sometimes moody mauler Chuck Evans, a veteran defensive end nicknamed "The Human Hemorrhoid" for his "intense" demeanor on game days. According to roommate Margerum: "On game day, I don't even talk to him, he can be the biggest jerk!" (Can we please recruit more guys like that?) The future New Orleans Saint, a former Delta Tau Delta president, was also called "Bag" for his obsession with being meticulously organized, even making his waterbed every day. Evans was never one for making excuses. Following the Army game, the ever-blunt Evans responded to a question about the team's "baffling loss": "Look, there's really not a lot to be ‘baffled' about, we just made too many mistakes." End of answer. There were no follow-up questions. Come to think of it….Chuck kinda scared people.
So anyway, few of us knew jack squat about Boston College football at the time. It was our first ever match-up with Boston College, the nation's largest Catholic educational institution. True, the Eagles were picked to be one of the Top 20 "worst" teams in college football that year, but at least they could lay claim to that ultra-crispy "old school" icon and NFL Hall of Fame lineman Art Donovan. So they had that going for them, … which was nice. Note: They have since added to their lore that gritty little special teams scrub for the Chicago Bears all those years, Dave Wottle! Wait a second! That was that the 800-meter runner who didn't take his hat off for the National Anthem during the medal ceremony at the Munich Olympics! BC's guy was Tom Waddle! They also count among their athletic alums the excessively expectorant Bill Romanowski, rock solid Pete Mitchell, and teen-loving tight end Mark Chmura.
So, a little background on Boston College's gridiron glory. The greatest football season in the entire history of these New England Non-Factors was allegedly that of 1940, the very year our beloved Wow Boys went undefeated and pimp-slapped Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. True, legendary coach Frank Leahy and his highly effective spread offense led the Eagles to an undefeated 11-0 season, capped off by a Sugar Bowl championship and a somewhat spurious "claim" of a national championship (compared to the far more legitimate claims of Stanford and Minnesota). Please, BC fans, do not even start with me on this issue…among your many farcical, "feaux-foes" during that undeniable cakewalk of a campaign were the "Praying Colonels" of Center College (40-0), the oh-so-harrowing Hawks of St. Anselm (55-0), the Jaspers of Manhattan, the cringing Crusaders of Holy Cross, and the hapless Hoyas of Georgetown. Admittedly, your Eags did defeat a top team in Tulane, Georgetown did have a 22-game win streak at the time, and you did shut out six of your opponents and manage a semi-stirring defeat of the Auburn "Plainsmen". Fine, nice job! Nevertheless, the final AP poll for 1940 ranked you #5 in the nation so take it like men.
The ‘79 Eagles were still a few years from their brief national spotlight era of 1984 Heisman-winning hurler Doug Flutie and 1985 Outland trophy winner Mike Ruth, but they had some decent talent. Joe "Papal Flash" Nash, a sophomore starter at DT, was inducted into the BC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000. Nash was never drafted by the NFL, but spent 16 solid years making respectable jack with the Seattle Seahawks. Affable 37-year-old Eagle coach Ed Chlebek, regarded as a turnaround specialist, was in the middle of a dismal three-year stint as head coach, a sinister span in which his teams managed to go a Holmoe-like 12-21, representing the worst career winning percentage for any BC coach since before WWI! The 1978 campaign had been an absolute bagel, 0-11, the sorriest excuse for a football season in the Jesuit school's hallowed history!
Led by Jesuit tri-Captains Jeff Dziama, Jack "Cooke" Kent, and John Schmeding, the Eagles flew into town, shall we say, "on a wing and a prayer"? Gloria "T.J." Gaynor may have been "surviving" in 1979, but it would not be the case for the BC football team. The Eagles had landed in Palo Alto, having dropped a home opener to Tennessee. True, they had rebounded resiliently the next week, waxing the Villanova Wildcats 34-7 to snap an embarrassing 13-game losing streak as the home crowd Catholics stormed the field and torn down the goal posts. Predictably, the Pope was pleased.
BC won the coin toss and moved the ball methodically to the Stanford 33, thanks in no small part to a nefarious flag for "unnecessary roughness". The Card hung in tough, however, and the Eagles threw incomplete on a "4th & 2". Sadly, Stanford went "7 & Out" and a 45-yard Ken Naber punt soared sickly into the paint-covered end zone. On the BC's second offensive series, Card safety Steve "Axel" Foley blatantly late-hit BC's quarterback, shoving him not-so-softly into an aluminum bench and giving the Eagles an extra 15 on top of a 20-yard gain. We dodged that bullet thanks to a nice Rick Gervais tackle for loss, setting up a 39-yard field goal attempt. BC's John Cooper "the Field Goal Blooper" (he posted a miserable 50% season FG percentage) had his boot blocked by the great Gordon "Back Atcha" Banks, the first of a series of critical, game-changing blocks Banks would contribute during the ‘79 season. The Schonert-led Stanford squad responded meekly with a rapid "3 & Out". A routine exchange of punts followed. Ho hum. Poor Turk was drilling balls short, literally into the ground, a la Mike Cordova. There were few boos, but the crowd was getting noticeably restless. Tight end Pat Bowe's fumble was recovered by BC stand-out Jeff Dziama to start Q2 and the stadium crowd let out a collective yawn and went out for malts and juice bars.
On the next series, Turk finally warmed up, connecting to a diving Margerum for 34 yards up the middle to get things going, but a second attempt to the end zone fell incomplete and Stanford settled for a cheap Naber chipshot at the 7:18 mark. Cardinals, 3-0. The momentum started shifting as the defense held and Schonert began finding Margerum wide open on almost every play, culminating in a 4-yard TD with just over a minute remaining in the half, which ended uneventfully with Stanford up comfortably, 10-0.
To open the second half, "Show Me" Schonert's first pass hit center John McCauley in the back of the helmet and his second attempt went sailing out of bounds. Yet another "3 & Out". Dowhower had seen enough. Young Elway was already up and throwing on the sidelines. BC took over and on 2nd & 10 went to the skies with predictable results- a career-first interception by fine first-year defensive back, the late Kevin MacMillan. To an appreciative roar from the Sunny Side, true freshman phenom Elway, who'd been nursing a sore ankle all week, took the field as a man on a mission. The rest, as they say, is history. Tailback Vincent White, today in his first year as receivers and backfield coach under Ron McBride at Utah, lost 4 yards off the left end. OK, token run establishment. Then the much-heralded high school All-American dropped back and dissected a demoralized Eagle defense, hooking up with the high hip-padded hipster Margerum and his silky smooth pal, the super ‘fro-sportin'Andre Tyler. Stanford's adrenaline-soaked #7 fired off four straight bullet completions, the last a 14-yard TD touchdown strike to Margerum, who celebrated with his trademark "pigskin pirouette". Stanford led 17-0. A well-rested Cardinal defense sent BC packing "3 & Out". Soon came more of the same from the incomparable Elway….two completions and a 36-yard scramble, followed by 3 more completions, the last a 17-yard "beak-breaker" to Margerum in the right corner of the end zone. 24-0, Cardinal. Thanks for playing.
The marvelous, if mercurial Margerum (hey, the guy named his kids "Sunny" and "Windy"!) had been Elway's recruiting host and was instrumental in convincing John to come to The Farm. Margerum, current receivers coach for the "Evil Empire of the East Bay" [Warning: Do not view on an empty stomach: http://calbears.fansonly.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/margerum_ken00.html] would finish with 9 catches for 120 yards (besting BC single-handedly in each category). He would also snare a school record-tying 3 TDs, despite the fact that reactionary TV announcer Ron Barr was insisting that "that kid needs a haircut!" Ron, dude, the bottom line is that Kenny caught everything that moved and was dating everything that…uh, I mean was dating one of the most charming, beautiful women ever to set foot on campus (who by the way would later marry a Stanford teammate, a dimple-cheeked, guitar-playing freshman linebacker in ‘79!). Who says the quarterbacks get all the chicks? Have you seen current Card backer Cooper Blackhurst's amazin' ASU babe? Holy Smoke These Guys! But we digress…
BC managed most of its damage on the ground. As was so often the case in those days, the Stanford defense "bent", yielding a frightening 313 yards on the ground, but did not "break." Powerful Eagle running back Shelby Gamble, who had busted loose for 157 yards against ‘Nova the week before, was well-contained, managing just 36 yards on 14 carries. It was the quarterback that gave the Cardinal fits. Senior QB Jay "Lalla" Palazoa was a option-style "veer" specialist and posed no significant threat to the Card secondary, but the guy torched us for a Tuiasosopo-esque 157 yards on just 17 carries! Yikes! The gifted, but one-dimensional Palazoa was all of 1 for 7 for 6 yards in the first half and barely cracked 100 yards passing for the afternoon, most of it in garbage time. For the '79 season, Palazoa would finish with a Nebraska-like 38.2% completion rate, while tossing 10 INTs and just 2 TDs!
Honestly, there is not much more to remember about this game. BC finally scored on a 10-play, 80-yard drive and pitched right on a sweep for the two-point conversion. Elway immediately retaliated by tossing a 12-yard insurance policy to Gordy Banks. The PAT was wide right. Who cared? BC was done, any chance at victory had slipped from the Eagles' tentative talons. Stanford had just experienced a glimpse of its glorious, if gut-wrenching football future in the person of "Sir John of the Pigeon Toe", the most exciting thing to hit campus since the arrival of punk rock junior DT Steve Ballinger's scorching-hot girlfriend, Mary Lou.
Hey, it was a "W". Not the ‘80 Oklahoma win, not the ‘90 Big Game, not Notre Dame in '90 or '92, but important nevertheless. Not only was the victory over BC milestone win #500 for Stanford football, it showed Stanford fans that they had a legitimate quarterback legend in the making. The renewed confidence would prepare the Cardinal for what would be arguably the most exciting, memorable back-to-back football games in school history: UCLA & USC. The one-sided West Coast wing-whoopin' that day sent the "Beantown Bead-Stringers" spiraling onto the endangered species list as BC fell into a flailing four-game losing streak. The Stanford loss actually cost the Eagles a winning season as they would ultimately end up a respectable 5-6. We may not have gone to a bowl in 1979, but we sure ruined a lot of other teams' seasons. Call it "Schadenfreude." There was a lot going on in the world, most of it bad. The Sandanistas would take over in Nicaragua the next month. The Iranian hostage crisis would start in two months. The Village People were singing about the Y.M.C.A. Still, all was well in our world that sun-soaked, high-scoring Saturday.