James Lofton’s career totals in a Stanford uniform: 16 receiving touchdowns, 68 catches, a 17.9 yards per-catch average…and two disastrous punts.
Wait a minute, James Lofton, the punter?
So it went when Stanford faced Don James for the first time. The reserve wide receiver found himself thrust into emergency punting duties. The results were every bit of what you’d expect from a third-string punter. As the Cardinal compiled what would be their last win at Husky Stadium for another 31 years, the Huskies blocked both of Lofton’s punts and returned each for touchdowns.
The trouble began with the Cardinal holding a 17-0 lead early in the third quarter. A pair of Mike Cordova touchdown runs alongside a Mike Langford field goal had Stanford seemingly in control. But with starting punter Mike Michel having suffered a hamstring injury on the afternoon and back-up punter Tom Lynn not available (NCAA rules at the time allowed teams to travel only 48 players), into the fray came the future Pro Football Hall of Famer.
“Sure, I was nervous,” he admitted at the time.
Lurking in the shadows was Bob “Spider” Gaines. Two years before joining Warren Moon as a Husky Rose Bowl hero, Gaines sneaked through for the block. The Huskies recovered in the end zone and the period ended with Stanford ahead by a 17-7 margin.
Defensive coordinator Jim Mora’s defense would allow no further points, and Stanford again sent in the punting unit during final quarter from its own 25. Again, it was Gaines snuffing Lofton’s kick and jumpstarting another special-teams score.
When Stanford’s next series went nowhere, coach Jack Christiansen sent in Langford in for the chore. He barely got his kick off for 34 yards. With the Card holding a precarious 17-13 edge heading into the final moments, to the rescue came one of defensive backs coach Willie Shaw’s prized pupils.
Rich Waters, the product of old Sunset High in Hayward, returned Chris Rowland’s offering 52 yards for a touchdown.
“You can bet we’ll be working on our punting game this week,” Christiansen said.
Oct. 18, 1980: Washington 27, Stanford 24
They say the ’60s ended at Altamont in 1970. Let’s argue Stanford football in the ’80s truly began with this crushing result.
A frustrating decade -- one bowl berth, eight sub-.500 records, and a legacy of football's importance de-emphasized on The Farm – truly began when the Cardinal played it too safe.
The game came down to the final 1:27. After battling back from a 24-7 second-quarter deficit, Stanford trailed 24-21 and faced fourth and two at the Huskies' nine yard-line. It was decision time after a memorable drive that had covered the length of the field, where the Card’s budding star of a quarterback unleashed his unparalleled skills.
You know “The Throw” a month later against USC, when John Elway scrambled all over the place before hitting Ken Margerum with a 46-yard laser over Ronnie Lott’s head? He victimized the Huskies with a more compact version of that highlight, heaving a diagonal dart across his body to Vincent White, who turned it into a 34-yard gain.
But a few plays later and facing a crucial choice, Paul Wiggin played for a tie. And while Ken Naber’s 26-yard attempt was good and knotted the score at 24-24, Washington stood ready to answer.
Quarterback Tom Flick calmly led the Huskies into field goal range. The march covered 72 yards before Chuck Nelson broke the deadlock, nailing a 25-yarder at the final gun.
The game short-circuited Stanford’s very realistic Rose Bowl hopes. The Cardinal (4-1, 1-1 coming in) joined the Huskies as a legit contender. Only five Pac-10 teams were eligible for postseason play that year. A variety of misdeeds had the Los Angeles and Arizona schools joining Oregon on Pac-10 probation.
The Huskies finished 9-2, a mark that would have won them the title no matter what. Stanford went 6-5 and stayed home for the holidays. It was a mere preview of what would follow.
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