Pigskin Flashback: October 18, 1975
Stanford 24, Washington 21
First off, lets get right to the bottom line: The game this Saturday is one of the most momentous in the history of the Stanford football program. It will be no easy task. The Cardinal hasnt smoked these Sinister Sled-dogs in Seattle since 1975! 26 years. Count em 26 years! Before the freakin Bicentennial, for Christiansens Sake! Admittedly, it is pretty hard to smoke these guys when its raining all the frickin time, but to bring home the importance of Saturdays game, consider that our beloved Cardinal has surrendered sequential contests with UW in Seattle in 1977, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1996, and 1999, the final one fresh in Cardinal minds as Tuiasosopos unforgettable 2 x 200 double-deuce debacle!
Much has been made of the Cardinals persistent problems on special teams in 2001, especially in the punting game, but in Seattle 75, the Cardinal barely survived what may well rank as the most pitiful series of special teams pratfalls in the schools 109-year football history. It is likely that Oregon Coach Mike Belotti has watched our 75 UW game tape to make himself feel better about the Ducks pathetic punting performance two weeks ago in Eugene.
1975. It was the year the outrageous San Francisco rock band The Tubes released their blazing anthem White Punks On Dope, which would soon become an LSJUMB staple!
The Vietnam War had ended officially with the departure of the last ten Marines from the American embassy in Saigon on the morning of April 30, 1975. Carlton Fisks historic walk-off homer had helped the Bo-Sox bash the Big Red Machine 7-6 in a 12-inning comeback thriller in one of baseballs greatest games, only to lose the World Series in seven.
While its hard to fathom, The Carpenters were actually considered popular artists (personally, I was already getting way into Skynyrd)! It was the time of Jaws and One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, we followed the World Football League, and read about Patricia Hearst and the notorious Symbionese Liberation Army. The best selling Chevrolet was the Chevette and the Kingdome was already well under construction. Ohio State Buckeye Archie Griffin was in the process of winning his second straight Heisman and setting a new all-time NCAA rushing mark, which would be broken the very next year by Tony Dorsett. How long ago was it? The infamous puck-rocking Sex Pistols wouldnt even be playing their very first gig (at St. Martin Arts College in Londons West End) until the next month!
On October 18, 1975, the Cardinal swept sleeplessly into Seattle to take on the Canine Convicts on a cold and cloudy Saturday afternoon (go figure, cold and cloudy in Washington?) Many of us Cardinal fans had goose bumps awaiting the kick-off of Stanfords sixth game of a still-promising 75 season, er, uh, come to think of it, the goose bumps may have been from the 52-degree temperature at the start of the game! As the Husky Marching Band belted out a hideous pre-game rendition of the Bee Gees pre-Disco tune Jive Talkin , legendary Stanford and 49er radio broadcaster Don Klein was gearing up for a big broadcast for pre-Hot Talk KSFO 560.
It has been a series of streaks. After suffering eight straight demoralizing defeats from 1958-1965, the Cardinals had bounced back and pounded the pathetic pooches eight straight times from 1966-74! [Note: the Halotosis-hampered Huskies would again return the favor by burying the bone on Stanford 10 straight times from 1983-1993. Ouch!]
Though far from a sell-out, a partisan crowd of 45,000 cheered on the Purple and Gold under 43-year old first-year coach Don James. James had come out West from a successful stint at Kent State and had just embarked upon what would become a dominating, but highly controversial, 18-year conference dynasty that would see the PACs very own Pigskin Penitentiary put itself perennially on probation.
All was not quiet on the Western Front. In his fourth year at the helm, Card Coach Jack Chris Christiansen was allowing a quarterback controversy to develop as he started junior Mike Cordova over free-spirited sophomore Guy Benjamin. Cordova, the oldest of ten children and a Pacific Northwest native who starred at Seattle Prep, had been the hero of the Cardinals surprising 19-19 tie against Michigan in the Cardinals second game of the 75 season, and had been named National Back of the Week by Sports Illustrated for his sterling 285-yard performance that helped stun the Wolverines and QB Rick Leach in front of more than 92,000 at Bos Big House in Ann Arbor. Mike Langford had hit a 33-fard field goal with just 0:09 on the clock to knot the final score.
The 52nd meeting between the two schools would be no Dog Day Afternoon (FYI to Young Cardinal Fan: that would be a reference the Al Pacino film classic of 1975). We were considered to have one of the most dangerous and entertaining air arsenals in America. Few will recall that Cordova was at the time the 2nd-ranked quarterback in the country. Future Cowboys star wide receiver Tony Thrill Hill (now active in sports promotion in Richardson, TX) was leading the land with 33 receptions for 449 yards and 5 TDs after just 5 games, including 2 scores in a game, but futile effort against UCLA the previous week.
UW had just been rolled by the Bama Crimson Tide 52-0, limiting the Demon Dawggies to a dismal 227 yards of total offense. Stanford was 1-3-1, but had played pretty well and was looking for a big lift. As is often the case in Washington, the lousy weather would dictate the style of the game, which largely centered around a battle for field position. After an early Langford 31-yard FG got the Cardinal going in the first quarter, the sturdy, 63, 215-lb. Cordova would soon score on a 1-yard run. Midway through the 3rd quarter, his quarterback draw from 12 yards out provided Stanford what looked to be a comfortable 17-0 lead. Recalled Cordova this week, It was so windy, if you put anything up, it was gone so it didnt make sense to throw. On that play, Washington had stacked the line with 10 men at the line and man-to-man coverage on the outside receivers. It was a called play, not a check-off. Feeling the blitz, I decided to move back one-step instead of three to get a quick start and saw that our center [Todd Anderson] had split the defenders. Touchdown, Stanford!
Washington wanted to rely on mammoth 65, 245-lb. tight end-turned-fullback #99 Robin Earl, who had rambled for 112 yards vs. Oregon and RB James Anderson (no, no, not the Jim Anderson who coached on the Farm in the 80s), who would later rush for 104 yards in a Beaver-stuffing home win against Oregon State, but on that afternoon they would find it to be tough sledding against the Card front seven. The Huskies were not much threat in the air in 75 as WR Scott Phillips would lead the team with 33 catches for 433 yards and just one measly little touchdown. The Cardinal defense completely collared the Huskies, allowing only 3 yards per carry on the ground. For the game, we actually held UW scoreless offensively! It was a nasty, windy day and UW QB Warren Moon, a JC transfer who ironically would become professional footballs all-time passing yardage leader, ended up an embarrassing, career-worst 4-17 for a grand total of 46 yards!
Led by tough-hitting Rich Merlo at outside linebacker, the brother of former Stanford and New Orleans Saints stopper Jim Merlo, the Cardinal defense held firm in the fourth quarter even when things started getting weird (see below), first stopping the Siberian Sled-Slingers cold at the Cardinal 36-yard line, then stuffing them on downs at the 4, and stiffening yet again at the Stanford 45! The heart of the d-line was comprised of nose guards Geoff Kieburtz and razor-sharp Mike Hey Mikey! Wilkinson, now a leading podiatrist practicing in Casper, WY [Note to Husky fans: podiatrist means foot doctor]. The star player up front was inarguably Duncan Boyd McColl, the All-American defensive end who, as all credible Cardinalmaniacs know, is the son of Dr. Bill McColl, the all-everything Indian end, orthopedic surgeon, and one-time Stanford University Trustee, the elder brother of All-Pac-10 linebacker and current DAPER fund stand-out Dr. Milt McColl, and, lest we forget, brother to twin sisters Bonnie (McColl) Platt and Carrie (McColl) OBrien. Bonnie was even a distinguished member of the 75 Stanford Dollies.
We were rolling along smoothly until the wheels started to come off on special teams.
Stanford sophomore flanker James Lofton, an NCAA and California State high school champion long jumper from Los Angeles, who at one point in his pro career would become the NFLs all-time leader in receiving yardage, was the emergency punter. Emergency is right! Call 911! Having punted in high school (but unfortunately not since), the budding superstar Lofton filled in for punter/safety Mike Michel, a future Philadelphia Eagle who had been injured in the third quarter. Palo Alto-bred senior Tom Lynn was supposed to be the back-up booter, but had not been included on the 48-man travelling squad. Smelling blood, Coach James brought The House, sending a ten-man all-out rush to take aim at Loftons tentative toe.
With his desperate team down 17-0, Washington freshman Robert Spider Gaines, a speedy 13.2 hurdler borrowed from the Husky track program, a kid who wasnt even listed on the official roster, used his superlative springs to deliver clean blocks on two consecutive punts, the first of which was returned for a Dawg touchdown as Washington junior linebacker Mike Rohrbach scooped up the ball and ran 27 yards to get the Malodorous Mongrels on the board and avoid a shameful shutout. Regents, the four-legged Husky mascot, barked happily (not because Rohrbach scored, but because Regents got to hang out with the Washington baton-twirlers!)
Incredibly, lightning would strike twice! Just fifty-one seconds into the 4th quarter, reserve Dawg defensive back Steve Lipe, a 61 senior from Moses Lake, WA, took a second aborted Lofton boot from 25 yards out and ran it in for yet another special teams score, much to the delirious delight of the suddenly-hopeful Husky fans, Washington pulled to within 17-13, without having scored a single offensive point! Even the Cards Cordova, who had been a punter in high school, ran over to Christiansen and volunteered to fill in if the Cardinal had to punt again. I told him I couldnt promise anything great, but that I had a quick step and would at least get it off! A Steve Robbins PAT went wide right and the score stood.
Then, with just 0:24 to play in the game, right cornerback Rich Oh Black Waters, a second-team All-Pac-8 62 junior communications major who starred in both football and baseball for the Sunset High Falcons in Hayward, CA, intercepted a Chris Rowland on-the-River pass and raced 52 yards for the game-saving score! Stanford 24, Washington 13. Game over. Thanks for playing, right?
Well, not quite a harrowing heave by drop-back passer Rowland (who incidentally competed head-to-head against Cordova in high school) was picked off by none other than Rich Waters, the second interception of the game by the best natural athlete in the Cardinal secondary. But in a rare football fiasco, Waters proceeded to cough up the rock in the end zone where it was recovered by Husky TE Gordy Bad Back Bronson with 0:02 on the clock A moral victory TD was followed by a cheap, cosmetic two-point conversion. Final Score: Cardinals 24, Mange-Mongers 21.
It was a great getaway win against a decent UW team on the rise (indeed, The Dawgfather and his Mutt Menagerie would manage to win 4 of their next 5 games including victories against Top 20 powers U$C and UCLA, closing out the 75 season at a respectable 6-5. Back down on The Farm, however, the political winds would continue to gust as the Cardinal returned to a chorus of armchair rumbling, particularly among powerful Southern California alumni, with regard to Christiansens commitment (some felt stubbornness) to stick with Cordova over Benjamin. As usual, the S.F. Comicals Glenn Chops Dickey was attempting to stir up trouble and sell newspapers as he put Coach Jack and Cordova on the hot seat with his ever-punishing pen.
A full 26 years later, the good-natured Cordova is still amazed at all the alumni fuss following the Washington game, especially since the Cardinal had just won. What did I do? I mean, I was ranked among the nations top ten passers statistically (#2 actually) and had been named Back of the Week just a couple games before! The weather that day was nasty. No one was able to throw, not even Moon!. Mike feels the team just never came together as a team after that, with an internal divide over whether he or Guy should be starting. The thing just got a little out of hand and cost the team its continuity. It fractured us and we never really recovered.
Hmmmm ..sounds like Love just couldnt Keep Us Together! [Ed. Note: The Bootleg sincerely apologizes for not being able to resist a lame 1975 Captain & Tennille reference]
Coincidentally, Cordova, now President of the Convalescent Equipment & Supply Company in Edmonds, WA, will be celebrating his 47th birthday on Saturday. He hopes to make it over to the game, but admits to having somewhat bittersweet memories of that great win back in 75. This one will be for you, Mike!