Pigskin Flashback: October 10, 1987

On the occasion of the 20-year anniversary of a dominating 44-7 declawing of the Washington State Cougars on October 10, 1987, we salute Jack Elway's resilient red-panted road warriors, who bounced back brilliantly from a Muster-less 0-4 start and, behind a redshirt freshman QB (Brian Johnson) making his first collegiate start, took out their frustrations on an unsuspecting WSU club at the Palouse

There are those of us at TheBootleg.com who admit to having a bit of a penchant for (some call it "obsession with") Stanford's occasionally glorious pigskin past, a habit of harkening back to days gone by, perhaps in a subconscious effort to deny the present. Regardless, rather that go with the traditional media flow in the weeks leading up to the 25th anniversary of "The Play", we prefer to accentuate the positives and have some fun with some other anniversaries, like the 20-year anniversary of today's featured game, which represented one of the more surprising offensive outputs in modern Stanford football history. Continuing our exploratory endeavors in and effort to bring you the very finest in Stanford sports coverage (and dare we say "Stanford sports entertainment"?). The Bootleg.com proudly presents a modest little audio-enhanced "Pigskin Flashback" in tribute to the 20-year anniversary of a dominating 44-7 victory over Washington State that took place on October 10, 1987 at the Palouse, a brutal beat-down that satisfyingly spoiled the Cougs' 1987 Homecoming celebration. Originally, I had meant to have this story run last month on the exact 20-year anniversary of the game, but time got away from me! Mea culpa. 

Pigskin Flashback: Washington State (October 10, 1987) 

"Cougars get Volpe-doed!"

Entering the 1987 season, Stanford fans had great expectations as the Cardinal football team returned 16 starters from a team that had finished the prior campaign an impressive 8-4, a rare winning season from a program plagued by consistent inconsistency. However, 1987 would be a year fraught with early-season anguish for fourth-year head coach Jack Elway and the Stanford Cardinal. After riding Kodak All-American running back Brad "We've Got The" Muster to a Gator Bowl appearance in 1986, Stanford opened the 1987 season a disastrous 0-4, getting thoroughly embarrassed at home in the fourth game by a ranked UCLA squad led by All-American QB Troy Aikman to the tune of 49-0. Even worse, it had occurred in front of a nationally-televised audience on ABC. Ouch. Muster, the Pac-10 "Offensive Player of the Year" in 1986 and a legitimate preseason Heisman Trophy candidate in 1987 was out of action after badly injuring an ankle in the first quarter of the season opener. Without him, the team was seriously sucking wind! With two conference loses, the Cardinal was essentially already eliminated from the Rose Bowl race by October 3rd. It was not at all the start the team had been expecting. Therefore, our boys were pretty pissed off and somebody was going to have to pay. That "somebody" was Dennis Erickson, the first-year head coach of the 2-2 host Washington State Cougars (yes, the current ASU coach, who as few seem to remember was Jack Elway's offensive coordinator at San Jose State from 1979-1981). The Stanford team knew that this was a very important game for their head coach. Jack Elway was a double-degreed Cougar alum ['53, '65]  and the game was serving as a WSU homecoming event. Jack did not want to lose this one. 

Washington State, nestled in a wheat field ironically referred to as the "Inland Empire", was a hideous place to play a football game. Martin Stadium, with its field as hard as a kitchen floor, was an injury waiting to happen. There was little reason to believe that Stanford would right the ship at a hell-hole like that. Ah, but behind a stingy defense and three touchdowns from Muster's relatively unknown back-up, a surprisingly speedy 5'7' redshirt freshman wrecking ball named Jon Volpe, the Cardinal was feeling mighty unfriendly and out of nowhere - "gave it" to Erickson and his Cougs "right up the Wazzu", pounding the "Pal" right out of the Palouse. After not having scored a touchdown in the previous five quarters, the Cardinal offense got on the board on its second possession on a long TD catch & run to Volpe. The first quarter ended at 14-7 and after the change of direction, things went seriously downhill for Washington State. The Card offense exploded and Stanford would drop 27 on the Cougs in the second quarter! It was 41-7 at the half...on the road... in the Pac-10. Nice! 

So what caused this sudden outburst? Well, after the demoralizing UCLA debacle in which the Cardinal defense launched the short-lived Heisman campaign of Bruin running back Gaston Green (139 on 14 carries, 91 yards on a single, insult-to-injury TD run!), the Cardinal team was totally beaten up so ever-innovative coach Elway suddenly came up with a novel proclamation: "no pads at practice". It worked and the Cardinal would not put on pads for another four weeks!

The '87 WSU game featured a number of outstanding Stanford defensive players including safety Brad "Looney Tunes" Humphreys and underappreciated linebacker Rob Hinckley, but on that afternoon, current Chairman of the Buck/Cardinal Fund, Kevin "K-Rich" Richardson (it wasn't his nickname then, but in today's world it would be!), was the leading tackler with 12 tackles, four unassisted. The 6'3, 228-pound Richardson, a senior who started every game at left inside linebacker, clearly recalls the challenge of containing a tough running back while combating the burly right side of the Cougar offensive line: "Dyko and Utley (6'6" guard Chris Dyko and 6'7" 302-pound All-American Mike Utley) were like avoiding northwest timbers and then you had to find their 4'9" running back Broussard [actually, Steve Broussard was listed at all of 5'7"]. To put the formidable challenge the giant Cougars presented into better perspective, the 1987 Stanford defensive front averaged just 256 pounds. 

OK, so why don't we just take a few minutes and check in with Richardson since he actually played in the game:

Linebacker Kevin Richardson Interview Part I (2:39)

Linebacker Kevin Richardson Interview Part II (2:39) 

The much-maligned Stanford secondary essentially shut down WSU's highly-regarded quarterback Timm Rosenbach, who came into the game first in the Pac-10 and second nationally in total offense. Stanford somehow managed to hold him to 188 yards in a year when the Cardinal "D" surrendered an average of 255 yards per game in the air, by far the most yards allowed among Pac-10 conference teams. The game plan was to pressure the quarterback, and pressure Rosenbach they did. Nose guard Ray Huckestein, and defensive tackles Lester Archambeau, and Sean Scheller harassed Rosenbach throughout the afternoon.

You think Tavita Pritchard had an impressive quarterbacking debut against USC this year? How about another first-time starter coming up huge for the Card? Brian Johnson, a redshirt freshman making his very first college start, would light up the Cougars with a first-half debut for the ages: 10 of 18 for 228 yards and two TDs. The Cardinal kept it on the ground in the second half or who knows what kind of afternoon Johnson would have had. In the end he finished 12-23 for 278 yards (>12 yards per attempt!) with no interceptions! Behind a protective offensive line comprised of second-team all-conference center Andy "Sin City" Sinclair, tackles Jon "Endless" Summers & John "Jay-Z" Zentner, plus guard Chuck "The Sheriff of" Gillingham, not to mention the always-fun-to-say Andy Papathanassiou, Johnson connected on a number of big pass plays, finishing the day with more than 23 yards per completed pass! Yeah, baby!

Second-Team All-Pac-10 receiver Jeff "J.J." James, who today works in Los Angeles in corporate apparel sales for Nike, had a big day, catching six balls for 115 yards, but did manage to get into the end zone that afternoon. James knows he made a fantastic catch in that game, but as you will hear in this brief interview, he honestly can't remember what happened on the play:

Ted Robinson's cal of Jeff James' Catch:

2007 Wide Receiver Interview: Jeff James

James would finish his outstanding Cardinal career as the school's all-time leader in career receiving yardage,

Defensive back Alan Grant, who at the end of the 1987 season would be named First-Team All-Pac-10 as a "return specialist", would provide a very special return indeed. Gathering a punt at the Cardinal 23 just before the end of the first half, Grant bolted straight ahead and turned on the jets, picking up a nice block and heading to the house for a sensational 77-yard TD return, which at the time was the third-longest punt return for touchdown in school history - twenty years later, it is still the seventh-longest punt return by a Stanford player. Well, heck, rather than just read about it, why don't we just listen to it: 

Ted Robinson's call of Alan Grant's Punt Return: 

Thanks in part to that spectacular TD return, Grant would lead the conference in punt returns in 1987, averaging an astounding 16.5 yards per return that season, a mark bested only by Glyn Milburn's borderline ridiculous average of 18.5 in 1992. 

The 1987 WSU game represented a real resurgence for the drain-circling Cardinal that season. After this encouraging road victory, Stanford would win four of its next six games, including a highly satisfying 31-7 rout of Cal in the Big Game in front of 85,000 at the old Stanford Stadium and would finish a respectable 5-6 on the year. Not that bad, but had running back Brad Muster been healthy that season, think of how that could have changed the future of football down on the Farm. Stanford would have been in a second consecutive bowl game and Jack Elway would likely not have been relieved after the 1988 season. Who knows what would have happened from there on out.....

Note: To listen to these audio files, you will need Windows Media Player.  Click here to download the most recent version of Media Player.

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