Football in August

Mark DeVaughn kicks off his new series of "This Date in Cardinal Football" pieces with a look back at the last time the Cardinal played a mid-week season-opener in August: The 1992 Pigskin Classic, which saw #17 Stanford drop a tight 10-7 game to #7 Texas A&M in the first year of "Walsh II" The Card debuted a defensively-driven team that would win 10 games - could we see some of the same in '08?


1992, the first season of "Walsh II", finished with gridiron glory as the Cardinal took apart Joe Paterno's Penn State squad in the 1993 Blockbuster Bowl. It was a case of Stanford being ready and Penn State being ready to get rolled. As Penn State's trash-talking O.J. McDuffie, wide open over the middle, flat out muffed a Kerry Collins pass early on in Stanford's 24-3 victory. CBS Announcer Jim Nance kindly offered an alibi - the sea of orange that engulfed Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium. "He must have lost it in the glare from the empty seats."

Flashback to August 26, 1992, the day after Texas A&M edged the Cardinal in that year's preseason "Pigskin Classic". KNBR's irascible Pete Franklin offered a scapegoat. In between hanging up on callers with his trademark toilet-flush sound effect, he openly chided Stanford fans. He lamented them for being outnumbered by their maroon-clad counterparts from East Texas for the nationally-televised Wednesday night contest. Roughly 35,000 fans at Anaheim Stadium, former Cardinal All-American tackle Bob Whitfield and then Atlanta Falcons holdout among them, saw the defending Southwest Conference champs hold on against the 17th-rated Cardinal by a slim 10-7 margin. The third of five Disneyland "Pigskin Classics" may not have marked a winning return to college football for Bill Walsh, but it was a certain sign of good things to come.

Yes, the bookends to the Cardinal's heralded 10-win 1992 season were such: A pair of now-defunct games, each played inside a multi-purpose NFL stadium in which vacant seats were aplenty. But while poor attendance has long been an albatross of Stanford football, the 10-3 record and No. 9 national ranking of 16 years ago included this historical abnormality: as the offense struggled to master Walsh's complicated West Coast Offense schemes, the Cardinal won because of their stout defense. The season-theme-setting trend got going on that warm night in August against R.C. Slocum's Aggies, who would parlay their preseason No. 7 ranking into a 12-0 regular season mark. "Coach Walsh said we'd have to score at least 14 points to win this game, and he was absolutely right," Glyn Milburn said afterwards. The elusive #5 was held mostly in check. Stanford's fifth-year senior and electrifying all-purpose threat had 59 of the Cardinal's 75 rushing yards, while catching three passes for 18 yards. Milburn's stats can be considered inflated by the exchange rate of this slugfest, a defensive struggle from the outset. A&M returned most starters - future Pro Bowlers like defensive end Sam Adams and corner Aaron Glenn among them - from the top-rated Division I-A defense of 1991. Stanford welcomed 10 of 11 defensive starters back from the club that finished the '91 regular season with seven straight wins. In Anaheim, the two teams - in their only meeting in history to date - combined for nearly as many punts (22) as first downs (28). A few years away from pitching for the Kansas City Royals, Jeff Granger of the Aggies skipped one-hoppers off the Big A's infield dirt. The lefty starting quarterback completed only 3 of his 12 passes for yards in the opening half.

Offensively, Stanford outgained the opposition 158-33 in the first two quarters. Fullback J.J. Lasley scored on a five-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to put Stanford up 7-0. The Walsh rules held sway, albeit in spurts: The touchdown drive featured a no-huddle offense, while junior college transfer tight end Ryan Wetnight led all Card receivers with four catches for 59 yards in regulation. In sacking Stanford QB Steve Stenstrom five times, A&M put up goose-eggs until the fourth quarter and generated a grand total of just 196 yards of offense on the night. Future NFLers John Lynch, Ron George, Dave Garnett (aka "The G-Men") were monsters throughout. 

Mickey and Minnie (Disneyland was the sponsor of the game) may have shared the sideline with the Stanford Tree, but this was no kid's movie. Speaking on behalf of the Aggies, Stanford linebacker and defensive captain Tom Williams (later a Cardinal assistant coach under Buddy Teevens and now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars staff) said "I know they know they got their [butts] kicked!"

"Ten Aggies," Paul "Bear" Bryant once said, "can yell louder than a hundred of anybody else." Texas A&M enjoyed great success as the Southwest Conference went through its dying days, winning 22 consecutive regular season contests from 1991-93.While toppling Walsh, the Junction Boys' descendants in fact made a lot out of a little.

After avoiding the safety blitz from Seyon Albert, Granger rolled left and put one up for garbs, hitting tight end Greg Schorp for a 21-yard touchdown early in the period. Later, his 32-yard scramble set up what would be the decisive margin - Terry Venetoulias' 39-yard field goal with 4:27 remaining.

Stanford kicker Aaron Mills' errant 43-yarder in the second quarter loomed large, especially with the Cardinal netting all of two first downs in the second half. "We failed to move the ball, and that was very frustrating," Walsh told reporters after the game. "I feel badly about our inability to run the offense. If we had gotten two or three more first downs in the second half, we would have won."

Walsh's much-celebrated homecoming shared headlines with some big-time events. George H.W. Bush, who now has his presidential library on the A&M campus, had accepted the Republican nomination in Houston a week earlier. The devastating Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Florida on Aug. 26. War raged in the former Yugoslavia. Locally, the Giants appeared headed to Tampa Bay.

Back in Orange County, each side got $500,000 for the game. It was the third of five "Pigskin Classics" played in Anaheim, that before it moved to on-campus venues in 1995 and the NCAA banned all "preseason" games after the 2002 campaign. The loss may have stung the Cardinal briefly. But a 5-1 start to a memorable season spent entirely in the Top 25 was soon to follow, as the punishing Cardinal defense led the way.

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