This Date in Cardinal Football: September 13, 1986
Flashing back to late September of 1985, Jack Elway found himself in a foul mood. The third-year Stanford head coach was still seething after the Cardinal's upset hopes had faded and then fizzled. A spirited comeback for Stanford against 19th-ranked Texas had fallen frustratingly short. The visiting Longhorns' 38-34 victory hadn't been secured until the Texas defense corralled Stanford's star running back Brad Muster for a loss of three on a 4th & 2 near midfield in the fourth quarter's waning moments. Questioned later why he chose to send the all-conference fullback to the short side of the field on a sweep, Elway was a whipped junkyard dog in a Stanford ballcap.
"I would have rather called any play than the one we did call," he said, after comeback-minded Stanford turned a 24-3 second-quarter deficit into a 34-31 edge with 8:31 remaining in regulation. "You want to know all the things we could have done? I've got a goddamn list this long. When it doesn't work, it's the wrong play."
A year later, on September 13, 1986, Stanford had revenge in mind as the team prepared to roast the host 'Horns. It was all Stanford in the first half! A 31-20 season-opening victory featured a 241-yard effort from outstanding senior quarterback John Paye, who hooked up with his favorite receiver Jeff James for three first-half touchdown passes. The smooth-running redshirt senior from Beverly Hills High caught nine passes for 162 yards in a truly dominant performance. Texas fans were in shock. Not since USC did the deed in 1966 had the Texas Longhorns lost a home opener. It would be the first of four straight wins to start the season for Stanford, which would be one of six Pac-10 teams ranked in the Top 20 by mid-November. A Gator Bowl berth would mark the program's first postseason appearance in eight years.
Coach Elway and the Cardinal had been highly confident that they could throw long on the Longhorns in 1986's highly anticipated season-opening rematch. In the 1985 game, Paye had torched the Longhorn secondary for 365 yards. At the time Texas was a proud, but declining team in a Southwest Conference that was decidedly ground-orientated. But after Elway's offense built a lead of 28-9 and his defenders forced five turnovers, Jack was the cat with canary feathers hanging from his lip.
"It's a great win, a great way to start the season," he said with a laugh. "Very sweet. There's a new attitude. I saw it in the spring. They're disciplined, they're physical."
Warm, overcast skies greeted the more than 74,000 who filled Memorial Stadium for the 5 p.m. kickoff that day. Enormous crickets "bred on Three Mile Island" according to the San Jose Mercury News, were the uninvited guests at Stanford's team hotel. Back home, Stanford fans were limited to the KCBS 740 AM's radio coverage courtesy of Ted Robinson and Bob Murphy. (USA Network broadcasted Cal's loss at Boston College). The Stanford Band and Dollies made the long road trip south.
Texas backers eagerly awaited the debut of heralded freshman running back Eric Metcalf, son of former NFL star Terry Metcalf. Cardinal fans would watch as defensive back Alan Grant, defensive lineman Lester Archambeau and wide receiver Ed McCaffrey - a trio that would later combine for 29 NFL seasons, three Super Bowl appearances, two Super Bowl rings and a Pro Bowl between them - played their first college games. Fifth-year senior linebacker Dave Wyman provided a mighty veteran presence, that after suffering a vicious knee injury at Arizona 22 months earlier. He started on a stout defense that included fellow seniors like safety Toi Cook and defensive lineman Chris Webber. Mustachioed linebacker Mike Noble and safety Walt Harris joined Wyman as the club's fifth-year seniors, the last links to the "John" Elway era that had ended with the infamous Screw of '82.
The fleet-footed James had been virtually unstoppable in the Cardinal's near-upset in 1985, grabbing 10 catches for 167 yards and two scores. He would repeat his heroics...and then some. Stanford's first score went his way from 18 yards out. As the first quarter ended, the Cardinal held a 7-0 edge. It would take just minutes to double.
Paye dropped back and saw James sprint past Texas cornerback Tony Tillmon to his right near midfield. He hauled in the pass and went into the end zone untouched. The 56-yard score was nice, but only marked a prelude to the evening's signature play.
Behind quarterback Bret Stafford and the running of tailback Darron Norris, Texas had pulled within 14-9 by the time 10 seconds remained in the half. The Cardinal held court at the Longhorn 45. Paye fired as James, testing Stephen Braggs over the middle on a crossing pattern, outwrestled the Texas defender for the ball at the 25. Braggs mistimed his leap, and James found himself all alone in the artificial turf's paydirt. Stanford 21, Texas 9. Game (essentially) over.
James used his hands to back up his mouth. He had been flagged earlier for a personal foul (for "taunting"), one of six such 15-yard penalties normally well-behaved Stanford committed that day.
"Hey, I'm known for having a hot temper," James acknowledged afterwards.
Countered defensive coordinator Dick Mannini: "I don't like the penalties, but hell yes, I like the aggressiveness,"
According to Wyman, Stanford was up to shedding its "goody-goody" image.
"I'm tired of hearing about this stuff about just because we're from Stanford, we can't do that," Wyman said. "We want to win. We want to prove it now."
And with Stanford's first bowl appearance in eight years, prove it they did.
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