This Date in Cardinal Football: 9-25-82

Mark DeVaughn refreshes our memory of one of the most thrilling road victories in Cardinal Football history. On September 25, 1982, 26 years ago today, All-American John Elway led his team to a stunning 23-20 upset of #11-ranked Ohio State, paying the Buckeyes back for their win in Palo Alto the previous year. It was a signature Elway thriller and it all happened on This Date in Cardinal Football!

This Date in Cardinal Football: 9-25-82 


Rarely has there been a more celebrated congregation of famous football coaches on hand for a Stanford game. On September 25, 1982, the legendary Sid Gillman joined Buckeye icons Paul Brown and Woody Hayes in a private box at Ohio Stadium as Paul Wiggin's Cardinal [1-1] ventured deep into Big Ten country to take on The Ohio State University [2-0] in Columbus, the second time in just two weeks that Stanford was playing in the midwest, having enjoyed a convincing season-opening victory at Purdue  (35-14). 

The titanic trio of sporting legends looked on as Earle Bruce, Hayes' successor in 1979, gambled... and lost. 

Up 20-16 with 1:50 to play and with the ball at the Stanford 27, Bruce called for a pass. Bad idea for the Bucs. Second-year Buckeye quarterback Mike Tomczak, who had taken over for record-setting 1981 Big Ten MVP Art Schlichter, rolled to his left, planted and then lofted a pass toward the end zone. Up went Cardinal cornerback Kevin Baird's paw, batting the ball into the grateful grasp of junior strong safety Charles Hutchings. Touchback. 

Suddenly, Stanford had new life against a weary Ohio State defense. (Amazingly, Stanford would run 53 plays in the second half to the Buckeyes' 26)

A major mistake for the Bucs created an awsome opportunity for senior All-American John Elway. On an afternoon in which he managed to complete a Stanford-record 35 passes in a Pac-10 single-game record 63 attempts, Elway made sure the final one counted. Going 80 yards in seven plays in just over a minute, Elway engineered yet another trademark, dramatic drive. With 34 seconds left, the incomparable #7 rolled left and threw back across the grain, launching a physically-impossible 18-yard touchdown pass to Emile Harry, who was wide open in the right corner of the end zone. A superstar play proved to be the difference in a 23-20 upset over 11th-ranked OSU.  

"There isn't anybody John can't pass against," an admiring Hutchings said of Elway after the game. The extraordinary 1982 Heisman runner-up was in fact rather ordinary in the first two quarters, uncharacteristically throwing two interceptions. A listless Stanford squad trailed 13-0 at halftime, going scoreless in the opening 30 minutes for the first time since hanging a 21-21 tie on #1-ranked USC three years earlier.

Coach Wiggin's half-time speech must have been a winner! A revitalized Elway was a red-hot 22 of 36 in the second half, totaling 284 of his 407 passing yards, a feat accomplished against an outstanding Buckeye secondary coached by future NFL head coach Dom Capers. OSU's defense had held each of its previous 1982 opponents, Baylor and Michigan State, to less than 100 yards passing). With 1:38 showing and 80 yards standing in between them and the end zone, Elway, one of eight Pac-10 players who earned All-American honors that season, calmly went to work in front of a suddenly nervous home crowd of 89,436, the 85th-consecutive sell-out at Ohio Stadium.

Surely Elway must have been thinking about the previous year's contest, when he had led a stirring comeback against Ohio State in a televised game that garnered national attention as a matchup of "Elway vs. Schichter". The two star QBs did not disappoint. Elway had been leading his team on a game-winning drive, but an untimely Stanford fumble with 44 seconds left had preserved a 24-19 victory for the Scarlet and Gray.  

He had the ball in his hands and a righteous chance at redemption. Shaking off the interception he'd thrown less than a minute earlier, Elway quickly completed two passes for 28 yards. A pair of incompletions preceded a huge 31-yard gain to Harry. The sophomore wide receiver from Los Angeles got behind the defense over the middle, motoring all the way to the Buckeye 17. 

Senior tailback Mike Dotterer, who had taken an 11-yard screen pass in for a touchdown earlier in the game, lost a yard on an errant swing pass. However, Dot wisely got out of bounds to stop the clock with 42 ticks. #24 was actually the originally intended receiver on the critical, contest-clinching play that followed. 

"John rolled out the opposite way and I was running the safety toward the middle," Harry told the Columbus Dispatch. "He just let me get behind him. He lost track of me and didn't know where I was. Mike Dotterer ran across the field and took everybody that way. I decided, 'Well, John's going to scramble - he's going to see me'. So I just went to the corner, and I was wide open."

Touchdown Stanford. Thanks for coming!

Editor's Note: Talk about a hot start - after the win over OSU, Elway led the nation in total offense at 377.7 yards per game, with Doug Flutie of Boston College second at 307. 3 yards per game. A stingier Card defense and correct officiating in the '82 Big Game and Elway may well have won the 1982 Heisman Trophy over Georgia tailback  Hershel Walker. Sour grapes? You bet! John deserved it!

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