This Date in Cardinal Football: 11-08-86
"We're goin' BOWL-in! We're goin' BOWL-in! We're goin' BOWLin!"
As Jeff James and Thomas Henley led cheers, so went the voices that roared through the visitors' locker room at the Rose Bowl on this date in 1986. 19th-ranked Stanford's 28-23 victory at 12th-ranked UCLA paved the way for the Cardinal to end its eight-year drought without a postseason appearance.
It was a moment to savor, considering the beaten side was in the middle of seven consecutive bowl victories and three Rose Bowl wins in the previous four years. Brad Muster "The Ball-carrier" carried 38 times for 183 yards. Sore-shouldered senior QB John Paye somehow threw for two scores. Cornerback Toi Cook recorded a key interception, one of his seven in 1986. All that was nice, but it was a late defensive stop - a huge, heart-stopping, dramatic moment - that officially spoiled the Bruins' homecoming.
Down the field went UCLA (6-2, 4-2 in the Pac-10 entering the day) as the game entered its final minutes. Quarterback Matt Stevens moved his side from its own 32 with 4:52 remaining to the Stanford 19 with two minutes left. As scouts from the Gator, Citrus and Freedom Bowls watched, the Cardinal's 28-23 lead hung in the balance.
Fourth down, less than a yard to go. The nearly 69,000 in attendance could rightly assume who would get the ball next. As expected, Bruin offensive coordinator Homer Smith called on his superstar Gaston Green, who had entered the contest averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Green did in fact take the pitch, running left on the same play that had earned him three touchdowns on the day.
Stanford was ready this time. Once fullback Danny Thompson went in motion, Cardinal junior Brad Humphreys shot in from his strong safety spot. The Saratoga High alum made the initial hit; Green wobbled backwards near the Cardinal sideline before going forward again.
No chance. Tackle Chris Weber, linebackers David Wyman and Darron Bennett and corner Alan Grant finished the job. The Bruins' all-time leading rusher staggered out of bounds for a two-yard loss, surrounded by a jubilant Cardinal sideline. Verne Lundquist captured the moment perfectly on the CBS split-national telecast.
"Gaston Green running left...Gaston Green isn't gonna get there!"
"I stoned him," Humphreys told reporters. "I read it well and got there...My mom taped the game. When I get old and gray, I'll show it to everybody who wants to see it. (UCLA) had to do it, and we had to stop them. And they ran into a solid wall."
For the seventh time in their previous ten meetings, less than a touchdown decided the final outcome between the two sides. Pivotal games they were, like when Tom Ramsey out-dueled John Elway on his way to leading the Bruins to a Pac-10 title in 1982 (the two would be named Pac-10 Offensive Co-Players of the Year). When Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton's late touchdown lifted the Cards to a thrilling 32-28 win in 1977, the Stanford Band recorded an album right there at Stanford Stadium.
The Band was contraband on the November's second Saturday in 1986. Their halftime show the previous week back in Palo Alto (specifically the dropping of pants by several members) had earned the LSJUMB a one-week suspension courtesy of school administrators. Many Cardinal fans made the trip south a week after the final home game against Washington State. Only road dates remained, capped by an appearance against Arizona in Tokyo for the Coca Cola Bowl.
Paye's gimpy throwing shoulder, which forced him to miss the Arizona game and even more unfortunately the Cardinal's trip to face Clemson in the 1986 Gator Bowl, was a major factor in Cal's upset victory in the Big Game. This was the record-setting senior's last big moment in a Stanford uniform, when he found Jeff James and Eric Snelson for touchdowns. He totaled 147 yards through the air on 17 of 22 passing. He had missed two days of practice during the week.
The Cardinal wisely kept it mostly on the ground while staking first-half leads of 14-0 and 21-7, relying heavily on 1986 First Team All-Pac-10 running back Brad Muster . Muster's yeoman's work made it a combined 373 yards on 75 carries in successive weeks. On this day, the versatile junior fullback from Marin County bit off a career-long 74-yard run in the first quarter during Stanford's second touchdown drive.
Following Cook's interception, Muster scored from four yards out to put the Cardinal up 28-16 late in the third.
"I heard I had 24 carries at halftime," said the junior, who had a one-yard touchdown plunge in the second quarter. "No wonder I'm tired."
"He's our security blanket," was how center Andy Sinclair described the all-conference running back, who was also Stanford's leading receiver that year..
The biggest run of the game, however, came from an unlikely source on an even more unlikely play. Stanford faced a third & 9 two plays after stuffing Green. Paye faked a dive to Muster, then option-pitched to fullback Brian Morris. The play picked up 12 yards.
"You wait your whole career for a play like that," Morris said. "You're playing UCLA, you're the running back, and the game is on the line."
UCLA kept fighting. On the next play, nose guard Terry Tumey swiped at the center snap, sending the ball straight up in the air. Safety Craig Rutledge grabbed it. Hold everything. Tumey was flagged for illegal procedure, and Stanford could freely run out the clock.
The Cardinal, one of six Pac-10 teams in the Top 20, moved up in the rankings. Cook's first thoughts had to do with a certain fourth down.
"In the huddle we were saying, 'This is it. Suck it up, right here. This is the game.' And then we were out of our minds, swarming, attacking."
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