This Date in Cardinal Football: 11-18-89
As Cal and Stanford prepared for the 1989 Big Game, many had grown weary of the two clubs' small-scale success.
Just 2-8 in Denny Green's inaugural year as head coach, the Cardinal were a pedestrian 48-70-3 over the previous 10 years. Cal owned an even worse record (44-73-3) over the same span. Miles below the bar set by the Pac-10's heavyweights of the era -UCLA, USC and Washington took turns going to Pasadena during the '80s - Stanford and Cal had just one bowl berth between them during that same stretch (Stanford's 1986 Gator Bowl appearance under Jack Elway).
"This isn't a Big Game," declared C.W. Nevius of the San Francisco Chronicle's Sporting Green. "It's a pageant. The Big Game hasn't meant anything more than nostalgia since Jim Plunkett was a kid."
Couldn't really blame ya, Chuck. Anyone who was at Memorial Stadium a year earlier remembered the 19-19 tie between the Bears and Cards, who combined for eight field goals and many more punts and turnovers in a game each side refused to win. A blocked Robbie Keen FG attempt by redshirt freshman safety Tuan Van Le had preserved a stalemate for Stanford. The Cardinal's entertaining 24-14 victory in the 92nd Big Game on this date exactly 19 years ago injected some much-needed new life into each of the Bay Area rivals.
Led by youngsters J.J. Lasley (17-101), Scott Eschelman (19-80) and Tommy Vardell (7-51), Stanford rushed for 229 yards. "Touchdown Tommy" provided a 22-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter, capping a puniishing eight-play, 78-yard drive that was accomplished exclusively on the ground. With a starting line of future All-American Bob Whitfield and Darran Baird at the tackles, redshirt junior Chuck Gillingham and Andy Papathanassiou at the guards, and freshman Rick Pallow at center, the mighty Cardinal rolled over the Bears, racking up a surprising 229 to 50 advantage in rushing yards.
Cal head coach Bruce Snyder later said the performance inspired him to emphasize the Bears' ground game the following year. Led by 1,000-yard rushers Russell White and Anthony Wallace, the Bears would win a bowl game for the first time since the Great Depression. In the '90s, eight Big Games involved bowl implications for at least one side.
So on a night in which beer was allowed inside the old Stanford Stadium for the final time, the contest featured colors unbeknownst to any of the previous 88 Big Games. Cable television, in this case the long-forgotten Pacific Sports Network, shelved its usual men's pro beach volleyball to provide live coverage of the event. The unusual 3:30 p.m. kickoff meant that the Big Game was played under the glow of artificial lights for the very first time. The game drew a sellout crowd 86,019 fans, Stanford Stadium's biggest crowd in 12 years.
True freshman Whitfield had lobbied his head coach, arguing that the Cardinal unveil a fresh new look for their prime time appearance. Coach Green heeded the wishes of his standout left tackle. Stanford made the change-of-clothes after pregame warm-ups, taking the field in red jerseys and red pants.
The look became a red menace for Cal, whose hopes of ending the season on a three-game winning streak went by the wayside.
"There's nothing more satisfying for an offensive lineman than to stuff the ball down people's throats", said Stanford's Gillingham, "Especially when they know it's coming."