The '92 Big Game: Card Stamps
Ten years later, the same cursed venue that hosted "The Play" of 1982 tried to celebrate the occasion.
The mood of the blue-and-gold faithful was festive early on this date in 1992, as the Memorial Stadium crowd offered a big ovation for running back Russell White who had produced 1,000 rushing yards for the third straight season. The atmosphere turned more lukewarm at halftime, however, when a scoreboard showing the rival Stanford Cardinal ahead 20-3 hovered over the Cal rooters – some dressed in football uniform costumes – attempting to reenact the infamous five-lateral larceny.
It became downright ugly by game's end, when Bear students started a brawl following the 41-21 victory for the Cardinal in the 95th edition of the Big Game. Surging Stanford (9-3) unwrapped an early Christmas present, securing a New Year's Day bowl and clinching a share of the Pac-10 championship.
Cal just plain unraveled in front of 75,662. From the young bear cub fans' pitiful display of poor behavior to the demise of a Cal team with 19 seniors that had come into 1992 with back-to-back bowl wins, it was not football's finest hour. The unruly Bears (4-7), in a clear reflection of the influence spending time in Berkeley can have on one's character, had fallen apart after starting the season 3-1 and ranked No. 16 in the country.
"They have a history this year of giving up in the second half," said Stanford linebacker Tom Williams. "From the first series, I thought they'd come out with their backs to the wall like a wounded dog, and they didn't."
On the other side, the outcome marked a Bay Area coronation for the No. 14 Cardinal. The offense clicked like never before in Bill Walsh's first season back as a second-time college head coach, netting a season-high in points.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Steve Stenstrom threw three touchdown passes for the first time all season. All-purpose marvel Glyn Milburn ran a punt back 75 yards for a touchdown – his third such punt return for a score in his sparkling Cardinal career.
The 1992 season remains one of the more memorable tilts in Pac-10 conference history. Walsh joined Terry Donahue, Don James and Dick Tomey in the coaching ranks. Washington was a defending national co-champ. Wildcat Tedy Bruschi sacked everyone, Cougar QB Drew Bledsoe threw and Stanford safety John Lynch roamed the secondary in a season in which five Pac-10 teams (Arizona, Stanford USC, UCLA and Washington) took turns being ranked among the nation's top 11 teams.
The Cardinal was No. 8 in the AP going to a 21-6 loss to Arizona's formidable "Desert Swarm". A national TV audience witnessed a 41-7 flogging at the paws of the No. 2 Washington Huskies. But the rebound formed a triple shot of fulfillment for Walsh: Sound wins over USC and Bledsoe's Wazzu Cougars, followed by the decisive Big Game triumph. Stanford led 41-9 in the fourth quarter.
"Beating Berkeley, (Southern Cal), UCLA and Notre Dame in one year is a heck of an accomplishment," Walsh said. "I have never been more proud of a team of mine."
While Stanford soared into Berkeley, the Bears were an emotional wreck. The previous week saw Cal face its former head coach, the late Bruce "Take The Money & Run" Snyder, who took seven assistants with him to conference rival Arizona State from his Golden Bear program where he had posted a phenomenal 10-2 record in 1991 (marred or course by a merciless mauling by Tommy Vardell and the Northwest Road Warriors). The Sun Devils had won 28-12, further antagonizing the Old Blues. The 15 starters back from Snyder's last team had hoped for better.
"That was a real killer," Gilbertson said afterwards. "We invented killers. I've never seen so many bizarre things happen in a season." [Ed.-As bizarre as Stanford's "G-Men" defense holding California to 12 rushing yards in the second half?]
Anyway....Wide receiver Justin Armour's two first-half touchdown catches turned Cal's early 3-0 edge in a 13-3 Cardinal lead by midway through the second quarter. The second completion capped a brilliant 63-yard drive in which several Walsh gadget plays – Milburn completing a halfback option pass, senior flanker David Calomese turning the corner on an end-around – netted big chunks of yardage.
And when fullback Ellery Roberts, who finished with 117 yards rushing on 24 carries, struck a statuesque end-zone pose following a short touchdown run nearing halftime, the normally staid Stanford cheering section let loose. A thunderous roar greeted the 20-3 lead. A New Year's Day bowl was clearly in reach.
"''We're not playing for the national championship, and we're not going to the Rose Bowl," said fullback J.J. Lasley, who caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Stenstrom in the third quarter, "so this game is more important than any bowl we can go to."
With the game half-over, the weirdness began.
Two garbage-time touchdowns had Cal trailing by the eventual final margin with eight seconds left. Quarterback Dave Barr heaved a long ball that was intercepted by Darrien Gordon, who ran up the Cardinal sidelines into the path of Cal tight end Steve Stafford.
The ensuing tackle ripped Gordon's helmet off, while an offensive lineman went in for what was very clearly a late hit. Senior middle linebacker Tom Williams, now the head coach at Yale, lost it and came off the sideline and threw a punch.
''It was an unfortunate incident, but I have to say I have no regrets," Williams said. "He's my teammate. I'm going to protect him."
Having for the sixth consecutive year failed to re-gain The Axe, the enraged beehive that was the Cal student section poured on field, once the shoving and pushing between players was over with. Nice. Guess Stanford should have gone for two when up 40-9.
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