After 20 Years, The Play Lives On
Nov. 19, 2002
By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - From the moment Kevin Moen ran over Gary Tyrrell in Memorial Stadium's end zone in 1982, the man with the football and the man with the trombone have been inseparable in college football lore.
Moen was the California defensive back who scored at the end of The Play - the five-lateral, 57-yard kickoff return that ended one of the most dramatic victories in sports history and became the biggest moment in one of college football's oldest rivalries.
Tyrrell had the best view in the house. He was among the Stanford band members who charged the field with 4 seconds left, thinking the Cardinal and quarterback John Elway had won - but Moen, leaping in ecstasy after crossing the goal line, sent Tyrrell and his trombone to the ground in a percussive finish.
"It's a great example of why you should never give up on anything," Moen said. "Once we got going, that play took on a life of its own, but it's nothing compared to the life it has now."
As the schools prepare for the 105th edition of the Big Game on Saturday, the events of that day aren't dimmed by 20 years. Nearly all of the principals in The Play still follow and support their schools - and both Moen and Tyrrell, who have long since gone on to successful business careers, expect to hear about it every fall.
"It got me more attention than I ever thought I'd get for being in a college band, that's for sure," Tyrrell said.
For most of the fall, college football is an afterthought in the San Francisco Bay area - but for one weekend, it takes center stage for the Big Game, which has produced more than its share of incredible finishes and tremendous individual performances.
Five meetings in the last 30 years were decided on the final play, including the 2000 game. Stanford fullback Casey Moore, a senior this season, caught a 25-yard touchdown pass for the winning score in the only overtime edition of the Big Game.
"This is one of the greatest rivalries out there because of the way everybody in the Bay area gets excited about it," Moore said. "There's a lot of people in the Bay area who don't really care about college football until the Big Game, and then they've got their red or gold on."
The Cardinal have held The Axe - the 19th-century trophy awarded to the winner - for seven straight years. It's the longest streak in the rivalry's history, but much has changed in the two programs since last season's 35-28 victory for Stanford.
Under first-year coach Jeff Tedford, Cal has made one of the biggest turnarounds in recent college football history, recovering from its 1-10 record last fall for a 6-5 mark that probably would have got the Golden Bears into a bowl game if the NCAA (news - web sites) hadn't denied their appeal of its one-year bowl ban on Monday.
Meanwhile, Stanford (2-8) has struggled mightily under first-year coach Buddy Teevens, whose players still haven't grasped his new offense. Teevens is well aware that his predecessor, Tyrone Willingham, never lost a Big Game before moving on to Notre Dame.
They might be new to the rivalry, but both coaches understand the stakes.
"It doesn't take long to understand what this game means to the schools and the fans," Tedford said. "Buddy and I had to do a photo shoot (with The Axe), so I went over there to Stanford - and they were guarding it very well. They hardly let me touch it."
Both coaches remember the first time they saw The Play. Teevens, at home in Boston, remembers thinking, "Wow, that's imaginative."
Both Moen and Tyrrell have a sense of humor about their surprising parts in football history. They've posed for more than their share of goofy photos, often with Moen holding a football over his head as Tyrrell grinningly cowers in a recreation of the famed final image of the day.
Tyrrell, a chief financial officer for a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, is also an amateur beer-maker. His brand? Trombone Guy Pale Ale.
"Without that play, I would have gone on with my life and just had memories of a nice college football experience," said Moen, a Los Angeles businessman who coaches his son's football team. "Now, it's given me a little part of Cal history. ... Anybody that's involved with sports knows about it. I hear it all the time whenever somebody recognizes my name: 'Hey, he was in The Play!'"
The events of that day are carved into the minds of Bay area fans through the voice of Joe Starkey, the Cal radio play-by-play announcer whose call of The Play has sold thousands of copies on a CD.
Starkey, who still calls Cal games, remembers being too shocked by The Play to really register what he was seeing. Still, he summed it up fairly well on that beautiful fall day in Strawberry Canyon:
"The Bears have won! Oh my God! The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting finish in the history of college football! ... Excuse me for my voice, but I have never, never seen anything like it in the history of any game in my life!"