SI Vault
Jim Kohn
November 21, 1988
Why didn't I tackle him?
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November 21, 1988

'the Play' Just Won't Go Away

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At that moment, it dawned on me that I hadn't yet actually interfered with the play. There was time to escape, a chance that my errant jaunt might go unnoticed. But when I turned to retreat, I was nearly trampled by a rampaging mass of redcoats. The band! Had they come to lynch me for disgracing the mighty Stanford name? No, they stormed right past me. They, too, had come to celebrate.

I dodged the onslaught of my fellow madcap musicians, some of whom turned and joined me as I scampered back toward the end zone. My panic started to subside as I ran beneath the goalpost, but then I remembered Stanford head coach Paul Wiggin.

Coach Wiggin was surely going to come after me for leading the band onto the field. I pictured him in hot pursuit of my highly conspicuous headpiece. I had to shed my identity. First I pulled the cone off my head and drop-kicked it among the bug-eyed band members who now pressed close around me. Then I looked around desperately and saw—yes!—my roommate, Jake Jeakle. I grabbed the trumpet from beneath Jake's arm, and thrust my saxophone toward him, demanding a trade. Jake was confused, but seemed to sympathize. He cowered next to me, but I quickly moved away, leaving him to fend for himself.

Meanwhile, all eyes were directed at the game's officials, who huddled near midfield. I was sure they were deciding my fate. As the crowd waited restlessly for the decree, I prayed the officials would just decide to take the play over. I couldn't understand why they were making such a fuss.

I was completely ignorant of the fact that a touchdown had been scored—oblivious even to the fact that trombonist Gary Tyrrell had been clobbered by ballcarrier Kevin Moen in the end zone. (It wasn't until later that evening, when I saw the replay, that I realized Moen had run past several band members—within tackling distance—down the Stanford sideline.)

Finally, the officials emerged from their meeting with a ruling. Touchdown! "Touchdown?" I said to myself. Were they punishing the band? Because I hadn't seen Moen make it to the end zone, I wondered if they had awarded Cal a touchdown because of the possibility the Bears might have scored if the band hadn't interfered. I thought the decision was preposterous, but I was in no position to complain—I had caused this mess. I was devastated.

A boom from the cannon atop the hill overlooking Memorial Stadium announced the Cal victory and ignited a roar from the home crowd, which spilled onto the field. We stood in shock as three members of Stanford's Axe Committee, guardians of the game's trophy (the head of an axe mounted on a plaque), removed the chains that had attached them to the trophy, and relinquished the Axe to a Cal committee. Cal 25, Stanford 20. ( Stanford, by the way, has never accepted that score, and continues to change it on the trophy to "20-19" whenever it takes home the Axe after the Big Game. Cal, of course, changes it back when it gets the Axe.)

Our drum major blew his whistle, suddenly bringing the band back to reality. We despondently began playing Hail, Stanford, Hail, making a lame attempt to absolve ourselves of any wrongdoing. Stanford fans stood dumbfounded. I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting to find a fuming Wiggin rushing toward me. My glances were met instead by Cal fans who applauded and mouthed thank you's to the Stanford band members in the stadium din.

The ovation continued as our bus slowly rolled out of Berkeley. I realized that not only had the loss spoiled Elway's last chance for a winning season (we would have had a 6-5 record), but it also ruined Stanford's shot at a postseason appearance at the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham.

I was doomed. We were on our way back to Palo Alto, where I was sure I would be collected by the authorities. Coach Wiggin would probably spit on me as they loaded me into the paddy wagon. The conehead, which had been my key to acceptance in the band, had now been my downfall.

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