Stanford made two critical mistakes on what seemed to be its winning play. Elway, standing next to Referee Charles Moffett, didn't let the clock run down far enough before calling the time-out that preceded the field goal. Then, as the kick passed between the uprights, jubilant Stanford players ran onto the field to celebrate their dramatic victory. This resulted in a 15-yard penalty for having illegal players on the field. The penalty was assessed on the ensuing kickoff, obliging Harmon to kick from the 25-yard line instead of the 40. The penalty in no way diminished Stanford's victory celebration. It should have. Now Cal would have both a shorter distance to the goal and more room to execute the Marx Brothers stunts that would get them there.
When the two teams lined up for the kick, there was, as Cal Special Teams Coach Charlie West said, "pandemonium everywhere." Stanford was busily clearing the field of players who weren't supposed to be on it. Cal didn't have enough. In expectation of a squib kick West had called for his onsides-return team, composed exclusively of players accustomed to handling the ball. In the chaos, two members of the unit, defensive backs Gregg Beagle and Jimmy Stewart, did not hear West call this return formation and did not take the field. So Cal lined up with only nine men, until West, responding to frantic gestures from his players, sent in Running Back Scott Smith to take Beagle's place in the center of the front line. Still more waves and shouts from the field. West was reluctant to act because, as he and Kapp agreed, in such situations "twelve men is a whole lot worse than 10." A skinny 170-pound defensive back named Steve Dunn was standing next to the perplexed coach. "Let me go in," pleaded Dunn, who seldom played, even on special teams. West hastily counted his forces—Kapp calls his special teams "special forces"—and sent Dunn in just as Harmon approached the ball.
Smith reached the field in time to fill the gap left by Beagle's absence, but Stewart's position, second from the left on the front line, was unoccupied. This left Cal with only four players in the restraining area between the Stanford 35 and 40, not five, as the rules stipulate. But this violation calls for only a correction by the officials before the kick, not a penalty that would nullify the return. In the confusion—players shuttling on and off the field, fans crowding the sidelines—none of the six officials noticed the oversight. Rodgers, captain of the special forces, was on the front line at the far left. Stewart's disappearance left a gap between him and Smith. Linebacker Tim Lucas and Cornerback Garey Williams were on the right side of this line. The second line should have consisted of Tight End David Lewis, Moen, Running Back Ron Story and Wide Receiver Howell, but Moen, for reasons unclear to West, was playing five yards deeper.
"I noticed we were a man short," says Moen, "so I decided to protect us farther back." It was one of those inspired decisions by which history is altered and football games are won. Garner was the intermediate return man and Ford the deep man—deeper at first than necessary, for he was not immediately aware that Stanford was kicking from the 25. Dunn had gotten no more than five yards onto the field when the ball was kicked, so in effect he was playing no position at all. He would play it well.
The return formation may have been a hodgepodge, but the Bears did have a vague idea of what they wanted to do, although at least two of the principals, Moen and Ford, didn't know what it was. Recalls Rodgers, "I saw our onsides team coming on, so as Mariet ran past me, I called out to him, 'If you're tackled, lateral the ball.' Then I thought that's what we should do—just keep the ball alive. Stanford might be expecting one or even two laterals, but they wouldn't be looking for us to go crazy. I walked into the huddle and said, 'Look, if you're gonna get tackled, lateral the ball.' Everybody just looked at me. T mean, don't fall with that ball.' That seemed to do it. Don't fall with the ball."
It seemed a terrific idea to young Garner. "I didn't know what we were going to do," he says. "But Richard came into that huddle with a very positive attitude. 'Don't fall with the ball.' I liked that. Why not? If they're gonna beat us, we'll go out fighting. Coach Kapp instilled that in us—100 percent for 60 minutes; never give in until the last second has ticked off. We all held hands after Richard told us what to do. I knew then it wasn't hopeless."
Moen wasn't so sure. "I wasn't in the huddle," he said. "I was just walking around in the middle of the field. I was mad and frustrated. I thought we'd played a good game, good enough to win. I didn't have a lot of hope. I didn't know about the lateraling. But I did have a weird feeling. I just wanted to see what was going to happen."
Ford had heard Rodgers yelling at him, "But I really couldn't hear what he was saying. There was too much noise." And he was having troubles of his own. "My legs started cramping up in the third quarter," he says. "I'd expected it to be cold for the game, so I'd worn tights under my uniform to keep my legs warm. Then it turned up warm [57° at the kickoff], and it was too late to take them off. I did a lot of running in that game, and it finally caught up with me. At the start of the fourth quarter I took off the tights. That seemed to help, but I could still feel the knots in my legs as I stood standing there waiting for the kick."
Stanford went for the squib kick because, according to Wiggin, "That takes away the timing of the return." But not of this one. The ball found the gap between Rodgers and Smith. Then it took a big hop directly into Moen's hands. Had he been playing in position, the ball would most likely have bounced over his head into a virtual no man's land, where Garner, the nearest player, would have had to track it down under pressure. Instead, Moen fielded the ball cleanly at about the Cal 44. He started running to his right "until I saw white shirts"—primarily Stanford Strong Safety Barry Cromer's. On the Cal 48, Moen wheeled in front of Cromer, spotted Rodgers perhaps 12 yards away near the left sideline, stopped and threw an overhand pass back to him on the Cal 46. "I did it instinctively," says Moen. "I thought Richard might have a seam on the left side. I was a quarterback in high school, so I knew I could get the ball to him. Then I ducked past the Stanford tackier and started running toward Richard, circling so that I was behind him, just to be there if he needed me."
Rodgers was startled to get the ball. "I saw Kevin looking around, then the ball was in the air and I had it," says Rodgers. "I started to run, but a Stanford man was in the way." This was Cornerback Darrell Grissum, who would surely have tackled Rodgers the moment he received the ball had not Dunn, trying somehow to get into the action from his nowhere spot, rushed up and delivered a perfect block on Grissum near the sideline. Dunn's block enabled Rodgers to lateral to Garner on the Cal 43.