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The Anatomy Of A Miracle
Ron Fimrite
September 01, 1983
The wildest kickoff return in history began when Kevin Moen of Cal fielded a Stanford squib (right) and ended, five laterals and a felled trombone player later, amid hysteria
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September 01, 1983

The Anatomy Of A Miracle

The wildest kickoff return in history began when Kevin Moen of Cal fielded a Stanford squib (right) and ended, five laterals and a felled trombone player later, amid hysteria

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"When Richard pitched it back to me, I made one fake and then attracted a crowd," says Garner, understating the case. Stanford Linebacker David Wyman was the first to hit him, on the Cal 49. Then Linebacker Mark Andrew joined in, and, finally, what seemed to be the entire Stanford team. Harmon, the kicker, leaped for joy when he saw Garner stopped. "I thought he was down," says Harmon. "Half of our guys were going to the sidelines to celebrate." But there was no whistle, and Garner was resourceful. "My knee never touched the ground," he says. "They had my legs, but they were parallel to the ground. My upper body was free. I could hear Richard calling to me, 'Dwight, the ball!' I shovel-passed it back to him, then I hit the ground. I popped right back up to see if I could get another lateral."

At least nine players from the Stanford bench charged onto the field at that point in the mistaken belief that Garner had been stopped and the game was over. Line Judge Gordon Riese tossed his flag, charging Stanford with unsportsmanlike conduct. However, with the ball changing hands so rapidly, in the eyes of fans and players from both teams the flag could just as well have been against the Bears for something or other. From the south end zone the Stanford band also rushed onto the field, some members reaching as far as the 20-yard line.

But Rodgers, running now with the second lateral he'd received, started upfield from the Cal 48, not quite knowing whom to dodge, because so many illegal players were on the field. Two of them, in fact, were Cal men, Quarterback Gale Gilbert and Cornerback John Sullivan, both of whom took one step onto the gridiron from opposite ends of the Bears' bench when Garner was hit. They stepped back undetected as soon as they realized the ball was still in play. The most obvious of the trespassers was Stanford's Tolliver, who had run perhaps 15 yards from the bench before he realized the game wasn't over.

Rodgers reached the Stanford 46, where he was confronted by Cardinal Defensive Back Kevin Baird. "The second Dwight got the ball to me," says Rodgers, "I thought, 'Hey, we've got a chance.' I could see that Kevin and Mariet were running alongside me and that the Stanford man was in front of me. I acted like an option quarterback, drawing that man to me. Then I lateraled into an area, hoping that Kevin and Mariet wouldn't fight each other for the ball."

Ford took this fourth lateral on the Stanford 47 and swung swiftly to his right, speeding by players—legal and illegal—toward the startled Stanford band. Tolliver, mean-while, had slipped and fallen on his backside trying to get off the field. He was lying helplessly on the Stanford 34 when Ford ran by him. "His entourage ran right over me," says Tolliver. "Sometimes I wonder why I didn't just turn around and tackle that guy." Moen was directly behind Ford. "I knew Kevin was close," says Ford, "but I didn't know how close. I figured if I looked back, one of the Stanford players would go for him."

Ford was also grimly aware that at any moment his legs might again cramp. At the Stanford 27, Ford was trapped by three Cardinal defenders—Outside Linebacker Tom Briehl, Safety Steve Lemon and Harmon. "I just threw my body into all three of them," says Ford. As his feet left the ground, he made a remarkable over-the-shoulder toss—without looking back. "I didn't have much on it," he says. "I wanted it to stay in the air as long as possible so Kevin could get to it."

Ford's dive carried him to the Stanford 24. It also flattened the three Cardinal players and altered the course of three others. Moen, racing under Ford's blind toss, actually overran it. He reached back for it at the 25, at approximately the point from which it had been released. Embittered Stanfordites later protested that this pass, though thrown back over the shoulder, was still somehow forward. The films clearly show that the ball was thrown backward and that if Moen hadn't reached back for it, it would have hit the turf at about the 27.

Ford's climactic play removed virtually the entire Stanford team from the pursuit except Outside Linebacker Mike Noble, who was behind Moen, and Grissum, who was in front of Moen as he received the lateral. Howell took Grissum out with a block that was more of a shove. No flag was dropped. The Stanford band, 144 strong, was on the field by now. One bandsman, unaware that the game was being lost behind him, stood facing the Cal rooting section, waving his cap and dancing in victory. The Axe committeemen were similarly rejoicing with the victory trophy on the Stanford 17-yard line. Another member of the band frolicked near the goal line in a conehead. Most of the musicians, along with two cheerleaders, were congregated between the goal line and the 15. Then, suddenly, Moen, in determined full flight, bore down upon them. Like a Red Sea they parted for the miracle worker. "It was a bizarre feeling," says Moen. "There were so many people on the field, and I could see flags all over the place. And here I was running right through the band."

"I was following the play," says Referee Moffett, "and then I saw the band running toward me. It was the damnedest thing. Now I know how Custer felt."

Moffett admits he didn't see Moen cross the goal line because the band was in the way. Kapp didn't see the touchdown. Wiggin probably didn't, either. The only player with a reasonably unobstructed view of the proceedings was Noble, running in futile pursuit of Moen through his own school band. "I didn't know what was going on," says Noble. "At one point I may have had a shot at him, but it was a madhouse out there. Once I hit the band I slowed down. I didn't know where the end zone was, but I figured the band must be in it."

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