STANFORD — John Elway, Jim Plunkett and Don Bunce, three of the best quarterbacks ever to play at Stanford, were on hand Saturday when the Cardinal met UCLA.
Unfortunately for Stanford, Elway, Plunkett and Bunce were on the sidelines.
It appears that the legacy of great quarterbacks here on the Farm is over, at least for now.
Scott Stark, Greg Ennis and Brian Johnson, the incumbent Cardinal quarterbacks, combined for one of the most inept offensive performances in the school's football history as the Bruins humiliated Stanford, 49-0, before a crowd of 57,500 at Stanford Stadium.
It was the worst home loss ever for Stanford and was its biggest margin of defeat anywhere since a 49-0 loss to USC at the Coliseum in 1977.
Stanford quarterbacks had six interceptions, and UCLA returned two of them for touchdowns and had a third called back because of a clipping penalty.
"At this point, Stanford isn't as good as they have been at quarterback," UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said. "You can be the best coach in the world but you can't get anywhere unless you have the bus driver to get there."
Said ex-Stanford Coach John Ralston, who watched the game from the press box, "If the quarterbacks can't throw the ball, Stanford's in trouble."
Stark, a redshirt freshman from Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, who had never played a down of collegiate football, completed just 6 of 15 passes for 43 yards with 2 interceptions in his first start.
"It was the toughest game of my life," said Stark as he was walking off the field with with his head bowed.
"We played a great team today and we played as bad as we possibly could."
Stark's first pass was incomplete, and he threw his second into the arms of Bruin linebacker Jeff Glasser.
Stark's second interception, which came with the Bruins leading, 9-0, in the second quarter, was turned into UCLA's first touchdown as safety Eric Turner returned it 54 yards. UCLA cornerback Dennis Price set up the interception, batting the ball away from Cardinal wide receiver Ed McCaffrey into the arms of Turner.
Stark had a chance to make a touchdown-saving tackle at the 25 but missed.
After being benched in favor of Ennis late in the second period, Stark re-entered the game on the Cardinal's last series of the third quarter with UCLA leading, 47-0.
Stark's final humiliation came when he was sacked for a safety by linebacker Rocen Keeton in the fourth quarter. "It was the most frustrated I've ever felt in my whole life," Stark said. "I tried to get things going, but nothing would work.
"The whole team learned a lot today. I'm sure there were guys open. I just missed them."
Quarterbacks, past and present, stick together, and Stark got some sympathy from Elway, Plunkett, Bunce and even UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman.
"I'll tell you what, it's not easy playing your first college football game," said Elway, the Denver Broncos' quarterback. "I remember the first time I started at Stanford. I got killed. There's nothing that makes up for experience.
"UCLA is a great football team. Stark just couldn't get anything going."
Said Plunkett: "Stark went into a difficult situation, starting his first game on national TV. He's young and he was probably nervous going up against a great team like UCLA."
Said Aikman, who completed 12 of 15 passes for 187 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Bruins had their biggest day against Stanford since a 59-13 win over the Cardinal in 1973: "I feel for him (Stark). I remember the first game I started in college. I was at Oklahoma, and we were playing Kansas. I threw two interceptions, and we lost. I thought my world had ended."
Said Bunce, who was the quarterback in Stanford's 13-12 Rose Bowl win over Michigan in 1972 and now serves as the team physician: "I don't think Stanford fans have been spoiled by the great quarterbacks we've had. We've just been fortunate to have a great tradition of quarterbacks. But I had some tough days myself."
Ennis, who took over for Stark late in the second quarter with the Cardinal trailing, 23-0, hit 4 of 10 passes for 45 yards with 3 interceptions. However, Ennis was benched in the third quarter after UCLA scored three touchdowns in the first five minutes after halftime.
Ennis said: "I couldn't even tell you what the problem was. We couldn't execute."
The low light for Ennis came when he threw an ill-advised pass directly into the hands of UCLA linebacker Ben Hummel at the nine-yard line on the Cardinal's first possession of the second half. Hummel took it in for a touchdown.
"It was a very stupid move," Ennis said. "You'd think after playing four years that I wouldn't do something stupid like that."
Johnson, a freshman from Skyline High School in Oakland, who played the final series of the game, completed 3 of 5 passes for 37 yards with 1 interception.
Playing against the Bruins' third-string defense late in the game, Johnson had the most success of the three Cardinal quarterbacks, driving the team to the Bruin 32. But UCLA safety Mark McGill intercepted Johnson's final pass to preserve the shutout.
It was the worst loss for Stanford Coach Jack Elway since he took over here in 1984.
"It was absolutely a terrible, terrible day on offense," Elway said. "But I don't blame the quarterbacks. I thought they did a good job. They didn't have a good day, but they didn't have enough to go on either."
Asked if he had ever been beaten so badly in a head coaching career that has spanned 11 years at Cal State Northridge, San Jose State and Stanford, Elway scratched his head and said: "I don't know if my memory goes back that far. What the hell difference does it make if you get beat by 1 point or 49."