BERKELEY — It's known simply as The Play, Cal's five-lateral kickoff return for a touchdown through the Stanford band, which gave the Golden Bears a 25-20 victory over Stanford in 1982.
While Stanford's dramatic 27-25 win in Saturday's 93rd Big Game, which came on John Hopkins' 39-yard field goal as time expired, wasn't as bizarre, it was almost as absurd.
"I remember The Play and I guess you could call this The Play II," said Stanford running back Glyn Milburn, who rushed for 196 yards and one touchdown.
Trailing 25-18, Stanford drove 87 yards to a touchdown, with quarterback Jason Palumbis hitting split end Ed McCaffrey with a 19-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds remaining to cut the score to 25-24.
Then it got strange.
The Cardinal went for a two-point conversion to win the game, but defensive back John Hardy intercepted Palumbis' pass in the end zone and Cal's fans, thinking the game was over, engulfed the Memorial Stadium field. Hardy ran through the crowd, exchanging high-fives with rooters on his way to the tunnel that leads to the locker room.
But 12 seconds remained.
After the crowd was cleared, Cal was assessed a 15-yard penalty for delay of game by referee Pat Flood, who had earlier threatened to award Stanford the two-point conversion unless the field was cleared of fans who had left the stands in anticipation of a victory celebration.
"The rule states that if the team, which includes substitutes, band members and cheerleaders, come on the field, a penalty can be assessed," Flood said. "We can't penalize the crowd. Cal had quite a few players on the field and the coaches were trying to hold them back. Some of them were all the way over near the Stanford sideline. They thought the game was over for some reason."
While it can be argued that The Play wouldn't have been possible without the Stanford band, which had spilled onto the field during the chaotic five-lateral kickoff return, Cal Coach Bruce Snyder refused to blame Cal's overzealous fans for contributing to the loss.
"I had no idea what the crowd was going to do," Snyder said. "But I just want to go on record as saying that over the course of this year, fan support, particularly in the student section, has been outstanding. In a way, they get credit for the improvement of Cal's football team and I appreciate the hell out of them."
Kicking off from the 50, instead of the 35, Hopkins dribbled a kick along the right sideline. Although several Cal players had a chance to recover, Stanford defensive back Kevin Scott covered it at the Cal 37 with nine seconds left.
Scott admitted later that he was out of bounds when he recovered the kick.
"My feet were out of bounds, but my knees were in bounds," Scott said. "But it's too late to give it back. There's no instant replay in college football."
Palumbis, who passed for 253 yards and one touchdown, threw an incomplete pass on first down, but Cal was penalized for roughing the passer when nose guard John Belli hit Palumbis after he had released the ball, giving Stanford a first down at the Cal 22 with five seconds left.
"It's tough to tell right now until I look at the films," Belli said of the call. "I'm an aggressive player and it was an obvious passing down. I was just trying to get some heat on the quarterback. I didn't realize it was late when I hit him. I was going full steam. I didn't really hit him, I sort of ran through him."
Snyder thought it was a bad call.
"It wasn't a good call," Snyder said. "Whether legitimate or not, the officials determine that. The referee's job is to protect the quarterback and he made his judgment."
Palumbis disagreed, saying, "The call came immediately, so I think it was a good call."
The 15-yard penalty moved Stanford into field-goal range for Hopkins, who had made kicks of 26, 29, 47 and 22 yards earlier in the game. So instead of a 53-yard field goal, Hopkins trotted onto the field and hit a 39-yarder to beat the Golden Bears.
"I knew it was good right away, but it was a tough kick because it was into the wind," Hopkins said.
Stanford Coach Dennis Green made sure that the Stanford band wouldn't determine the outcome of this game, sending extra security guards to police the band and ensure that the musicians wouldn't leave the stands until the game was over.
"I had my No. 1 security guy make sure the band wasn't on the field, and I had my No. 2 security guy make sure no players were on the field because I wasn't sure if there was any time left on the clock," Green said.
Until it turned into a theater of the absurd, Cal tailbacks Russell White and Anthony Wallace dominated the game.
White, who rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns, finished the regular season with 1,000 yards. Wallace, who gained 99 yards, ended the regular season with 1,002.
White gave Cal a 25-18 lead when he scored his second touchdown on an eight-yard run with 6:03 left to cap an 88-yard drive.
After Cal forced Stanford to punt on the ensuing series, it appeared that the Golden Bears (6-4-1 4-3-1) would run out the final 4:16.
But Cal was unable to kill the clock, punting to Stanford (5-6, 4-4) with two minutes left.
After taking over at his 13, Palumbis made a brilliant play to keep the drive alive on fourth and six at the Stanford 35, hitting wide receiver Chris Walsh with a 17-yard pass over the middle with 56 seconds left. Six plays later, Palumbis connected with McCaffrey for the touchdown.