With Big Game coming up this weekend, I found myself thinking back over my favorite Big Game memories, and one jumps out immediately. Big Game 1990 at Berkeley was a game I'll never forget and certainly one of the best games in the rivalry.
A group of us seniors made the trek from Palo Alto to Berkeley and found seats in the Stanford section behind the south end zone. I don't remember the details of how the game got to its final act, but I do know that the Mighty Card trailed 25-18 when they got the ball back late in the fourth quarter for what looked like their last chance. Quarterback Jason Palumbis led a drive that resulted in a touchdown with twelve seconds left on the clock, bringing the score to 25-24.
Here's where things started getting crazy. Before the Stanford touchdown, the Cal students had begun spilling out of the stands and preparing for what they knew would be a celebration. As Stanford lined up for their two-point conversion on our end of the stadium, there somehow seemed to be more Cal fans on the track than in the bleachers. The conversion failed, and the roar from the stadium was deafening. The waiting horde of Cal fans rushed the field while those of us in red stood in stunned silence, knowing that the Axe was lost.
But then there was a voice.
"Please clear the field! The game is not over!"
The field was full of celebrating Cal students and players, but twelve seconds still remained on the clock. The voice on the public address continued to urge the mass of humanity to disperse, and the officials eventually had to call a penalty on the Cal sideline for delay of game. Along with those pesky twelve seconds, the penalty was just another piece of bookkeeping. No matter what the voice said, the game was clearly over.
Once the field was cleared and the penalty stepped off, Stanford lined up to kick off from midfield. Here's a video of the onside kick:
The video tells you that Stanford recovered at Cal's 37-yard line, but with only ten seconds remaining things still looked bleak. There was time for one more play, possibly, and then maybe a field goal attempt. Palumbis dropped back and completed a short pass, but there was another penalty, a disputed personal foul for roughing the passer. (And by the way, even if it was a questionable call, we'll just call it even for five illegal laterals that were ignored once upon a time.) Suddenly the ball was inside the twenty yard line and kicker John Hopkins was sprinting out onto the field. Seconds later he split the uprights and the game finally was over: Stanford 27, Cal 25.
I had never experienced anything like it. Thousands of Stanford fans poured down onto the field, and every one of us gained extra pleasure from the idea that we were dancing on the same turf our Cal counterparts had claimed only minutes earlier. I raced the entire length of the field, from one end zone to the other and back until I found my friend Jack and we decided it might be fun to climb the poles used to hoist the nets behind the goal post. I got about half way up my pole, then decided I could climb faster if I used the rope to pull myself up. The rope broke and I fell about fifteen or twenty feet, landing flat on my back, cushioned by my backpack but breaking my arm.
I lay on the ground surrounded by security and my best friends in the world. My arm ached and I couldn't breathe, but it didn't really matter. We had won the Axe.
So that's my story. What's yours?