The moment that shaped a rivalry

 Gary Tyrrell, trombonist during "The Play"

Gary Tyrrell, trombonist during "The Play"

35 years ago, on Nov. 20, “The Play” occurred. It was a moment that changed the Cal-Stanford football rivalry forever.

Stanford, on the verge of a seemingly inevitable win in a hard fought game was poised to kick off to Cal with four seconds left on the clock. In a crazy play involving five laterals, the University of California football team miraculously pulled off the win that no one saw coming, especially the Stanford band.

Due to the seemingly impossible comeback for the Cal Bears, the Stanford Band ran out onto the field before time had expired. Little did they know, the Bears still had some fight left in them, causing the oncoming players to collide with members of the band. In a flurry of activity, Kevin Moen, the Bears ball-carrier spiked the ball on a band member’s head before running into the endzone. That unlucky player happened to be a trombonist: Half Moon Bay resident, Gary Tyrrell.

“We were still playing a song, so I turned around to look at our drum major and around that time, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Cal football player running through the band” Tyrrell said. “The next thing I knew, I was down.”

It has been 35 years since “The Play”, and the awe of it has not begun to fade.

“I’ve never seen anything to match it and I’ve had the pleasure of broadcasting 49ers football for 22 years and over 40 years for Cal football” longtime Bay Area announcer Joe Starkey, , said of the end to the game. “A lot of lives were affected by that play.”

To Stanford students, the worst part about the game was not that it was a close loss, it was the fact that it was a Big Game loss. The Big Game is the title that has been given to the football game betweenintense rivals Stanford and Cal. More often than not, this game is closely fought until the end, with the better team barely prevailing.

This 125-year-old tradition has had reach beyond the college sports world. The Big game spurred the naming of the annual rivalry game between Burlingame High School and San Mateo High School football. Known as “The Little Big Game,” the two teams meet head to head, year after year, in a highly anticipated matchup. Although tense, similarly to the Big Game, the fans of the teams are friendly until gameday.

“It’s rooted at a friendly rivalry with respect, but at times it can get really competitive and the fans can get really aggressive” says BHS sophomore Ricardo Maldonado.

This respect is present in the Big Game too. “The Stanford-Cal Rivalry is very much unique in that there is a lot of respect there, except for those four hours on game day” Tyrrell said.

Even among teammates and coaching partners, come game time, emotions are at a peak. Near the finale of the game 35 years ago, assistant coaches had a heated debate on whether to stop the game clock at four seconds or eight seconds. The eight second group won the debate, but the extra time ended up being Stanford’s downfall, due to the fact that Cal regained possession with four seconds left.

“There were some literally physical skirmishes between stanford coaches” said Starkey.

As far as the Little Big Game goes, in a strong showing this year, BHS came home with a victory, 20-3. In the Big Game, the two teams met last Saturday, Nov. 18 to fight for the “axe” a trophy given to the winning team, not unlike the “paw.”

Posted on November 26, 2017 .