Pigskin Flashback: 1979 Stanford-UCLA Game

"Well, they're going to try it!"

This one will never, ever, be forgotten! The ‘79 Stanford-UCLA game marked the third, and most incredible, of what were probably among the most thrilling three consecutive meetings between two traditional conference rivals in the annals of Stanford Football, if not in the entire colorful history of the collegiate gridiron. "Well they are going to try it....."

Pigskin Flashback: Stanford 27, UCLA 24
October 6, 1979, Stanford Stadium
[Published originally by The Bootleg®, Vol. II, No.7, 10/20/95]

This one will never, ever, be forgotten! The ‘79 Stanford-UCLA game marked the third, and most incredible, of what were probably the most thrilling three consecutive meetings between two traditional conference rivals in the annals of Stanford Football, if not in the entire colorful history of the collegiate gridiron. In ‘77, Stanford's all-purpose phenom Darrin Nelson ran for 189 yards and two scores and back-up QB Steve Dils (an emergency fill-in for injured consensus All-American QB Guy Benjamin) hit future All-Pro and Hall of Fame receiver James Lofton for the go-ahead TD with 0:37 remaining to ice a 32-28 Cardinal win. The following year, the Bruin's Dutch-born place-kicker Peter Boermeester drove the proverbial nail in the Cardinal's coffin by booting a 37-yard, game-winning field goal with just 0:37 left. Played under partly cloudy skies, the 50th meeting in this annual NorCal/SoCal scrap would be a back and forth barn-burner of epic proportions!

Those who witnessed the classic Fall showdown between two very evenly-matched teams would never be the same. While neither school was in the AP or UPI Top 20 at the time, The Stanford Daily's Cardinal(s) Today, had enthusiastically [read:foolishly] ranked Stanford #2 and UCLA #6 in the country! Looking back, this outrageously entertaining game, the conference opener for both teams, was an afternoon epitomizing Stanford football in the "Pass-Happy Era", an excellent representation of both the pleasure and the pain of watching Cardinal Football the way it was played for one gloriously inconsistent decade that spanned from the arrival of Bill Walsh in ‘77 to Denny Green's return to the Farm in ‘89 (an event that marked a return to "smash-mouth" football.) 1979's marketing slogan was to the point: "Football's In The Air!"

Struggling in the middle of a roller coaster 5-5-1 season, the Cardinal's confidence had been shaken by embarrassing up-set losses to Tulane and Army earlier in the year. However on this day, Stanford would explode with 490 yards of high-octane offense, despite being hampered by 10 penalties for 108 yards. The Bruins were having an off-year, having graduated three-time All-American linebacker Jerry Robinson, stand-out noseguard Manu Tuiasosopo, monstrous tackle Max Montoya, and Card-killer running backs James Owens and Theotis Brown. UCLA's new "pound-it-out" I-formation, which replaced the traditional veer, featured superback Freeman McNeil and would produce a grueling 293 yards on the ground, but Air Cardinal would counter with 330 through the skies! Stanford's much-maligned fifth-year senior quarterback Turk Schonert, who interestingly enough would finish the ‘79 season as the school's third consecutive NCAA passing champion with a pass efficiency rating of 163.0 (the first year such a formula was used), entered the contest under intense media scrutiny as he tried to handle the unenviable dual challenge of following in the footsteps of back-to-back NCAA passing champions Benjamin and Dils, while at the same time fending off freshman-juggernaut John Elway.

Drum majorette Megan Evans, the first "chick" drum major in LSJUMB history, led the Incomparables in stirring pre-game renditions of "Back in the USSR", "Livin' in the USA", and "Games People Play" in order to get the crowd rolling, but the atmosphere in the locker room and during "The Walk" was decidedly somber and intense.

It would be a battle of dirt and drama with spectacular plays that would create a certain aura of surrealism. The Cardinal got off to a blistering start, with Schonert hitting the uncovered Vincent White on a 31-yard pitch to put Stanford on the board! White's clearest memory of the game was being late-hit out of bounds by Bruin All-American free safety, the late Kenny Easley. Although the intimidating Easley was flagged for unnecessary roughness, White claims the bruising Bruin came right over, helped him up and was "really a very polite guy". Multi-purpose true freshman Vincent "The Love Bug" White, a two-time Colorado Player of the Year out of Denver's Mullen Prep (alma mater of current tight end and H-back Ryan Hewitt), would come up huge on the day with 62 yards on eight carries, seven catches for 113 yards and two scores.

"Sir Vincent", who has since coached football at UOP and Maryland, is currently (as of 2001) Receivers Coach for Southern Methodist in Dallas! After UCLA QB Rick Bashore darted in for the equalizer from a yard out, Schonert shot back with a 37-yard TD strike to junior SE Andre Tyler, who made an incredible snare after the ball bounced off the helmet of Bruin cornerback Phil Hubbard. Legendary Stanford stadium announcer Ed Macauley made his customary call "That...was...Schonert to Andre Tyler for 37 yards and the Cardinal T-D!" Tyler, a product of Long Beach Poly, the very same high school that sent receiving greats Gene Washington (San Francisco 49ers) and Tony "Thrill" Hill (Dallas Cowboys) to the Farm, would finish with a solid day, 3 catches for 67 yards.

LB Milt McColl, later a member of the 1981 and 1984 Super Bowl Champion 49ers and now an MD and a biotech entrepreneur, nabbed an errant Bashore pass at the Bruin 47, but Stan-ford couldn't capitalize as Schonert was subsequently picked off deep in Bruin territory. As Q2 began, Dowhower threw a nasty curveball to the Baby Blues, bringing in super-slinging freshman sensation John Elway to fire up the no-huddle offense, which #7 had employed successfully at Granada Hills High in Northridge. "St. John of Latter-Day Delts", the sacred bearer of the proprietary "Elway Cross", followed up the prior week's triple-TD outing vs. Boston College by connecting on 16 of 23 passes for 178 yards and a TD with no INT's. His natural-born formation, the "shotgun", produced an impressive 11 yards per play on the day! The O-line held UCLA at bay, allowing just one sack despite the fact that Stanford went air-borne 36 times. Stand-out offensive tackle Brian Holloway, who would later star for the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Raiders and serve as vice president of the NFL Players Association, was simply unbeatable on the day. With minutes to go in the half, Elway drove his team to the Bruin 12, but the drive stalled due to four killer penalties. Ken Naber, having already misfired on a 29-yard attempt earlier in the second quarter, once again looked up too soon and missed from 48 yards out and the Card went into the locker room up 14-7, but decidedly unsatisfied. Once inside, Dowhower delivered a dire warning to his weary warriors: "There are no heroes on this team". While "Rocket Rod" surely meant well, never in his football career did he make a statement further from the truth.

The 150-piece Stanford band's half-time show mocked Three-Mile Island with "It Don't Come Easy", "Feels Like the First Time", and the time-tested "Well Alright". The red-vested Ban-dies formed the scatter spelling "N-U-K-E" and finished off with Toto's first Top-40 hit "Hold the Line". The revered symbol of Stanford Indian pride, Prince Lightfoot of the Yurok tribe (55- year-old Timm Williams), received a mixed, but clearly positive reception during his performance of Native American dances at half-time. Athletic Director Andy Geiger sent an ice-cold letter to Williams after the game, officially and permanently banning him from the field without thanking him for his many years of supporting the team!

After trading field goals, the third quarter ended with Stanford still nursing a 17-10 lead, but Freeman McNeil, a very strong runner who at 5'11", 205 pounds could benchpress 365, was starting to wear down our defense. He would finish a dominant day with 197 yards on 36 carries. In the fourth quarter, UCLA began wearing down the defiant Cardinal "D". Except for all-time leading tackler Gordy Ceresino (MVP of both the ‘77 Sun and ‘78 Bluebonnet Bowl wins), the Card defense hadn't suffered a huge loss of talent from 1978's 8-4 crew to graduation, but it was decimated by the unexpected preseason loss of several projected starters including linebackers Steve Budinger (car accident) and Tom Hall (motorcycle accident), all-conference safety Robby Chapman (academics), and defensive tackle Dean "The Gremlin of Grossmont" Wilson. Wilson, a former San Diego wrestling champion, was a major-league character, appearing on the infamous "Gong Show" twice. Due to an obscure eligibility rule that was later challenged and defeated by Wade Wilson (no relation), Dean was unable to play in ‘79, but did serve a one-time stint as a colorful color commentator on the UCLA game broadcast. He claims the ‘79 Bruin game was the best game for which he provided color commentary (of course, it was the "only" game for which Wilson would ever provide color commentary!)

Rick Parker and Rick "Never Nervous" Gervais played well, but freshman Rodney Gilmore, today a successful attorney and frequently an excellent color man for Prime Network] was out with an injured shoulder suffered against Army. Stanford's defense, hobbled by injuries to the Kevin MacMillan, Kevin "Master" Bates (groin contusion), and Dennis Engle (pinched nerve), began to falter as the game wore on. LB Craig Zellmer tallied a team-high 15 tackles. The Delt (DTD)-dominated D-line was led by Bakersfield product NG Doug "The Animal" Rogers' with 13 stops and by fiery senior DT Chuck Evans' 10. Big #79 was also affectionately known as the "Human Hemorrhoid" because he was always inflamed and irritated. On a critical fourth and two, future New York Jets star McNeil, one of those annoyingly-ripped guys who could get away with wearing a half-shirt, scampered in from 16 yards out to knot the game at 17 all and you started to sense that there'd be a third consecutive nail-gnawer in the hotly contested series with the of Lords of La-La-Land.

The Cardinal immediately responded with a spark plug of its own! 5'6" 165-pound scooter White brought in Dowhower's play from the sideline: "shotgun 29, halfback curl". Reading a Bruin blitz all the way, Elway tossed a lob over the middle to a once-again wide-open White at the UCLA 10 and "VW" skated in untouched for a 24-17 lead with 7:45 left. Ah, but the beasts in blue weren't through. Easley busted the ensuing kick-off all the way to the Cardinal 40 before Naber dragged him down from behind. Four plays later, on fourth and four, Bashore rolled right, then zigged and zagged through a sea of arm tackles for a 34-yard score to tie it again at 24-24. Forcing a Stanford punt, the Bullies of Bel Air rolled to the Cardinal's 22. With less than 3 minutes remaining, there was practically a putsch in Palo Alto when Boermeester's 39-yard field goal attempt was blocked beautifully from the left side by fully-extended Cardinal track star Gordon Banks, the fastest player on the team, who earlier in the contest had been flagged for a late hit on Boermeester on an extra point conversion. In our not-so-humble opinion, Bank's laudable lunge edges out Tuan Van Lee's terrific, Big Game tie-preserving block in 1988 as the greatest kick-block in modern Stanford gridiron lore.

Taking over at its own 23, the Cardiac Cardinal headed north-bound during the final fleeting 1:11, with the cannon-armed Elway hitting freshman tailback Mike Dotterer for two quick outs (the irrepressible Dotterer, a dual-sport star out of Edison High in Huntington Beach, made several critical grabs in the fourth quarter, finishing with 7 catches for 75). White then took a sweep 14 yards to the Bruin 39 with 0:38 left. Dowhower was absolutely desperate for another 5 yards, but after get-ting nowhere on three straight plays, including a completion to Jim Brown for no gain and aimed at Tyler and 6'7" tight end Pat Bowe, it was "fourth and ballgame" from the 39 with six seconds left on the clock. It would all come down to junior kicker Ken Naber, a 6'3", 170-pound blond Buckeye from Cincinnati's famed Moeller High, who had just turned 21 the day before. The moment of truth had arrived.

Television play-by- play announcer Ron Barr provided the counter-jinx as the special teams unit took the field: "Well they are going to try it, but there is no way Ken Naber can kick a ball 60 yards.....if he does kick it, you will see the greatest celebration in the history of college football." On the sidelines, an inwardly-pleading coach Dowhower leaned forward with his arms spread out like a middle linebacker ready for action. Naber, whose third quarter miss of an extra point in ‘78 set up Boermeester's game-winning kick in UCLA's 27-26 heart-stomper, had just finished pleading with his coach that he'd been connecting on practice kicks from as far out as 57 yards. Junior All-American WR and standout beach Frisbee player Kenny Margerum, the one-time Orange County prep Back of the Year out of Fountain Valley, stood with his hands on his hips, hoping against all odds as he gazed at Stanford facing 4th and 10 with the unfriendly up-rights looming 56 yards away and knowing the attempt would be for the then second-longest field goal in the school's 88-year football history!

Seemingly oblivious to the pressure, 18-year-old Mike "7-Iron" Teeuws, an indomitable freshman center out of Indianapolis, snapped the ball cleanly off the crisply-sheared Bermuda grass into the holy hands of his holder Elway, who flawlessly set up Naber for the sacred boot. The toe-headed #10's triple-striped Adidas cleat struck squarely on the back seam as more than 70,000 hearts stood still and watched the righteous rock sail sweetly into a soft October breeze en route to its ultimate, yet inevitable destiny. As the game clock slowly ticked off the final six agonizing seconds, the ball traveled sky high, embarking upon its tenuous telemetry in seemingly cruel slow motion. It seemed long enough, but appeared to be hooking well to the left. With a rare collective gust of raw emotion, the seldom-inspired Shady-Siders reached deep into their souls and virtually blew the breeze neutral as the pigskin spheroid curved fair, ricocheted sharply off the East side of the left post, and carrom-ed over the crossbar for the titanic trey! 0:00. Game over. The place went certifiably insane! 172 individuals actually "found religion" right then and there. In the ensuing celebratory melee, Elway suffered a severely sprained ankle at the bottom of a partying pile-up of players who were mobbing Naber like he had just saved the planet.... which he had.

A stunned UCLA linebacker Billy Don Jackson told the San Jose Mercury: "it [the ball] seemed like it hung up there a long time. 30 seconds, maybe. But when it went over......well, it was over." Indeed, the fat lady had sung her proverbial lungs out! The normally enflamed, but suddenly elated Chuck "The Bag" Evans related to the Merc: "It was the biggest ‘gut rush' I ever had!" The scoreboard flashed "We win!" as an emotionally-spent announcer Ron Barr blurted out his now-classic raspy-voiced closing line: "Oh...the joy of college football"!

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