(Almost) This Date in
Cardinal Football: 9-23-95
Editor's Note: There has been so much animated (and a
bit divisive) discussion on the BootBoard Plus about former head coach
Tyrone Willingham and his legacy at Stanford that we thought we would pull out a
reminder of happy times with "The Man who Would Be Sheriff" The game at Oregon
in '95 was one of the best in modern times. Bootleg Co-Founders Jim &
Lars actually carried out a significant section of wooden bench from
Autzen Stadium to take home as a souvenir trophy. The Bootleg cut it
up into several pieces and presented one to Coach Willingham (see
above photo of the trophy plaque from the BootCave Archives). Six years
later, it was still displayed on the shelf in his office. You can be certain he
has never forgotten that milestone moment of his career, his
very first conference win as a head coach!
Team colors better suited for
highlighters or prison jumpsuits. Players wearing roller derby uniforms – when
they should be wearing prison jumpsuits. Boorish fans who believe in a BCS
birthright (normally reserved for teams without 32-year bowl droughts).
Oregon arrogance grew from a surprising and impressive run that showed no signs of stopping
even on yesterday's date, 14 years ago. The unbeaten Stanford Cardinal's quest for Pac-10 legitimacy
went through raucous Autzen Stadium, where the No. 12 Ducks – fresh off
the 1995 Rose Bowl – were expected to continue a nine-game regular season
The 28-21 win became the most exciting game of
Tyrone Willingham’s first season on The Farm. Dramatic moments included Marlon Evans'
retaliatory 96-yard kickoff return (a breathtaking score that broke a 14-14 tie) and a
sprawling touchdown snag from Andre Kirwan that doubled the lead with 5:19
remaining. Stanford's new identity suddenly trumped Oregon's newfound
“Before you start winning,” defensive coordinator
Bill Harris said, “you have to believe it.”
Three times in 1994 the Cardinal had
blown fourth-quarter leads in the 3-7-1 nightmare of Bill Walsh's final season.
Three times, with leads of a touchdown or less throughout a 4-0-1 start to
the 1995 season, the upstart Stanford squad stopped an opponent's potential game-winning
The Ducks scored with 2:58 left to edge closer at 28-21,
but moments after recovering an onsides kick with 2:15 to play, turned the ball
over on downs at Stanford's 39-yard-line. Tony Graziani's final pass intended
for Damon Griffin fell incomplete, as did Oregon's last hopes
of avoiding the upset.
Oregon Football had arisen from the pond and taken
flight just as the wheels were coming flying off the Bill Walsh's noble experiment. The glory and afterglow of 1992's Blockbuster Bowl
season featured many weeks of Stanford being ranked in the Top 25, big crowds, NFL
All-Pro assistant coaches and much-hyped recruiting classes. Legitimacy on The Farm
reigned like never before.
But glory can be fleeting
and away it went in a flash. Picture the wake of those sprawling, catered
tailgates for the Walsh assistant coaches' wives at Chuck Taylor Grove. The offense thrived, but the defense struggled. Losses
piled high. Walsh tired of losing, lost his energy, and resigned. Season ticket
sales plummeted. Woeful predictions dominated such as the Cardinal being selected a consensus
preseason 10th-place Pac-10 pick heading into the 1995 season.
the rigid, but strong leadership of Willingham came a sudden
resurgence, a swift change that led
to a happy finish, when the post-game party kept rocking on through the
night. Stanford won on this date in 1995 despite being outgained in yardage
454-293. The oft-dissed defense intercepted Tony Graziani three times in nine
attempts during the first half. The Cardinal took a 14-7 lead at the half after
scoring on a 4th-and-goal from the 1.
Oregon led 7-0 upon taking the opening kickoff and
moving 80 yards in ten plays. Their next trip across paydirt didn't occur until
there were 36 seconds remaining in the third quarter, when running back Ricky
Whittle's 1-yard score tied things at 14-14. Briefly.
Awaiting the ensuing
kickoff was junior speedster Marlon Evans, who had drawn the deserved ire of Willingham just plays earlier. Kevin Miller's previous punt had
put Oregon back at its own 20-yard-line. The Ducks had moved up
15 yards on the next play when Evans drew a dead-ball personal foul penalty. Personal foul penalties
were not the Willingham way!
The sequence sprung the
quack-happy hosts into action and they produced an equalizer. Graziani connected with – who else? – "Mr. 494", as in 494 career receiving
yards against the Cardinal for annoyingly-effective receiver Cristin McLemore. The 57-yard bomb set
up Whittle’s score. Stanford’s offense had only four second-half first downs by
that point, and the game's momentum was clearly shifted to the home team.
Oregon never got a hand on
Evans, a member of the Cardinal's 4x100 relay team. “I lost my cool and thought
coach (Willingham) was going to yank me for sure,” #83 later said. “But he stuck
with me and showed confidence in me. I knew I had to redeem myself and come back
for the team.”
The defense responded by
forcing a punt. Mark Butterfield directed the offense from his 11-yard-line and
promptly led an 89-yard scoring drive. Mark "100%" Harris and Brian "You-the-Man"-ning made
huge third-down catches to extend a march that elapsed 4:10 from the game
From the Oregon 28, the
Antioch native "Butter" went for the home run. #7 looked to his right,
firing deep down the sideline, hoping Kirwan could beat single coverage in the
end zone. An incredible diving catch resulted, padding the bulge and sending the
Ducks back into decidedly more humble surroundings. It was Kirwan's only catch of the game
and it forged his name forever in the history and heritage of
the Stanford program. The Cardinal was 3-0-1 (3-0 on the road!) and headed down
the path to the 1995 Liberty Bowl. Stanford Football was back in
“Last year we found ways to give games away," said Stanford
senior cornerback and future Liberty Bowl MVP Kwame Ellis, “This year we've
practiced to win games in the fourth quarter. Coach Willingham came in with the
whole idea of winning immediately. It's rubbed off on the players."
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