Dick Norman Remembers: The Big Game of
the late, great Dave Wik of the Peninsula Times-Tribune
[A re-print of an article from 1979]
football teams, it seems, have always emphasized the passing game, dating back
to 1940 when Frank Albert and the T-formation became a topic of conversation.
all the quarterbacks who have thrown passes for Stanford – and that includes
All-Americans like Albert, Bob Garrett, John Brodie, Jim Plunkett and Guy
Benjamin, along with 1978 national passing champion Steve Dils – the one who had
the greatest of all days did it in a losing cause. It happened to be the 1959
Big Game played in Stanford Stadium. The final score was California 20, Stanford
just who was the quarterback who performed so brilliantly? It was Dick Norman,
who, at the time, was a 6-foot, 3-inch, 209-pound, 20-year-oId junior from
that particular Big Game, Norman completed
34 of 39 pass attempts for 401 yards, establishing national
collegiate records for number of completions, total yards and completion
.872 completion percentage still ranks the best in the Pacific Eight Conference
record book, shaded only by a perfect 10-of-10 showing by Steve Endicott of
Oregon State against UCLA in 1971. What boggles the mind is that with any kind
of luck at all, Norman's statistics could have been even more astounding.
head coach that season was ("Cactus") Jack Curtice, who is ready to tell anyone
that Norman "threw the ball away two times."
end Chris Burford, who caught 12 of Norman's passes that day en route to tying a
national receiving record for a single season, remembers the quarterback
grounding two of them to stop the clock.
continues Burford, "I know there were a couple of completions called back
because of penalties. I know because I
involved in them!"
Actually, according to the play-by-play, five of
Norman's completions were wiped out by penalties. That was 20 years ago.
Today (1979) Norman is vice president of the
Associated Sand and Gravel Company, Inc., in Everett, Washington. He and his
wife have a daughter, Dana (18), who is enrolled at Stanford.
memory of the game is still vivid. And, despite the loss, he derives personal
satisfaction for a job well-done. Tells Norman:
know it's a crummy thing to say, but for me the individual thing has gone on to
overshadow the outcome of the game. It's probably the single-most thing people
talk to me about in football. It's one of the ironies.”
Norman, it presented him with a batch of records and the national passing
leadership, which he surrendered his senior year when he had an entirely new
crop of receivers.
for the Big Game classic of '59, Stanford was favored to win the renewal in what
was a battle to avoid the cellar in the five-member Athletic Association of
Western Universities. With Washington, USC and UCLA finishing with 3-1 records
each, the three-point victory lifted Cal to 1-3 in the final conference
standings and left Stanford at the bottom with an 0-4 mark.
the overall season, the win was sweet for the Berkeley Bears, who needed
something nice to cap an otherwise dismal 2-8 year under Head Coach Pete
Elliott. The loss dipped Stanford's record to 3-7, which was to follow with a
0-10 record in 1960 when Norman and tackle Dean Hinshaw were the team's senior
really was frustrating," remembers Norman of the winless campaign, a year when
he had received considerable recognition as a preseason All-America candidate.
Norman has tried to forget 1960, he finds no difficulty in recalling the
highlights of the 1959 Big Game. Give a listen:
just clicked. Receivers like Chris Burford, Ben Robinson, Dick Bowers, John Bond, Irv Nickolai, Mac Wylie and Skip Face – plus time to throw – helped just a
Elliott, the Cal coach, said there were two approaches to pass defense – “rush
the passer or concentrate on coverage. He elected to “cover”.
success of that coverage pointed out once and for all that there is really only
one pass defense and that is to rush the passer.
couldn't' begin to recreate the game. I do recall' marching about 100 yards -
due to various penalties - at the end of the first half without scoring. Pretty much the same thing happened at
the end of the game.
the last play of the game, Pete's strategy to cover paid off. I couldn't find a
receiver, attempted to run, became trapped on the sideline and was tackled
attempting to get out of bounds as time expired.
I recall, I had a reason not to ground the ball intentionally. The defenders may
have had me too tied up to throw downfield.
do remember second guessing myself for not flipping the ball out of bounds
laterally, thus stopping the clock and minimizing the yards lost."
to the play-by-play, Stanford was on the Cal five-yard line when Norman was
tackled after a five-yard gain to end the game. It put a fizzle to a drive,
which might have provided one of the greatest comebacks in Big Game history.
a scoreless first quarter, Cal went ahead 14-0 at the half on two Wayne Crow
touchdown passes. Stanford threatened to score just before the intermission, but
time ran out with Stanford on the Cal nine-yard line after another Norman pass
the third quarter, Stanford knotted the score at 14-14 on a three-yard plunge by
Face and an 11-yard pass from Norman to Burford.
7:53 left in the fourth quarter, Face kicked a 35-yard field goal to put
Stanford in front, 17-14. But Cal took command again with 3:21 remaining in the
game by taking the kickoff and marching 64 yards in 10 plays, climaxed by Jerry
Scattini two-yard run.
the kickoff which followed, Cal was penalized 15 yards for a personal foul.
Stanford started a drive on its own 45-yard line and Norman kept his arm loose.
11-yard pass completion by Norman got things going, but then Norman was thrown
for a seven-yard loss. A pass to Robinson netted 17 yards, but Norman got sacked
again-this time for a six-yard loss.
second-and-16, Norman completed a nine-yard pass but the next attempt intended
for Bowers fell incomplete. With a fourth-and-seven situation on the Cal 32,
Norman zeroed in on Robinson for a 14-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
a first-and-10 on the Cal 18, Norman completed his final pass of the day, an
eight-yarder to Burford. It was Burford's 12th
catch of the game which enabled him to tie
the national season record of 61 receptions.
a second-and-two on the Cal 10, Norman passed incomplete and then ran around
right end for five yards as the gun sounded.
Burford, now an attorney in Walnut Creek, California, the game paved the way for
him to gain All-America honors. He went on to become a stand-out with the Kansas City Chiefs, while Norman's professional career was short-lived by a two-year
stay with the Chicago Bears and a brief trial with the San Francisco 49ers.
had a great day, a fantastic day;' says Burford of the '59 Big Game. "Up to that
time it was the greatest passing show anywhere - real entertainment.
me, it was tough to lose the game. But even tougher was the one the year before
(1958) when we lost to Cal at Berkeley, 16-15."
Norman was the nation's passing leader and total offense leader as a junior, he
contends "my running was my short-coming. I was too slow;' he declares. Norman
credits two other West Coast quarterbacks of his day - Dave Grosz of Oregon and
Bob Schloredt of Washington -as being particularly dangerous in mixing their
passing ability with better-than-average running. "At Stanford we had two basic
sets;' says Norman.
"One was the quick drop and jump, those
"one-two" throws. The other was the standard, drop back seven or eight steps and
was supposed to be a third element, where I roll out. But I was too slow, so we
never really used it."
that memorable 1959 Big Game, Stanford had a total offense of 429 yards to 360
for Cal. Stanford netted just 28 yards rushing on 30 attempts while Cal's
offense was fairly balanced - 202 yards rushing, 158 passing.
is interesting to note that Stanford's leading rusher for that '59 season was
the versatile Face with 362 yards, or 39 less than what Norman gained through
the air against Cal.
Norman maintains the preparation for the '59 Big Game wasn't
anything out of the ordinary regarding play selection.
(Curtice) might have put in a couple of extra plays, but nothing unusual" says
was just a case of the team starting to jell in the late season, according to
Norman. "The whole thing really started the week before at Corvallis when we had
a very productive afternoon, beating Oregon State 39-22."
'59 season began as frustratingly as it ended. Stanford lost the opening games
by scant margins before bouncing back to defeat Pacific, 21-6.
there were three straight losses, bowing to Washington 10-0, Washington State
36-19 and losing another heartbreaker to USC, 30-28.
put plenty of points on the board in a 54-38 romp over San Jose State, but UCLA
took much of the wind out of Stanford's sails, 55-13. Then came the win over
Oregon State, the last football triumph until the start of the 1961 season
1959, Norman completed 152 of 263 passes for 1,963 yards, a .578 completion
average and 11 touchdowns. Career-wise, he ranks No.4 - behind Plunkett,
Benjamin and Boryla on the Stanford charts for total offense and passing
spite of the loss, I would be kidding to say the time wasn't perfect," adds
Norman of the '59 Big Game. "You know,.. 85,000 people and all that. For me, it
special day in his life was a day when everything seemed to go right.
Practically all of his passes found their mark.
Arthur Ashe said after winning Wimbledon, quotes Norman of the pro tennis star:
"'We on the tour have a thing called 'the zone', a time when the ball looks like
a basketball and the lines look like Broadway.”
have no control over when we are in our 'zone'. For many players it happens in
Toledo. For me it happened at Wimbledon."
Norman, his Wimbledon is and probably always will be... the 1959 Big Game.