31 Years Ago Today: 'The Band Is Out On The Field! The Bears Have Won!!'
Thirty-one years ago today, on Nov. 20, 1982, The Big Game between Stanford and Cal produced the "the most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football," in the joyously mindless and exuberant words of Cal commentator Joe Starkey.
The finish was so sensational, and so controversial, that it erased from memory a thrilling drive led by Stanford QB John Elway that ended with a last-second field goal and apparent 20-19 victory for the Cardinal.
The Play has grown only bigger over the years. It takes on larger meaning in the context of today's media environment, in a contemporary era when Johnny Manziel's every off-field move is captured in image and video and instantly finds its way onto social media and a 24-hour sports loop.
The Play in fact came during a kind of Golden Twilight Age of college football. Cable TV, ESPN and sports-talk radio were still in their infancy, and not yet covering college football, or any game, 24x7. The internet, of course, did not exist beyond dark inner recesses of the military and Techburbia. Fans had access to only a couple games on TV each weekend.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts themselves were still in their pigskin pre-pubescence and infatuated with the game of college football back in November 1982.
We followed Notre Dame then nearly religiously, not because its games were always on TV each Saturday, but because ESPN ran an abbreviated recap broadcast of Fighting Irish football each Sunday morning that looked downright amateurish by today's standards. That was as good as it got.
Teams still ran the ball far more often than they threw it back in 1982. Doug Flutie, in fact, was a sophomore at Boston College and still two years away from becoming the first player in college football history to produce 10,000 yards of offense in his career.
The legendary Bear Bryant was coaching his final season, and the run-first, run-second, run-third wishbone option offense was still the most innovative and powerful formation in college football.
Amid those circumstances, it took a truly transcendent onfield event to cut into mainstream culture in ways we take for granted today.
The Play was certainly one of those events. It ran on an endless loop on local sports and even news programs around the country at a time when that was entirely uncommon; it turned ill-fated Stanford trombonist Gary Tyrrell into a talk-show circuit phenom after he was run over by Cal's Kevin Moen in the end zone with the winning score.
The Play also helped make John Elway, The Big Game, The Stanford Axe and the antics of the Stanford band national cultural storylines at a time when college football was a far more regional affair than it is today, when schools are routinely broadcast from coast to coast.
This Golden Twilight of old college football was punctuated by a series of unforgettable moments in short order: Doug Flutie's legendary Hail Mary against Miami in 1984 (a play and a player which helped propel college football into the modern era), Miami's shocking and electrifying win over mighty Nebraska at the end of the 1983 season, the death of Bear Bryant following the 1982 season and, of course, The Play itself -- 31 years ago today.
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