The REAL Story Behind "The Play," The Most Legendary Finish in College Football History
"The Play" has gone down in history as the most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football. For those who need a recap:
Making this moment even more sensational was the huge drive John Elway had just made to "win" the game for Stanford, taking the lead with just four seconds left on the clock. As band alum Scott Tinley neatly summarized in Sports Illustrated:
Cal had led 10-0 at the half thanks in part to a spectacular diving end zone catch by Mariet Ford. Stanford had answered in the third quarter with two touchdown passes from John Elway to Vince White. Early in the fourth, Wes Howell made another flying end zone grab to put Cal up 19-14. A field goal by Stanford's Mark Harmon with 5:21 to go had closed the gap to 19-17. Then, in the final minute, Stanford's last possession was sputtering badly. Facing 4th-and-17 on the 13 yard-line with 53 seconds to go, Elway made what would have been the play of the game: He fired a pass over the middle to Emile Harry for a 29-yard gain, sparking a drive that put the Cardinal in range for a game-winning field goal. It looked like Elway, already a legend on the Farm, would finally get to play in a bowl game. (And so would the band.) In fact, a contingent from the Hall of Fame Bowl was in the press box, ready to make an offer if the Cardinal, then 5-5, won. Harmon nailed the field goal -- his first and only game-winner in his college career -- to give Stanford a 20-19 lead. There were four seconds left on the clock. What could possibly go wrong?
Watch the amazing drive that preceded The Play.
People who saw the game on TV will probably never forget the announcer sreaming, "The band! The band is on the field!"
But they probably don't know why the band was on the field.
In short, it's because, several weeks prior, a photographer had loaded his film the wrong way, triggering a series of unfortunate events that ended in a humiliating defeat... and a wounded trombone player.
According to band alum John Howard, who appeared on a panel at the band's 50th anniversary and was (arguably) Band Manager at the time, the band would not normally have been on the field.
But the band was making an album that year, and they needed a cover shot for Starting Salary: $22,275.
Before the last home game of the season, the band's photographer had rented a full-format Hasselblad camera -- super fancy! Everyone posed, Robby took the shot, and then the band went off to its last home game of the season.
A week later, Robby called John and told him, "I don't have a shot."
It turns out, the guy at the camera rental store had loaded the film backwards, and not a single one of the photos had turned out.
The next (and last) time the full band would be together, and in uniform, was before they loaded the buses for Big Game, so they told everyone to show up "a little early" to re-take the photo before the game.
But on the day of Big Game, people weren't that early, and everything always takes a little longer than you expect it to, so the band ended up arriving in Berkeley about thirty minutes behind schedule...
And the ushers had given away their seats.
John asked where they were supposed to sit, and the ushers were basically like, "I dunno. Over there?"
"Over there" was right under the Cal alumni section -- not a good place to be sitting after an upset like the one Elway had just pulled off. Like, literally, it was dangerous. The band had started wearing hard hats to Cal games that very year, because fans were known to throw frozen oranges and other projectiles at LSJUMB.
Wanting to keep his musicians safe, and knowing it takes between two minutes and five hours to get the band to move anywhere, management began moving the band onto the field. They wanted to be underneath Stanford fans when they won.
And then the lateral passes happened, and then the football team was in the endzone, right there with the Stanford and Cal (yes, Cal -- they were there, too! You just don't see them because there was only one camera, and it was following the ball). A legend was born.
So, long story short, here's what happened:
1. The guy at the camera shop loaded the film wrong.
2. The Band had to re-take the photo.
3. The Band was running a little late.
4. Cal ushers gave away the band's seats, and the band ended up sitting under the Cal alumni section.
5. Fearing for their lives, the band moved onto the field when they thought the game was over.
6. "THE BAND! THE BAND IS ON THE FIELD!"
And, finally, unrelated but worth mentioning:
7. Dwight Garner's knee was down.
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