NCAA awards Big Game to Stanford

Oct. 19, 2012, 12:30 a.m.

This article was reprinted from a fake copy of The Daily Californian, published by The Stanford Daily on Monday, Nov. 24, 1982. Daily staffers distributed hundreds of copies of the hoax paper on the UC-Berkeley campus in the early morning. The real Daily Californian appeared late on this day, and for several hours Cal students believed the hoax paper to be true.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has awarded last Saturday’s Big Game to Stanford, the Daily Californian was told late last night.

NCAA awards Big Game to Stanford
(The Stanford Daily Archives)

The 85th Big Game, originally a 25-20 Cal win, thus will go down in NCAA record books as a 20-19 victory for Stanford, who, like Cal, will now finish their season at 6-5.

In an unprecedented and surely controversial decision, a special NCAA panel, invoking a rarely-used amendment to its bylaws, ruled yesterday that Dwight Garner, a Golden Bear freshman involved in the unbelievable five-lateral kickoff return at the end of regulation play at Memorial Stadium was in fact downed by Stanford defenders at their 45-yard line as the clock ran out.

The commission also found many other irregularities in the play, paralleling those announced by the Pacific-10 Conference yesterday. Although the Pac-10 stated that the final score of the game would not be changed, the NCAA overruled the statement, handing the victory to Stanford.

With four seconds left in the game, Stanford place-kicked Mark Harmon booted a 35-yard field goal to give the Cardinal a one-point edge, culminating a Cardinal comeback that saw it trailing 10-0 at the half.

And so, three days after the Bears’ epic play thrilled its fans and startled a watching nation, a committee sitting in New York has ruled the touchdown invalid and awarded the win to Stanford, 20-19.

“Damn it,” said Richard Dwyers, the NCAA’s chief operating officer, “I’ve watched that replay a thousand times and if that guy wasn’t downed my first name isn’t Richard. I put our appeals panel on the case early Sunday morning at the request of Stanford officials, who sent a telegram to my home in New York about 8 o’clock (EST) Saturday night.

“When the committee reported back to me yesterday (Tuesday) that to a man (There are just five athletic directors on call for just such an occasion, although this is the first time they’ve ever been called) they felt that Head Referee Charles Moffett and his crow had blown the call badly, I sent the machinery in motion to award the game to Stanford.”

Berkeley Athletic Director Dave Maggard obviously was displeased with the decision; his anger could only be described as towering and direct.

“I’m absolutely speechless,” said Maggard.

“Frankly, I’m shocked and appalled. I know this has got to be a terrible blow both to the team and the fans who have supported the squad all season. Where does the Pac-10 fit in all of this?” Maggard wanted to know.

Repeated calls to the conference executive offices last night elicited a “no comment” from a man who answered the executive director’s phone and refused to give his name.

In its statement concerning the final play, the Pac-10 cited many illegalities in the play. Among these was a four-man kick-off return front line (five is the legal minimum). A slow-motion analysis of the play also showed the final lateral as being a forward and illegal one, according to the Pac-10.

When he was told about the NCAA’s decision, the unusually voluble Cal head coach Joe Kapp also was literally speechless.

“I can’t believe it,” said a teary-eyed Kapp. “I just can’t believe it.”

In Palo Alto, neither Stanford Athletic Director Andy Geiger nor Head Coach Paul Wiggin seemed anxious to make any premature comments.

“You write the story any way you want to,” said Geiger in a midnight telephone interview. “All I will say is that we abide by the rules, and this time the rules are on our side and the officials aren’t standing around bewitched, bothered and bewildered.”

“I second the motion,” said Wiggin, who can now glory in a 6-5 season for the Cardinal.

Since the Californian learned of this action late last night, the chance for any comment from the athletic directors involved in the NCAA decision was close to nil.

One member of the panel, an obviously sleepy Steven Mitchel of Swarthmore, managed to collect a few of his thoughts when contacted by telephone about 3 a.m. (EST).

“Why not make what’s right right,” he offered. “When all five of us agreed that Warner was a dead duck at the 45 and that even if an official hadn’t whistled the play dead, one of them should have, the next two steps were easy: a vote to nullify the touchdown and a vote to award Stanford the win.”

“If we left the score at 25-20, we would have been one of the laughing stocks of all time. Hell, my 12-year-old daughter called that play dead when she first saw the replay,” he joked.

What kind of appeal process is involved here? Mitchel was asked. “Damned if I know,” he said, “but these days everything goes to court anyway, so I imagine we’ll be fighting this one for some time to come.”

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