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Cal vs. Auburn: Who has the greatest college football play ever, and why is it the Play?
This week features the California Golden Bears and Auburn Tigers, two programs who can claim having the greatest college football play ever.
When people pick the greatest college football play ever, there is one choice, but college football fans say two different things these days.
There’s that time the band was out on the field.
And then there’s the Kick Six.
Both incredible, both brilliant. Both are sown into the tapestry of what makes college football great.
But there can only be one. Let’s break it down.
The 1982 Big Game was a battle between 6-4 Cal and 6-4 Stanford. It was a rare meeting when both programs were good at once. Cool.
Auburn went to the national title game because of this play. Pretty important.
If you looked at the whole 2013 Auburn experience in its totality (THIS happened a week earlier, and is arguably crazier), you might think of the whole campaign as divine intervention. If they had won the title, the Kick Six might have a case for this being the greatest play of them all.
But the football gods went, “no chaos tigers, there is only one Play.”
Regardless, slight point to the Kick Six here. As is usual, The Play will have to come from behind.
The program impact
After making the title game, Auburn would go to many bowl games with Gus Malzahn and be competitive in the upper echelon of the SEC for a decade.
Cal would spend a few more years foundering with their legendary coach Joe Kapp, before authoring an even bigger upset on a very good Stanford squad in 1986, but it’d be a decade before the Bears would be competitive in the Pac-10.
Point, Kick Six.
A little nervous Cal fans? Hang in there. The ball just got kicked off.
People forget, but the 2013 Iron Bowl was tied. Even if Auburn doesn’t score, they go to overtime. Also, Alabama had to make the conscious decision to attempt a long field goal with a shaky kicker.
Cal was trailing, had just watched the Cardinal drive down the field for one of many clutch John Elway two-minute drills, and Stanford had to kick off with seconds to go. The kickoff was literally Cal’s final chance before time expired. It was a desperation bet that paid off with pocket aces.
Point, the Play. The laterals begin.
While the Kick-Six is an outstanding moment in college football lore in one of its most storied rivalries, it isn’t like we haven’t seen short field goal attempts get returned for kicks before. It happens nearly every year in the NFL.
You are never going to replicate what happened at the Play ever again. A half-dozen laterals in perfect rugby synchronization? The Stanford Band running onto the field despite no whistle being blown? Kevin Moen triumphantly pummelling Gary Tyrell into the photobooks? 200 people on the field and the refs go touchdown anyway?
Major point, The Play. We’re running into open field.
Kick Six. The story of this one is simple. A kicker missed a kick. A very fast returner named Chris Davis ran fast down the sideline. A few guys blocked very slow Alabama dudes as he sprinted the sideline.
Very cool. But pretty straightforward storywise.
The Play. There are numerous parties involved. You have all of half-dozen Cal returners lateralling the ball to each other, all with very differing journeys in life. Stanford thinks they win the football game THREE DIFFERENT TIMES IN THREE SECONDS.
There are dejected Stanford players, denied another bowl shot. There’s Joe Starkey authoring one of the signature calls in college football lore. You have over a hundred Stanford bandsmen capping it off with the greatest contribution they will ever make it to the culture.
ESPN still runs specials on it. Articles come out every year on people who were there.
Poll a thousand people who have never watched college football. I’d imagine almost none of them will know what the Kick Six is. But there will be dozens who know about the Band being on the Field in Berkeley that November afternoon.
Major point, The Play. I see a trombonist in the end zone;
Kick Six. Alabama lost their threepeat shot on this play and had to see Auburn in the national title game. The Tide proceeded to fumble their way into oblivion and only win three national titles in the next seven years. They never fully recovered.
"This was an insult to college football," quarterback John Elway said after Cal's unbelievable 57-yard, five-lateral kickoff return gave the Bears a 25-20 triumph on the last play of the game. "It was just a farce. The officials didn't have control of the whole game. They ruined my last game as a college player. It was a very bittersweet ending. I did not want it to end this way. It's something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life."
What a beautiful quote. This need to be framed in Memorial Stadium somewhere.
Stanford still changes the score everytime they get The Axe back. They just can’t get over it.
Point, the Play.
The Bears have won.
There will be no extra point.
All hail The Play.