Controversial Miami-Duke finish revives old memories for Cal, Stanford players -- and band members

ByArash Markazi via ESPN logo
Monday, November 16, 2015

Kevin Moen didn't see what had happened until a couple of days later, but he knew a crazy ending had transpired when the messages started coming in after Saturday's Miami-Duke game.

"I heard about it and I got some texts, but I actually didn't see it until this morning when it was on the news," Moen said by phone Monday. "They were showing the play and talking about the officials getting suspended. So I just caught up on it today. Anytime you see a unique finish like that it definitely takes you back to 'The Play,' and that play was definitely a unique finish to the game."

"The Play," of course, was the bizarre conclusion of Cal's 25-20 win over Stanford in 1982. It was a five-lateral kickoff return that ended with Moen scoring the winning touchdown while members of the Stanford band streamed onto the field.

Whenever a college football game ends in a wild fashion, like Miami's 30-27 win over Duke on Saturday, it brings back memories for Moen and others who were part of "The Play."

"It's something that will live in sports history, and it's a fun thing to be a part of," said Moen, now a real estate agent in Southern California. "Every time someone makes a unique play, I get to talk about it some more. I love that."

It's easy to understand why Moen's phone lit up after Miami's eight-lateral kickoff return for the game-winning touchdown with no time left. Citing four officiating mistakes, the Atlantic Coast Conference suspended the on-field crew, as well as the replay official and communicator, for two games.

"I can see the comparisons," Moen said.

One thing both returns had in common was a controversial no-call when it appeared a player was down. On Sunday, the ACC acknowledged the game should have ended in a Duke victory when Miami's Mark Walton didn't get his lateral off before his knee hit the ground. In the Cal-Stanford game, more than two decades before the NCAA started using replay, Dwight Garner's knee may have been down before he pitched the ball.

"There weren't 12 angles to prove it one way or the other," Moen said of Garner's lateral. "His momentum had gotten stopped, and right as he was going down he got rid of the ball kind of instantaneously. From our perspective, it was before his knee had gone down; from the Stanford side, it was as his knee was going down. I don't think there was a clear angle for Dwight's knee being down, even if they did have instant replay to refute that."

Nothing was called, and the play continued. It ended with Moen dramatically scoring as Stanford's band poured onto the field to prematurely celebrate in the annual rivalry matchup known as "The Big Game." Moen put a memorable exclamation point on the play by slamming into Stanford trombone player Gary Tyrrell in the end zone.

Oddly, that collision forged a lifelong bond.

"Gary and I have gotten to know each other after doing numerous alumni events over the years," Moen said. "He has really gotten to be a good friend of mine through this whole process, and I apologize to him every time I see him."

Tyrrell offered his take.

"In time, I came to embrace my role in 'Big Game' lore and the unique rivalry with Cal," he said Monday. "I see Kevin every few years at 'Big Game' functions, and we're pals."

Like Moen, Tyrrell couldn't help but think back to "The Play" when he saw the Miami-Duke highlights.

"I was at home watching the Stanford-Washington State game when I saw something about it on my Twitter feed," said Tyrrell, a chief financial officer for a venture capital company in the San Francisco Bay Area. "I then watched a replay of it online. My reaction was it was a nice homage, including the player who was down lateraling the ball anyway."

Rod Gilmore, a defensive back for Stanford in 1982, believes "The Play" had as many blown calls as what Miami is already marketing as "The Return," but no one talks about them because the band's presence on the field catapulted the play into pop culture lore.

"There were band members on 'The Tonight Show' after the game," said Gilmore, an analyst for ESPN. "That's what they wanted to talk about. Everything else got overlooked. But the band was on the field in the end zone after the play was essentially over. All the illegal stuff got overlooked.

"At least for the Duke players, they know they're not imagining it. They know they were robbed. The conference came out and said they were robbed. For the guys I played with, we never had that satisfaction."

Corn Elder, who scored the winning touchdown for Miami, was named the ACC specialist of the week on Monday. Moen said Elder will always be attached to the touchdown and should remember it fondly, regardless of the controversy.

"This is the epitome of teamwork and everybody trying to keep the ball going," Moen said. "It's really what sports are all about -- battle to the end and see what happens. He is going to always remember that play and be happy. It's a great memory they can never take from him."

While the Miami-Duke game has drawn comparisons to Cal-Stanford, Moen is quick to point out that nothing will ever top "The Play" in the hierarchy of bizarre finishes.

"It was a great play with a lot of laterals," Moen said, "but you bring the band into it and it makes it a unique play you'll never see again."

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