Big Plays By The Bay No. 2: STANFORD’S INTENSE AND GLORIOUS PASADENA ROMANCE

College football has been played in the Bay Area for 133 years with numerous great players and games – plus some remarkable stories that have been forgotten. Bay Area Blitz contributor Mark Purdy has picked the 10 best stories. He will count them down in the monthly newsletter leading up to January’s College Football Playoff National Championship at Levi’s Stadium.

 


[RELATED: Big Plays By The Bay:1 |  Big Plays By The Bay:3 |Big Plays By The Bay: No. 4 | Big Plays By The Bay: No. 5Big Plays By The Bay: No. 6Big Plays By The Bay: No. 7Big Plays By The Bay: No. 8Big Plays By The Bay: No. 9Big Plays By The Bay: No. 10]

The Rose Bowl is known as “The Granddaddy of Them All.” The moniker is appropriate for many reasons. The game was the first college bowl, first played in 1902. After a short break, the “Granddaddy” has kicked off the New Year annually since 1916.

And as is true with most grandparents, the same grandkids seem to keep visiting frequently. The USC Trojans have played in the game 34 times and Michigan has made 20 appearances in the game. But even the most dedicated football fans might have a difficult time guessing the third-most frequent Rose Bowl participant. The answer is not Ohio State or UCLA. The correct answer is Stanford, which in 15 postseason visits to Pasadena has carried on an intense and glorious romance with the game most beloved by the school’s alumni and fans.

Stanford lost that original 1902 matchup, 49-0, to Michigan. Subsequent trips to the Rose Bowl by the Cardinal – or by the Indians, if you prefer their former nickname before it was changed in 1972 – have been far more interesting and memorable. Touchstone moments have included a gritty 7-7 tie against Alabama in 1927 and a 21-13 victory over Nebraska in 1941, when Stanford scored the winning touchdown on a 40-yard punt return by San Jose native Pete Kmetovic.

For most longtime fans, however, the peak Stanford Rose Bowl experience occurred in 1971 and 1972 with back-to-back major upset victories over Ohio State and Michigan. The head coach of those teams, John Ralston, was a master motivator. After the 1970 season, he made certain that his Stanford players were not intimidated by the Buckeyes of coach Woody Hayes, who were undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country. Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jim Plunkett discombobulated Ohio State’s blitzing defense with successful audible calls and led his team to a 27-17 win.

The following season, Ralston repeated the upset formula with a different quarterback, Don Bunce, against another undefeated Big Ten team, Michigan. In the game’s final two minutes, Bunce drove Stanford’s offense 64 yards to the Ohio State 14-yard line, and kicker Rod Garcia made a 31-yard field goal to win the game, 13-12.  

The Cardinal has played in more recent Rose Bowls, highlighted by a 45-16 romp over Iowa in 2016, bringing Stanford’s overall record in the game to 7-7-1. But the two victories by Ralston immortalize him in school lore. Romances can do that.