As every Cal and Stanford fan already knows, performances in the Big Game have not always been deserving of the inherited capital letters. But in the 99 contests, from the time absent-minded Stanford manager Herbert Hoover forgot the ball in 1892 until Stanford routed Cal last year, athletes from both schools have distinguished themselves against their archrival.
Picking a list of the top 10 showings in the Big Game certainly isn't easy. And with any such selection, taking somebody means leaving somebody else out. Partisans are bound to howl that Bobby Sherman's 105-yard punt return for Cal in 1902 is not here; neither is the classic duel between Stanford's Bobby Garrett and Cal's Paul Larson in 1953. Nor could we find room for Glyn Milburn's 356 all-purpose yards and John Hopkins' five field goals (including the game-winner at the gun) in 1990. Jim Plunkett, John Brodie, Dave Lewis (three Big Game wins), Steve Bartkowski, Craig Morton and Pat Barnes didn't make the list. Hank Sparks, Wayne Stewart, Steve Rivera and Steve Sweeney had great clutch catches. Tough.
Our apologies to all, but what follows is The Chronicle's selection of the 10 greatest Big Game performances, five from each side. Some were selected as much for the tales behind them there as the numbers themselves. They didn't all win their respective games, but they sure gave everybody plenty to remember.
Paul Keckley (1947)
He was on the field for all of six plays, but Stanford knew he was there. Keckley, a halfback, had been injured the week before the Big Game, and as late as Thursday was being declared out of the game.
But his shoulder started to feel better as Stanford, which had come into the game with an 0-8 record, was giving Cal (8-1) a whole bunch of trouble. Stanford was leading 18-14 in the fourth quarter and had the ball on the Cal 16-yard line. That's when Waldorf listened to Keckley, checked with the Cal doctors and sent him in. He made one tackle as Cal drove Stanford back and with the aid of a penalty, forced a punt.
On second down, Cal star Jackie Jensen threw a pass to Keckley on the Cal 35, and the wounded Bear used several great blocks and some of his own elusive moves to negotiate the remaining distance and give Cal the 21-18 victory. The 80-yard pass play is still the longest in Big Game history.
Ray Willsey (1952)
Cal quarterback Billy Mais was injured against Washington State the week before the Big Game, and Waldorf called on safety Ray Willsey to come over from the defensive platoon.
Stanford, had also lost its quarterback, Bobby Garrett, to injury, but his replacement, Jack Gebert, was no match for Willsey. Despite the presence of Olympic decathlon champ Bob Mathias at halfback, Stanford's offense fizzled.
Meanwhile, Willsey threw a seven-yard touchdown pass, ran a yard for another score, and went 55 yards to set up a third, as Cal won 28-0. Cal's John Olszewksi gained 122 yards that day to set a Pacific Coast Conference career rushing record, but who knows what they would have meant without Willsey, who would return to his alma mater as head coach 11 years later.
Dave Penhall (1969-1970)
He had not one, but two brilliant Big Games. But in the middle of the 1969 season, he was the third-string quarterback, relegated to watching from the rooting section because of limits on how many players could suit up. But when starting quarterback Steve Curtis broke his collarbone in the fifth game of the year, Penhall was paged to report to the Cal locker room, much like a doctor might be notified by a P.A. announcer of an emergency.
The Cal offense struggled for the next few games, and Penhall was the starter in the Big Game almost by default. He nearly out-dueled the great Jim Plunkett, rallying Cal from a 17-0 deficit to a 28-23 lead in the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdowns and passing for a third. Stanford drove through Cal's defense for a go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes to pull out the victory 29-28, but Penhall had made a name for himself.
The following year, he bested Plunkett, leading Cal to a 22-14 upset of Rose Bowl-bound Stanford. Penhall's contributions to the Big Game did not end there. As a high school coach in Fountain Valley, he produced receivers Ken Margerum and Emile Harry for Stanford.
Chuck Muncie (1975)
This team was probably the best collection of offensive players Cal has ever had, with receivers Wesley Walker and Steve Rivera, quarterback Joe Roth, fullback Paul Jones and Muncie.
There was little Stanford could do to stop Muncie, who scored four touchdowns, threw a pass for a fifth, and gained 169 yards on 30 carries. The final score was 48-15, but it could have been whatever Muncie wanted it to be.
Muncie, who now runs the Chuck Muncie foundation to help underprivileged youth, will be in town for the 100th Big Game. He won't be alone.
J. Torchio (1980)
Another quarterback injury enabled J. Torchio, whose father, Lloyd, had scored a touchdown in the 1947 Big Game, to enjoy a spectacular afternoon. Rich Campbell had gone down in the seventh game of the year, and the Bears went to Torchio, a non-scholarship walk-on, against Stanford.
Torchio threw a 56-yard pass to set up Cal's first touchdown. He later threw a touchdown pass and scored himself on a three-yard run, as Cal pulled off the 28-23 upset.
Ed Walker (1924)
The years of coach Andy Smith's wonder teams were winding down, but the Bears still had not lost a game in the 1920s. Stanford came into the Big Game a decided underdog, especially since All-America Ernie Nevers, who would dominate the Big Game a year later, was out with an injury.
Halfback Ed Walker, not even one of Stanford's top reserves, watched from the bench as Cal gradually asserted itself, wiping out a 6-0 deficit and taking a 20-6 lead in the fourth quarter.
Enter Walker. Stanford took over on the Cal 43 and scored in four plays, two of them Walker pass completions including a 21-yarder for a touchdown. In the final moments, Walker hit Murray Cuddeback for a 34-yard touchdown, and when Cuddeback converted, the score was even. That's the way it ended, but one wonders if this game, regarded as one of the greatest Big Games ever, might have come out different if Walker had entered sooner.
Lou Valli (1956)
Stanford had gone into the 1956 seasons with All-Americans Brodie and Paul Wiggin. Junior fullback Valli was just sort of there. While Brodie was leading the country in total offense, Valli had averaged slightly more than 46 rushing yards in the first nine games.
There wasn't much hype about Valli, described in one scouting report as having "good running sense, (but) not exceptionally swift."
But Valli was the Stanford offense that day, grinding out 209 yards (still the Big Game record) on 23 carries. Long or short, he was the man. He gained one yard when Stanford needed it, and he gained 35 when they wanted it. He contributed another important 28 yards on a pass reception.
However, he was not responsible for extra points, and the two Stanford missed were the margin in Cal's 20-18 victory. Sophomore quarterback Joe Kapp, Cal's third stringer at the start of the year, engineered the win that sent coach Pappy Waldorf out a winner. Kapp would go on to the Rose Bowl and the Super Bowl. Valli never had a day like that again.
Dick Norman (1959)
Unlike some of the other Big Game heroes, Norman did not come from obscurity. He went into the 1959 Big Game as the nation's leading passer, but even he had never been this good. He completed 34 of 39 attempts (a phenomenal 87 percent) for 401 yards. He brought Stanford back from a 14-0 deficit into a 17-14 lead. After Cal went ahead in the fourth quarter, 20-17, Norman mounted one final drive that ended with his just failing to get out of bounds on the Cal 5-yard line.
Norman's attempts, completions and yardage were NCAA records at the time, and the latter two still stand as Big Game bests.
Stanford basically lost the game because Cal went out of character and Stanford couldn't adjust. The Bears were strictly a running team until the Big Game. They had completed just 17 passes the first nine games, and would connect on nine in the Big Game. End Gael Barsotti, who had one catch coming in, had five receptions in the Big Game. His six total catches made him the Cal season leader, and that is not a typo.
Clark Weaver (1962)
The pregame talk was all about Cal sophomore quarterback Craig Morton, still regarded by some as the school's best passer. Morton had been injured in fall practice (returning punts, no less), and he had played just four games. But he was a star in the making and had passed Cal into a 13-3 halftime lead against Stanford.
That's when Stanford coach Jack Curtice inserted Clark Weaver at quarterback. One reporter had asked Curtice if it was true that Weaver, a transfer from Colorado, "couldn't throw the ball 10 yards."
Replied Curtice: "He can throw it as far as any of our receivers can run."
Weaver completed nine of 11 passes in the second half for 209 yards and three touchdowns as Stanford piled up 297 yards of total offense in the final 30 minutes of a 30-13 win.
John Elway (1982)
This is the year of The Play, Cal's miraculous five-lateral kickoff return through the Stanford band. But the overall brilliance of Elway that day should not be overlooked. In his final game at Stanford, Elway completed 25 passes in 39 attempts for 330 yards. But when he did it is as impressive as how much.
He brought Stanford back from a 10-0 deficit to a 14-10 lead. There was little he could do as Cal retook the lead 19-17, but he was saving his best for last. With just 53 seconds left, Stanford had the ball on its own 13-yard line, fourth down, 17 yards to go. It also had Elway. He rocketed a 29-yard pass to Emile Harry, setting up the final Stanford field goal with four seconds left. We all know what happened after that.
©1997 San Francisco Chronicle