Thumb Wars: Can today's Cal fans still brag about The Play?
Monday, July 26, 2010
Category: Sports > Fall > Football
The story needs no retelling. You've already seen it once, twice, maybe a hundred times. With four seconds left in the 1982 Big Game, 10 Cal players added their names to a list that includes Jesus, Muhammad and Annie Sullivan.
I could tell you that this alone entitles Cal fans to eternal bragging rights. Few sports clips have become as iconic and ubiquitous as The Play. Add to that the rivalry aspect (what more joy can any of us derive than from knowing the Bears ruined the last game of John Elway's college career?) and the call (Joe Starkey's straining voice demonstrates the incredible capacity of human vocal chords), and you have a canonical gospel in the college football bible.
Some, though, will say that this one moment isn't enough. Cal fans can't cling to it forever while year by year the Rose Bowl recedes behind them. Bragging about The Play only masks a dearth of other points of pride.
But the greatest people and plays in sports live independently of history. We're inspired by Joe Roth regardless of what Tom Holmoe did to the program some 30 years later. The Catch is still perfect even though the 49ers haven't been able to throw the ball since Steve Young.
Take away the could-have-beens and the let-downs of Cal football lore and The Play is still a glorious manifestation of the power of determination. It reminds us that even in that darkest hour, we can always come back.
Sports, professional, collegiate and pee wee, are great because of these moments. They transcend that field and those men. In a world full of uncertainty - now, perhaps, more than ever - The Play is proof that if we truly want something, not even four seconds left on the clock and a field full of obstacles can stop us.
We love The Play because of its technical improbability but, even more, we love it for what it represents. Five laterals and one crushed trombone proved to the world that the impossible ... isn't.
There will be no extra point.
In a little less than four months, we'll be celebrating the 28th anniversary of The Play.
You remember that, don't you? You probably weren't alive back in 1982, but the timeless voice of Joe Starkey has certainly preserved what was perhaps Cal's sole moment of true athletic glory.
Or maybe you don't.
After all, by the time the 2011 season rolls around, the stadium in which Kevin Moen gloriously assaulted Stanford trombone player won't even exist anymore. (Won't we have fun trekking to AT&T Park?)
A year after that, the Pac-10 itself will have added two extra members. We'll likely have somehow split into two divisions, and may even have one of those newfangled conference title games that the SEC is still so fond of.
The times, they are a-changin'. And in our times, The Play simply doesn't give us enough ammunition when it comes to intercollegiate trash talk.
Here's a litmus test for you.
Call up one of your friends at a rival school. (Stanford would obviously be the villain of choice, but feel free to go after anyone you know at USC.) Cal is about to play said school in a mere two days. Do you bring up those final four seconds?
Another scenario: Your beloved Bears have just suffered a soul-crushing blowout. Does The Play give you a snappy comeback when your best friend starts talking up how sharp Andrew Luck's passes looked in the red zone?
However beautiful those five laterals were, they just won't sound right in a 140-character taunt from your iPhone.
Before I started classes freshman year, I bought one of those T-shirts screenprinted with the Xs and Os of The Play - complete with miniatures of the Stanford band.
A great purchase, I thought. Everyone on campus would recognize the never-say-die attitude this stood for, would acknowledge the sheer possibility of the impossible.
But once in a while, another student always pops the question:
What's that on your shirt?
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