The Cal/Stanford “Big Game” doesn’t exactly remind us of national championship seasons or #1 vs. #2 match-ups, but it does one better.
For the past thirty years, it has made us shiver any time our team scores to take the lead with a few seconds left, and has to kick off.
People forget how many laterals there were (five). People forget who scored the winning touchdown (Kevin Moen). People forget that John Elway converted a 4th and 18 from his own twelve yard-line on Stanford’s (nearly) game-winning drive. People forget about the first 59:55 of this game.
But people never forget what happened in the last five seconds.
John Elway later said that this game ruined his college career. Stanford narrowly missed a bowl bid with a 5-6 record in 1982. I never bought that statement because Elway was still drafted #1 overall in the ’83 NFL Draft (a very quarterback-heavy draft, six in the first round alone), even with the loss and absence of a bowl game.
The Miami/Florida State match-up does however remind us of undefeated records, high rankings, and national championships. For about a fifteen-year period (1987-2002), this was the closest thing to seeing an NFL-caliber game on Saturday. Miami was coached by Jimmy Johnson (1984-88), Dennis Erickson (1989-94), Butch Davis (1995-2000), and Larry Coker (2001-06) during this period, and won four national titles. Florida State was coached by the incomparable Bobby Bowden, and won two national titles.
This rivalry is known for close games and last-second finishes. During the aforementioned time period, we have been privy to Wide Right I-III (1991, 92, and 2000, all won by Miami), Wide Left (2002, also won by Miami), and a missed two-point conversion that would have won the game, and possibly a national title (1987, also won by Miami). For about a decade, the ‘Canes played the part of Lucy, and FSU of Charlie Brown.
I have to say, as much as I loathe the Miami Hurricanes, college football was better when both of these teams were winning and relevant.