Vikings’ Paul Wiggin, ex-QB John Elway look back at Stanford losing to Cal 40 years ago on ‘The Play’


			Vikings’ Paul Wiggin, ex-QB John Elway look back at Stanford losing to Cal 40 years ago on ‘The Play’
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When Paul Wiggin was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005, he figured the focus would be on his days as a star defensive end at Stanford.

Not exactly.

After playing in college from 1954-56 and with the Cleveland Browns from 1957-67, Wiggin went into coaching. That included a 1980-83 stint at Stanford, when he was on the wrong end of the most improbable play in college football history. On Nov. 20, 1982, California beat the Cardinal 25-20 on “The Play,” a kickoff return that featured five laterals and Kevin Moen running through the Stanford band for the winning touchdown as time expired.

“When we had the big banquet and they interviewed every one of the guys who was going in, the first question they asked about me was about that play,” said Wiggin, who is now a senior consultant for the Vikings and turned 88 on Friday. “And in the program for that event they had a picture of a trombone on the football field, and it said that was from the aftermath of the play.”

Lately, Wiggin has been reminded even more about “The Play.” With Sunday being the 40th anniversary of the epic moment, plenty of highlights of it are being shown.

“That was about as tough of a day as you could ever possibly have,’’ Wiggin said. “That was as low as you probably could get.’’

In the game at California Memorial Stadium, Stanford star quarterback John Elway kept the Cardinal alive by completing a fourth-and-17 pass from the Cardinal 13 late in the game. That led to a 35-yard field goal by Mark Harmon with four seconds left for a 20-19 Stanford lead and what the Cardinal thought would be a bid to the Hall of Fame Classic bowl game.

But the Bears returned the ensuing squib kickoff 57 yards for a touchdown on the wild play. Wiggin believed one of the California players with the ball should have been ruled down, that at least one of the laterals went illegally forward, and that the play should have been stopped with the band on the field.

“Everything was wrong,’’ Wiggin said “But there wasn’t anything you could do about it. You didn’t know where to turn. I told the team in the locker room not to take off their uniforms because I was going to talk to the referees and they’re probably going to replay it. But when I came back and I had to tell them to take their uniforms off, that was the really tough part.”

Elway said that it was a “very tough” locker room afterward. But he admired how Wiggin “fought hard for us” to try to get the play overturned or at least run again.

“We were so distraught but (Wiggin) handled it with class,’’ said Elway, who long has admired his former coach.

The loss dropped the Cardinal to 5-6, and they were ineligible for a bowl game. So it turned out to be the last college game of Elway’s career.

“It’s one of those things that you look back and say now, ‘Shoot, I wish we could have had instant replay back then,’’’ said Elway, who went on to become a hall of fame quarterback for the Denver Broncos from 1983-98 and is now a consultant for the team. “But they didn’t have it. It’s something you look back on now and it’s not nearly as painful as it was. I look at it like, ‘I was a part of that game.’

“I think people see that play and they don’t realize what a good football game it was, how we were able to get back ourselves for the opportunity to kick the field goal to go ahead before they did that play. Other than that play, it was a great football game. But it was a tough way to have your career end with that kind of frustrating game.’’

Elway said it “added to the frustration” that the Cardinal went 1-10 the next season and Wiggin was fired. But Wiggin joined the Vikings in 1985 for a six-season run as defensive line coach. And he has been in the team’s front office since 1992.

Over the years, Wiggin has seen “The Play” show up numerous times on television. But he has learned to deal with it.

“It’s there, but I can’t say that it makes me sick or anything,’’ he said. “It just is what it is.

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