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Rose Bowl Retrospective; Quick Hits

On Sunday I was privileged to moderate a panel, “Rose Bowl Retrospective,” on Stanford’s upset victory in the 1971 Rose Bowl over a heavily-favored Ohio State team. Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett led Stanford, then known as the Indians, to a 27-17 win over the Buckeyes’ “Team of the Century.”

Ten years ago, at our 40th Stanford reunion, I’d organized a panel with Plunkett and other top players that had drawn the biggest crowd of the weekend, so I was asked to reprise the event for our 50th.

Plunk still works for the Raiders and was required to be in Las Vegas Sunday, but our panel included four gentlemen who made enormous contributions to the success of that Rose Bowl team.

- Tight end Bob Moore (photo middle), a second team All-American and two time All Pac-8 selection who had 5 catches for 104 yards, including the famous "Mad Dog Catch" on the two yard line that set up Stanford's go-ahead score.

- Safety Jack Schultz (left), an All-Coast performer and co-captain of the team along with Plunkett, who made a key fourth quarter interception that set up the game-clinching touchdown.

- Middle linebacker Phil Satre (second from right), who had the misfortune to play the same position as All-America Jeff Siemon, but graded out as the No. 2 defensive player on the team and was one of its leading tacklers.

- Running back Jim Merrill (right), generously listed at 5-8, 175 pounds, who carried for a key first down in the Rose Bowl to keep a drive going and during the season contributed on offense, defense and special teams.

A big crowd braved the downpour to attend the event. After viewing a highlight video, the players and I discussed the lead up to the game (the Buckeyes opened as 19-point favorites), key plays (the aforementioned “Mad Dog,” Schultz’s interception, Merrill’s run, and the defense stopping the Buckeyes on fourth and one at the Stanford 20), getting to the Rose Bowl (beating the hated USC Trojans after heart-breaking losses in ’68 and ’69), and iconic head coach John Ralston (his recruiting success, move to a pass-oriented offense, hiring of great assistants, willingness to take risks and switch players to different positions). Satre has established a leadership program at Stanford in Ralston's honor.

The attendees were enthralled. College football was obviously a huge part of their college experience at Stanford. In fact, most of our classmates, in their ’71 reunion book postings, mentioned the Rose Bowl as their fondest Stanford memory. At Sunday’s retrospective, they cheered the highlights, remembered specific plays and asked tons of questions.

All the players on that team share a special bond. From stars who went on to pro careers to backup players who had few chances to shine, the Rose Bowl remains a hallmark of their lives.

Overtime Follies: The 9-overtime travesty between Penn State and Illinois was seen as exciting by some fans and media. To this longtime college football aficionado, it was a pathetic joke. The geniuses who run college football have decided that, beginning with the third overtime, each team will run plays from the three-yard-line...essentially, a parade of two-point conversion attempts.

It was painful to watch. There were 10 consecutive failures, largely because neither quarterback could find a way to complete a pass to wide open receivers in the end zone. And let's be honest. Running plays from the 3-yard line is no way to decide a football game. That’s akin to having an NBA overtime decided by having two players shoot three free throws apiece. Insane.

Utah Face Plant: Every week a new "best of the Pac-12" team is anointed, and that team promptly falls on its face. It's happened to Utah, Oregon, Arizona State, and, now, Utah. The Utes had beaten Washington State, USC and Arizona State in convincing fashion, before getting upset by Oregon State on Saturday, 42-34.

Oregon, meanwhile, resembled the team that beat Ohio State earlier in the year with a big win over UCLA. The Ducks are now No. 7 in the rankings and have a slim chance at the playoff—should things fall apart in the Big Ten and Oklahoma or Cincinnati implode—if they can run the table.

Laying an Egg: Speaking of Oregon, I've never been a fan of the Nike-inspired "new game, new uniform" policy. At least half of the designs are downright ugly. But the Ducks reached a new low with their latest atrocity, unveiled for Saturday's game against UCLA.

They called it "egg shell" but it looked like "mud splatter." If you were watching that game—on ABC no less—after taking one look at Oregon's garb you immediately became a Bruin fan.

Early Heisman Watch: The race appears to be wide open this year. Right now the list of top candidates includes: Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral, Georgia defensive end Jordan Davis and Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Hometown Heroes: Will the 49ers ever win a home game at Levi's Stadium? It's been over a year since the locals won in Santa Clara.

Like many people, we questioned the 49ers trading their best defensive player, DeForest Buckner, to Indianapolis two years ago because they didn't want to pay him market rates. They got a first round pick in return, which became injury-plagued Javon Kinlaw. Buckner, meanwhile, continues to play at an All-Pro level.

PI Parade: In the midst of a horrible four-game losing streak, the 49ers are leading the league in one category—pass interference penalties. Opponents' game plans against the Niners are simple...throw it long and wait for the flag. Sunday night there were five PI calls against San Francisco.

Dusty’s Return: Nice to see one of the great guys in all of sports, Astros’ manager Dusty Baker, return to the World Series. This is his fifth playoff team, and second shot at a world championship, the only thing missing on his unmatched coaching resume. Let's hope he gets it this time.

Alvarez Amazes: Yordan Alvarez of the Astros is one of the best hitters I've seen in a long, long time. Alvarez defected from Cuba in 2016, signed with the Dodgers for a $2 million bonus, then was traded to the Astros. He won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2019 by hitting .313 with 27 homers and 78 RBIs in only 87 games.

After missing last year with COVID complications and double knee surgery, Alvarez had a fine 2021 season, with a .277 average and team-high 33 homers and 104 RBIs. But that was just a prelude. He was unstoppable in the ALCS, hitting a record .522 (12 for 23) with six RBIs. In Saturday's decisive game six, he went 4 for 4 with two doubles and a triple in the Astros' 5-0 victory.

Latest Sign That the Apocalypse Has Arrived: Major League Baseball now has an "official sports betting partner." Not only that, gambling has become an authorized part of college sports, with more and more events scheduled in Las Vegas.

It wasn’t that long ago that collegiate conferences wouldn't schedule championships in Vegas. Now casinos are considered acceptable sponsors. Watch any sports event on TV and you’re subject to commercials for DraftKings and FanDuel ad nauseam.

I guess I’m old-fashioned, but I think that’s disgraceful.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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