By John Platz
STANFORD, Calif. -
This is the second of a three-part series chronicling Stanford's 1970 Rose Bowl team, which will be honored Saturday at halftime of the Cardinal's game against Arizona, which begins at 5 p.m. at Stanford Stadium.
The 1970 Stanford football season, which would culminate in a conference championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, got off to a hot start -- literally and figuratively -- with a dramatic win on the road over fourth-ranked Arkansas.
With the temperature and humidity soaring past 90, the Indians got the job done, winning 34-28 as senior quarterback Jim Plunkett served notice that he would be a formidable Heisman Trophy candidate, throwing for 262 yards in a game that had had ABC-TV announcers Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson gushing about Plunkett and Stanford's "pro set" offense.
Following the thrilling win over the Razorbacks, game No. 2 for Stanford was a lopsided home win over South Bay neighbor San Jose State. Final score: Indians 34, Spartans 3. Stanford's 1970 record was 2-0, and its ranking stood at No. 4 in the Associated Press poll.
Next came a dominating 33-10 win in Eugene over an Oregon team that featured the talented backfield duo of quarterback Dan Fouts and running back Bobby Moore (later to be known as Ahmad Rashad, the well-known NBC sportscaster).
Limiting the Ducks to one touchdown was the first sign of the Stanford defense's ability to shut down big-name players. Following the Oregon win, Stanford's record was 3-0, and its AP ranking rose to No. 3.
Next up was a home game against Purdue, to be followed by the big one -- USC -- also at Stanford Stadium. Perhaps looking ahead to the Trojan game, Stanford played poorly against the Boilermakers and suffered its first loss of the season.
Said Plunkett after the game: "We weren't exactly overlooking Purdue, but we planned to play through them and peak for USC."
Even Stanford head coach John Ralston was a bit guilty of looking ahead, holding five Indian players out of the Purdue game to make sure they would be available to play the following week against USC. Post-Purdue, the Indians' record stood at 3-1.
Next game, October 10, 1970. No. 4 USC at No. 12 Stanford. The payback game.
Not since 1957 had Stanford defeated the Trojans. The pregame hype and antics exceeded all previously-known bounds: in addition to an overflow of media in the press box, a bomb threat necessitated a search of Stanford Stadium before the 85,000-plus fans were allowed to enter the stadium gates.
On Stanford's second possession, Plunkett went back to pass, targeted tight end Bob Moore who was streaking down the sideline, and hit him in stride with a deep ball. Moore hauled it in, broke a tackle and ran into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown pass completion. Stanford 7, USC 0.
The Indians added a touchdown in the second quarter to make the score 14-0. Set up nicely by a 47-yard punt return from sophomore Eric Cross, and buoyed by a 14-yard run by junior running back Jackie Brown, Stanford found itself on the USC 2-yard line. Moments later, Brown ran it in for the score.
The Trojans tried to answer late in the first half, driving downfield and nearing the Stanford goal line. But the Indians held as junior linebacker Jeff Siemon made two huge defensive plays, causing the USC drive to die at the Stanford 1-yard line. The half ended with the Indians in front, 14-0.
At halftime, two inspiring halftime events added to the overflowing "pro-Stanford" momentum felt within the stadium.
First came roaring chants of "Beat SC, Beat SC", alternating between the sunny and the shady sides of the soldout stadium.
Second came the ceremony retiring Ernie Nevers' uniform number No. 1, the first number retired in Stanford football history. The white-haired, 68-year-old former Stanford great --who famously played all 60 minutes in the 1925 Rose Bowl game against Notre Dame and its Four Horsemen backfield -- was escorted on to the field by Stanford Athletic Director Chuck Taylor to the roar of the crowd.
As the third quarter began, USC immediately cut the Stanford lead in half. The Trojans quickly marched 74 yards, with Rod McNeil scoring the touchdown on the final play of the drive. Stanford 14, USC 7.
The Indians answered with an 89-yard drive featuring four Plunkett completions. At the USC 1, Brown took a handoff and bulled his way for the touchdown that put the Indians back in front by two touchdowns, 21-7.
The game entered the fourth quarter. With four minutes left, Trojan quarterback Jimmy Jones fired a 17-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Chandler, and the Indians' lead was sliced to 21-14.
Following the kickoff, Stanford's strategy was to either run out the clock or get a score and make the game an insurmountable two-score margin. Failure to do that would give USC a chance for a tying or winning touchdown drive.
The pressure was on Plunkett and the Stanford offense. Memories of the two previous seasons' late-game failures against USC -- and the team's promise to avenge those losses -- surely rattled around in their minds.
It was not an easy final drive. One Plunkett pass was tipped and nearly intercepted by USC's Walt Failor. But before falling to the ground, the ball somehow found its way into the arms of Moore. It was a fortuitous bounce, one that kept the drive alive and enabled the Indians to move into field-goal range.
A field goal by Stanford senior Steve Horowitz iced it. The final score: Stanford 24, USC 14. The Indians were 4-1 and in control of the conference race.
Only slightly less important, perhaps, was that it was, finally, a victory over USC. As Plunkett told Sports Illustrated after the game, "this was the most important thing of the season to me."
Little did he know that greater things were in store for him and his Stanford teammates.