By John Platz
This is the third 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.
STANFORD, Calif. - The memorable Stanford football season of 1970 first took flight on September 12th with a last-minute, season-opening 34-28 win over fourth-ranked Arkansas.
By mid-October, the team's fortunes were soaring, following a 24-14 dispatching of a No. 4 USC team that had narrowly edged out Stanford for the two previous Pac-8 Conference championships and which had, just weeks earlier, crushed Alabama and tied eventual national champion Nebraska.
These landmark wins were just the beginning for Stanford: a prelude to the emergence of a never-to-be forgotten team nickname, the awarding of a Heisman Trophy, and a postseason trip to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl, "The Granddaddy of Them All."
First the nickname, one that grew to be fearfully "fowl" to the opposition from the first game in September to the bowl game on New Year's Day.
The legend of the Thunderchickens -- the nickname given to the Stanford defensive line -- had been hatched prior to the start of the season.
Junior defensive end Pete Lazetich had been talking during the preseason about a motorcycle gang in Montana called the Thunderchickens. He also thought senior defensive lineman Dave Tipton ran like a chicken. Lazetich thought the nickname fit Tipton and the rest of the Indians' D-Line.
Following the victory over USC on October 10, the reputation of Stanford and the Thunderchickens took off. Four consecutive Pac-8 wins followed, in which the defense allowed an average of fewer than 14 points per game.
First came a 63-16 win at Washington State on October 17. Then came a 9-7 victory over UCLA in Los Angeles on October 24. Next was a 48-10 Halloween home win over Oregon State. And, finally, a 29-22 November 7th home triumph over the Sonny Sixkiller-quarterbacked Washington Huskies. Stanford was rolling, with a record of 7-1 and a No. 6 ranking.
That four-game win streak was enough for the Indians to clinch, by the middle of November, the Pac-8 Conference championship and the coveted Rose Bowl berth -- Stanford's first in 19 years!
Two disappointing but -- for purposes of the conference title race -- meaningless losses closed out the regular season, dropping the final regular season record to 8-3. However, the team's spirits focused on a more positive fact: for the first time in a generation, there would be a chance for Stanford to win a Rose Bowl game.
And that game would not be the only chance for Stanford to shine on a national stage.
New York City, December 1970. The Heisman Trophy award ceremony at the Downtown Athletic Club in lower Manhattan. The finalists, all seniors, all marquee quarterbacks: Mississippi's Archie Manning, Notre Dame's Joe Theismann ... and Stanford's Jim Plunkett.
Manning, from college football-crazy Southeastern Conference country, had been the preseason favorite. Theismann's Notre Dame team had just posted the best regular season record (9-2) of all of the finalists' teams. Plunkett had a chance, of course, but could he overcome the bigger names?
The national television exposure for Plunkett in the Arkansas opener, the epic Plunkett-directed win over USC in October, and sports information director Bob Murphy's skillful, season-long publicity campaign were enough to carry the vote: Jim Plunkett became Stanford's first -- and still only -- Heisman winner.
Could January 1, 1971 in Pasadena top the Heisman ceremony in New York? Only if the No. 12 Indians could win the Rose Bowl game.
The opponent was as formidable as could be. Big 10 champion Ohio State was undefeated, ranked No. 2, and knew how to win in Pasadena. Ohio State senior quarterback Rex Kern and senior all-America running back John Brockington were just two of the many Buckeyes that as so-called "super sophs" had gone undefeated, including a win over USC in the 1969 Rose Bowl game.
Stanford jumped out to an early lead. On its opening drive, the Indians drove 59 yards on five plays, with Jackie Brown scoring on a four-yard touchdown run. The score: 7-0 Indians.
On the next drive, later in the first quarter, Stanford drove from its own 48-yard line into Ohio State territory before stalling and settling for a 37-yard Steve Horowitz field goal. Stanford, 10-0.
The Buckeyes came right back, Brockington scored on a one-yard run late in the first quarter, and added another in the second. Ohio State led, 14-10, at halftime. The teams traded field goals in the third quarter. And, going into the fourth, the score stood 17-13 in favor of the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes sought to put Stanford away, going for it on fourth-and-one at the Stanford 20 on the opening play of the fourth quarter. But Brockington was hit by linebacker Ron Kadziel for no gain on what would be the game's pivotal play.
Plunkett then engineered a brilliant 80-yard, 13-play drive leading to a go-ahead one-yard scoring run by Brown. Plunkett completed all five passes he attempted, accounting for 69 yards. The Brown touchdown put Indians ahead, 20-17, with 10 minutes remaining.
Next, a big break for Stanford.
With Ohio State going uncharacteristically to the air, Stanford senior defensive back Jack Schultz picked off a Kern pass and returned it to the Buckeye 25-yard line. Four plays later, Plunkett hit Randy Vataha on a 10-yard touchdown pass play, making the score 27-17 Indians with 8:18 left.
And the Thunderchickens made sure those final eight minutes were "Ohio Scoreless University". The Buckeyes would not score again. The last seconds ticked off the clock in the Arroyo Seco gloaming.
The final score, Stanford 27, Ohio State 17.
A Rose Bowl win for Stanford.
A Rose Bowl MVP for Plunkett.
Twelve tackles for Thunderchicken Tipton.
The winning formula for Stanford: Heisman + Thunderchickens = Rose Bowl win.