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Plunkett, Thunderchickens, and Pasadena: Part I
Courtesy: Stanford Athletics  
Release: 11/02/2010

Part II / Part III

By John Platz

STANFORD, Calif. -

This is the first 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.

Ask longtime Stanford football fans about their favorite season, and the most frequent response is 1970.

The 1970 season stands out for several reasons: memorable wins, colorful players, and a legacy of achievement unmatched by any other post-World War II Stanford team.

Stanford football in 1970 was primed for big things. The Indians had lost only three games in 1968 and only two in 1969. Two of those five losses had been to USC.

In each of those USC games, it took a last-minute field goal by Trojan kicker Ron Ayala to beat Stanford. Since USC won the Pac-8 Conference championship and a Rose Bowl berth in each of those seasons, Stanford knew how close it had come to making it to Pasadena -- painfully close.

The next season, 1970, was to be the payback year. Quarterback Jim Plunkett and his fellow Stanford seniors said so.

The Indians' roster was stocked with NFL-caliber talent, especially among the upperclassmen.

In addition to Heisman Trophy candidate Plunkett at quarterback, seniors Randy Vataha at flanker and Bob Moore at tight end were seniors, would become all-conference honorees, and would play in the NFL. Also NFL-bound were several members of the 1970 defensive unit: linemen Dave Tipton, Pete Lazetich and Greg Sampson, as well as linebacker Jeff Siemon and defensive back Benny Barnes.

Eighth-year Stanford head coach John Ralston was entering the apex of his Stanford coaching career. He, too, would eventually move on to the NFL, in large part because of his tremendous coaching achievements with the 1970 and 1971 Indian teams.

The journey for the 1970 team began in the late-summer swelter of Little Rock, Ark., against the nation's preseason No. 4-ranked team, the Frank Broyles-coached Arkansas Razorbacks. The temperature and humidity indexes had soared past 90 by the time of the late afternoon kickoff. The oven-like effect of the Astroturf field made things even more uncomfortable for the Stanford team from cool California.

No matter.

Stanford seized the momentum early. Junior running back Hillary Shockley scored the game's first touchdown on a 43-yard first quarter run. A 17-yard Plunkett touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jack Lasater followed, also in the first quarter. And -- still in the first quarter -- Shockley scored again on a short touchdown run. It was 21-0 Stanford after one quarter, an incredible start.

The Stanford onslaught continued into the second quarter. Sophomore Eric Cross' 61-yard punt return for a touchdown upped the Indians' margin to 27-0.

The big lead wouldn't last. Arkansas senior quarterback Bill Montgomery, who had misfired on 11 of his first 12 pass attempts, threw for two second-quarter touchdowns, each on a fourth-down play, and Stanford's lead by halftime had been reduced to 27-14.

Would Stanford hold on, on the road, in the heat, against a top-four opponent?

Shockley's third touchdown run early in third quarter made it 34-14 Stanford. But Arkansas answered with two touchdowns shortly after, making the score 34-28 as the game entered the fourth quarter.

The Indians had the lead, but the Razorbacks had the momentum -- and the fans. Tens of thousands of screaming Arkansas fans in War Memorial Stadium knew that if Stanford could be kept off the scoreboard in that final quarter, the home team had a good chance to mount one last touchdown drive and complete the miracle comeback.

Arkansas got its chance in the final three minutes -- a Stanford fumble at midfield was recovered by the Razorbacks. The opportunity for a winning drive was there for the home team.

The Indian defense faced its first big test of the 1970 season. Would this be a championship-caliber "D" to complement the Plunkett-led Stanford offense?

Arkansas marched downfield, pushing all the way down to the Stanford 5-yard line. There, the Razorbacks faced a third down and two, with less than one minute to go.

Arkansas' best running back, Bill Burnett, tried the right side of the Stanford defensive line and was stuffed by Stanford middle linebacker Jeff Siemon. No gain. Fourth and two. Twenty-nine seconds remaining.

On fourth down, Montgomery tried a sprint option, looking initially to throw into the end zone. But Indian cornerback Barnes, who would play 11 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, had the target receiver covered.

Stymied, Montogmery quickly decided to run, headed straight upfield, gained a yard but then was met head on by Stanford's Mike Simone. The junior linebacker, who played the game on a sprained ankle, dropped the Razorback quarterback in his tracks. No first down. Ball turned over on downs to Stanford. Game OVER!

Stanford had survived the September late summer heat, passed the season-opening test, and gained a momentum toward the Rose Bowl.

The initial reward for the team? A dip in the hotel pool.

The Stanford splash on offense in Little Rock had been the two-pronged attack of Plunkett and Shockley. Plunkett threw for 262 yards, and Shockley rushed for 117 to complement his three-touchdown night. Junior running back Jackie Brown also was a key for the Indians, catching 11 passes for 130 yards.

Of Plunkett's play, ABC-TV game commentator and legendary Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson had this to say: "That's the best college quarterback I've ever seen."

And what of the Stanford defense? As Coach Ralston put it, when asked about his team's game-saving stop, "the defense came of age."

The "O" and the "D" firmly established their collective presence that hot September 12 evening in Arkansas, as they would for Stanford throughout the 1970 season.

 


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