|Wednesday, November 20
Updated: November 22, 3:33 PM ET
Fame fleeting after those five laterals
By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com
He could've cashed in. Maybe they all could have cashed in. But in the end, the guy who scored the touchdown that ended the play that became The Play realized that what he wanted in his life, as much as anything, was to keep on living it.
"I've got quite a few other things going on in my life. We all do."
The Play itself, that 57-yard, five-lateral bender through BizarroWorld that allowed the Cal Bears to defeat Stanford, 25-20, as time expired in the 1982 Big Game -- 20 years ago, already -- had enough twists, turns, controversies and smushed trombonists to enshrine itself in college football's annals on general principles of brilliant weirdness.
But what stands as at least noteworthy, if not actually stride-for-stride important, is what happened after: Nothing much. What elevates The Play to a status of something approaching purity, in fact, may well be this idea that the people involved pretty much went back to the lives they were living, with no particular inclination -- and, apparently, no ensuing motivation -- to make anything of it beyond the fine thing it remains.
A great memory, Moen said. Looks like that'll have to do.
There was no breakout stardom from The Play, no massive capitalization. Moen, now 41, not only fielded the kickoff that set the sequence of events in motion with 0:04 showing on the clock, but ultimately traveled the final 25 yards after receiving the fifth lateral, from Cal teammate Mariet Ford. Moen is remembered primarily for his post-touchdown ramming of Stanford marching band member Gary Tyrrell; but as for post-event fame, Moen neither sought nor found it. Instead, he completed his Cal career with The Play, had a brief flirtation with professional ball, then returned to his native Southern California.
Aside from an occasional reunion and a small one-time payment from a firm that wanted to use his likeness as part of a project for its e-business clients, Moen has no active connection with the memory or marketing of The Play. He is a successful real-estate broker in Rancho Palos Verdes, not far from Los Angeles, in a part of the state with no emotional tie to The Play nor any gripping memory of it.
To Moen's friends, some of whom don't even know he was in it, The Play is mostly a cool highlight shown on TV from time to time -- and, for the most part, such describes the reactions to that college football moment of almost all its participants.
It has been, for those involved, a life lived almost completely beyond the spotlight. The most famous alumnus of The Play, in fact, is known for the darkest possible reason: Ford, whose over-the-shoulder toss to Moen was the final lateral in that breathtaking and almost comically desperate sequence, made grim headlines when he was convicted of the 1997 murders of his wife, 3-year-old son and unborn child.
The rest of the cast of players essentially went anonymously into their futures, their names recalled only at anniversaries and Big Game gatherings of Cal and Stanford alumni. Richard Rodgers, who accepted Moen's first lateral and then made a pitch to Garner, is now 41 and an assistant coach at New Mexico State after working in the programs at San Jose State and Portland State.
Garner, an 18-year-old freshman who became the center of one of the controversies of The Play -- Was his knee down before he got off lateral No. 3 to Rodgers? -- spent two seasons with the Washington Redskins and then happily dropped out of public sight. He is a risk manager for The Sports Authority, a $1.5 billion retail sporting goods chain, in Coral Springs, Fla.
And Gary Tyrrell, the Stanford band member who was belting out the notes to Free's "All Right Now" when he turned around just as a jubilant Moen came crashing down in the end zone? A Silicon Valley business veteran of 15 years, he currently is chief financial officer of a venture-capital firm in the Redwood Shores area.
"I never would have expected that the attention I've received from this would have lasted for so long," said Tyrrell, now 41, who still appears at occasional functions with Moen and considers him a friend. "Stuff happens."
So it does -- just not always publicly. That there is no real identifiable face on The Play speaks fairly eloquently to the chaotic and nearly random series of events that it stitched together in those four seconds of game-clock time on Nov. 20, 1982.
"There wasn't a plan. If we had started getting analytical about it, it probably wouldn't have worked," Moen said with a laugh. "It was all kind of random, and I guess the right combination of people. It was just a pretty magical way for things to evolve."
The man who might have been most associated with that game, in fact, has been reduced to afterthought by the inspired no-names who ultimately superseded him. He was the Stanford quarterback who had led his team on a heroic last-gasp drive, memorably completing a fourth-down pass that kept the Cardinal alive and positioned it for the 35-yard field goal that gave Stanford a 20-19 lead with 0:04 to play.
Interestingly, it was this quarterback who also contributed one of the great what-if moments to the game. It was his decision to call timeout with eight seconds remaining to set up Mark Harmon's field goal, rather than let the clock run down a few more seconds -- a crucial mistake, since it left those four ticks on the clock after Harmon's kick had sailed through the uprights.
The four seconds proved historic. The quarterback walked off the field a stunned loser, and in time a mere postscript to the retelling of The Play. Pretty good QB, as time would prove, but in the end way too well-known to have fit in here. Name of Elway.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com