(Nov. 18)  The bandmates tried to take the field, but the players all refused to yield.

When the football teams of Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley play tomorrow in the 125th edition of the Big Game, it will be one day short of the 40th anniversary of what live announcer Joe Starkey called “the most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heartrending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football.”

Just in time for the occasion comes one of the most entertaining, funniest, wildest, multilayered, pitch-perfect, sports-related books you’ll ever read. Or, perhaps rather than pitch-perfect, it’s lateral-perfect.

Five Laterals and a Trombone is by Tyler Bridges, a near-legendary political reporter based in Louisiana. It doesn’t just recount “The Play” in 1982 in which Stanford’s band rushed the field too soon, only to have the Cal Bears use the five pitches to return a kickoff for a winning touchdown, scored by dodging and eventually running over Stanford musicians.

** FILE ** California’s Kevin Moen (26) leaps with the ball in the air after scoring Cal’s winning touchdown while the Stanford band runs to get out of his way in Berkeley, Calif., in this Nov. 25, 1982 photo.


It doesn’t just recount the game. It doesn’t just recap the season. Instead, Bridges in Five Laterals creates a rich and sensitive, but also uproarious, story of an entire subculture of college sports and music, with a cast of unforgettable characters where Everybody’s All-American meets Animal House meets Semi-Tough meets “this one time, at band camp.” The All-American, Elway, became arguably one of the five greatest quarterbacks of all time, while opposing head coach Joe Kapp already had quarterbacked a team to a Super Bowl appearance and literally acted in Semi-Tough; and Kapp’s leading tackler, Ron Rivera, would win a Super Bowl ring as a player and lead another team to a Super Bowl as its head coach.

Elway and Rivera both wrote forewords for Five Laterals.

What Bridges accomplished with his copious research — 375 personal interviews, 1,500 news articles, 13 books, and a TV documentary, among other sources — is to capture the very essence of a college football rivalry based less on winning prowess than on geographical bragging rights and a tradition of high-spirited hijinks….. [The full column is at this link.]


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