TWISH: Ducks Downed & San Jose Smoked
A lot went wrong on the gridiron for Stanford in the years between the program's only Rose Bowl appearance of the '50s and the arrival of Jim Plunkett 16 years later. This Week in Stanford History is here to spotlight the two big things the Indians got right.
Of foremost importance, Stanford lured a young, promising head coach away from Utah State. The Indians could also produce top-flight quarterbacks like Dick Norman, the country's top passer in 1959. But the team's performance stalled – witness a winless 0-10 campaign in 1960 – even while parity reigned out west. Track meets outdrew some football games at Stanford Stadium. Meanwhile from 1952 to 1966, six of the eight sides who later would form the Pacific 8 conference reached Pasadena. Stanford joined Washington State as the bottom-feeding exceptions.
"You'll be a Cal alum a lot longer than you'll be a Stanford head coach," John Ralston's old classmates from Berkeley warned him after he arrived in Palo Alto. Ralston, whose new side had suffered six losing seasons in nine years, had quite a reclamation project on his hands. It would take him until his second season on The Farm to claim his first signature victory.
October 31, 1964: Stanford 10, Oregon 8
In 1964, the Ducks enjoyed a level of newfound prominence but were still playing in relative obscurity. Hayward Field – now the legendary old track oval – served as the on-campus venue while Autzen Stadium was three years away from opening. Portland's Civic Stadium hosted certain contests like this one, where an Indian team winless in conference play visited the country's seventh-ranked team.
And on a field that now hosts Major League Soccer, it would be the Stanford kicking game that allowed for an upset.
Braden Beck's 27-yard field goal with 13 seconds left provided the margin of victory. Heroics from quarterback/punter Dave Lewis and running back Ray Handley also deserve special mention. Beck atoned for three missed field goals in the first half, while Stanford survived in a game it had statistically dominated.
The Indians outgained their web-footed hosts 374-73. Oregon's lone touchdown came on an interception return for a score late in the third period. The ensuing two-point conversion had the Ducks up 8-7, which had held up to that point and Ralston and company faced a critical fourth down near midfield with less than two minutes to play.
The decision to punt proved to be a smart one. Lewis' ensuing 61-yard boot pinned the Ducks on their own one-yard-line. Stanford soon forced Oregon to punt and was in business at the Oregon 48 with 54 ticks remaining. Lewis then found Bob Blunt for 27 yards and the Tribe was really onto something. Soon came Beck's redemption and a crushing blow to the Ducks. It would be Oregon State – the Beavers' most recent trip to the Rose Bowl we might add – that would earn conference championship honors. The Indians (who finished 5-5) settled for a tidy dose of respect.
"The fact remains that Stanford beat Oregon badly although the margin was only by two points," wrote The Eugene Register Guard.
October 31, 1959: Stanford 54, San Jose State 38
In a game the Associated Press described as "practically devoid of defense," the two sides were in a record-setting mood. The Indians prevailed in what was at the time the highest-scoring game in Stanford Stadium history, and Stanford quarterback Dick Norman was the afternoon's brightest star.
The junior completed 12 of 22 throws for 261 yards and two touchdowns to his favorite target, all-American end Chris Burford. Norman would end the season with a 401-yard passing performance against Cal, an NCAA-record at the time. He's still one of only five Stanford quarterbacks – joining Steve Dils, John Elway, Todd Husak and Andrew Luck – to surpass 400 yards passing in a single game. Burford led the NCAA in receiving in 1959 with 757 yards and tied the all-time single-season receiving record with 61 catches.