If Cal is looking for a blueprint for a Big Game upset, there might not be a better one than 1970. That was the year the Bears beat a heavily favored Stanford team that was ranked 11th in the country and led by a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, Jim Plunkett.
Cal won 22-14 behind Dave Penhall, an unheralded quarterback whose route to the starting job was as circuitous as Zach Maynard's, the transfer who will start Saturday for the Bears.
"I have noticed that he wears the same number (15) that I wore," Penhall said. "I would like to think that's a good omen."
Penhall, now 62 and living in Orange County, attends the Big Game every year and played in two of them. He was outstanding in both games, leading the upset in 1970, after coming close in a 29-28 loss the previous year.
"He was a big pain in our side," Plunkett said. "I know Dave, I've seen him on occasion at Big Game functions, and what I remember most is that he was a gamer. He just created all kinds of problems for us in those two Big Games. He played his heart out."
Plunkett sees some similarities between the 1970 game and this one, but he points out one huge difference: the stakes. In 1970, Stanford had locked up a Rose Bowl berth two weeks before the Big Game. This year's Stanford team still has a BCS berth and possible Rose Bowl appearance in the balance.
"When we clinched the Rose Bowl, we lost our focus," Plunkett said. "It had been 19 years since Stanford had been to the Rose Bowl and 30 years since we'd won it. I think the wind went out of our proverbial sails after finally accomplishing what we set out to do."
Then there is the Heisman Trophy.
Plunkett won it in 1970, and now another Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck, is in line to replicate the feat. Luck's candidacy took a hit last week in the loss to Oregon -- just as Plunkett's did down the stretch in 1970. The week before the Big Game, Plunkett and Stanford had been badly beaten (31-14) by Air Force.
By then, Plunkett said, he was so fed up with Heisman speculation he barely cared about the award.
"Either I was going to win it or I wasn't at that point," he said. "It was a tough year for me mentally, trying to perform the best I could to help Stanford win -- and unlike Andrew, who says he doesn't feel the pressure (about the Heisman) -- it was a lot of added pressure on my shoulders. In retrospect, it got to me."
As it turned out, Plunkett won comfortably over two other quarterbacks, Notre Dame's Joe Theismann and Mississippi's Archie Manning.
Despite his colors, Penhall held much admiration for Plunkett, then and now.
"When we won that game, it was a very big deal for me," Penhall said. "We had a big team party after the game. I remember going back to my fraternity, and I just laid awake all night thinking about it, I was so excited.
"But shortly thereafter, somebody got me tickets to the Rose Bowl, and I went. I cheered Plunkett on. I was rooting for Stanford because I liked Jim and that team."
Penhall may have more intriguing Stanford connections than he does at Cal. In high school, he dated the future wife of Plunkett's favorite target, receiver Randy Vataha.
As the head football coach at Fountain Valley High for more than three decades, Penhall helped groom former Cardinal receivers Ken Margerum, Mike Cook and Emile Harry. He tried to steer Margerum toward Cal, but the Bears weren't interested.
Penhall said Cal might face a bigger challenge Saturday than it did in 1970 against Plunkett. That's how highly he regards Luck.
"I don't think I've ever seen a better college quarterback," Penhall said. "I think that guy's great. I'm on the bandwagon with everything good that's ever been said about him. But the one thing Cal has going for them is that Stanford's had a disappointing loss, they might be licking their wounds, and that might open the door a bit."
Plunkett counters: "They're too good to let that one loss affect them, just like they didn't let it affect them last year (after a defeat at Oregon). I can't speak for the kids, but I think it might have been more devastating a year ago when they had such a big lead."
One thing is certain. Plunkett doesn't want Luck to feel the pain he felt after losing the Big Game his final year.
"You don't realize how big the game really is to you as a Stanford or Cal player until you lose it," he said. "Inside, it's heartbreaking. Having won the first two I played in, then to lose it, it really got to me in a lot of ways. I just felt so upset, giving up The Axe and all that goes with that. It still hurts a little."
Some other Big Game upsets:
Cal 17, Stanford 11 (1986): Generally regarded as biggest upset in Big Game history. Cal came in at 1-9 with eight straight losses and was 21-point underdog against 7-2 Cardinal. Coach Joe Kapp already had been fired. Leading 10-3 midway through fourth quarter, Kapp called end-around to Mike Ford, who scored from 53 yards out for a 17-3 Cal lead. After the game, Kapp was carried off the field on his players' shoulders.
Cal 28, Stanford 23 (1980): Bears were 15-point underdogs to Stanford and John Elway. Cal coach Roger Theder, his job on the line, brought in legendary coach Pappy Waldorf to speak to his 2-8 team. Cal responded by taking 21-7 halftime lead before squeaking out the win. Stanford, virtually assured of a Peach Bowl berth with a win, finished 6-5 and at home for the holidays.
Cal 20, Stanford 18 (1956): Four days before the game,Waldorf announced it would be his last at Cal. Bears (2-7) were two-touchdown underdogs against Indians and John Brodie. Cal led 20-6 in third quarter, then twice denied Stanford two-point conversion attempts to send Waldorf out a winner.
Cal 20, Stanford 7 (1951): Cal was ranked No. 1 in the country after starting 4-0 but had slipped to 19th at 7-2 going into the Big Game. Stanford was 9-0, ranked third and playing at home. Bears built 20-0 lead before Stanford scored.
Stanford 38, Cal 21 (1991): One of few Stanford Big Game upsets. Bears were ranked No. 6 in country and Stanford was No. 21. It was first time in 40 years both teams were ranked coming into Big Game. Cal committed 11 penalties for 140 yards, including seven personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct infractions. Six weeks later, and shortly after a 37-13 drubbing of Clemson in the Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day, Cal coach Bruce Snyder left for Arizona State.
- CARL STEWARD