Big Game at 100 - The Athletes and Coaches
Ten Gridiron Greats ...and the Brains Behind Them
Some of the game's best players have worn cardinal.
Courtesy Stanford Archives
ERNIE NEVERS, '26
Widely considered the best college football player ever, Nevers led the team to a 22-5-1 record in 1923-25. His number (1) was the first to be retired at Stanford. In the 1925 Big Game, Stanford's first win over Cal in 11 years, the multi-talented fullback scored two touchdowns, ran for 117 yards and punted eight times for a 42-yard average.
After Stanford: Played for Duluth Eskimos and Chicago Cardinals; pitched baseball for St. Louis Browns; coached at Stanford, Iowa, Lafayette, Chicago Cardinals; World War II Marine Corps captain; died in 1976.
BOBBY GRAYSON, '36
Grayson was one of the Vow Boys, a team that racked up a three-year record of 25-4-2 and played in three Rose Bowls. Ernie Nevers said Grayson was the best fullback he'd ever seen; the USC coach called him "a big, fast back who can run an end, hit a line, kick, pass, block and handle any assignment."
After Stanford: Completed two years' study at Stanford Law School; World War II minesweeper captain in the Pacific; college football radio commentator; vice president of Shell Oil; died in 1980.
BILL CORBUS, '33
Dubbed "Babyface Assassin" for his youthful good looks and terrorizing defensive skills, Corbus, a guard and occasional placekicker, made his way into Stanford history by booting two field goals that ended USC's 27-game winning streak in 1933. That victory, and two more in 1934 and 1935, fulfilled the Vow Boys' promise never to be defeated by USC.
After Stanford: Went from assistant buyer to vice-chairman of A & P grocery chain; retired in 1977; lives in Atherton.
FRANK ALBERT, '42
Coach Clark Shaughnessy called quarterback Albert "a magician with the ball, and a gifted field general." He was the key to Shaughnessy's revolutionary T-formation.
After Stanford: San Francisco 49ers' first quarterback (1946-1950), then its coach; starred in a 1942 feature film, The Spirit of Stanford; automobile salesman and realtor; lives in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
BILL McCOLL, '52
McColl was instrumental in Stanford's pioneering development of the passing attack: "When we came up with . . . a big, tall end who could catch like Bill McColl, it was natural to throw," said Coach Chuck Taylor. In 1951, McColl caught 42 passes, including seven for touchdowns, giving Stanford nine straight victories.
After Stanford: M.D., U. of Chicago; played five years with Chicago Bears; medical missionary in Korea; orthopedic surgeon in La Jolla, Calif., where he is a director of American Leprosy Missions.
PAUL WIGGIN, '56, MA '59
In a brilliant 1955 season, Wiggin, the team's co-captain, led Stanford to a Big Game victory that tied up the series (24-24-10) after a nine-year drought. Known as a crushing blocker, he was a consensus choice for All-American.
After Stanford: Played defensive end with Cleveland Browns for 12 years; 1966 Browns' Player of the Year; 1967 Cleveland Pro Athlete of the Year; taught high school and college courses off-season; coached San Francisco 49ers (three division titles, 1970-72), Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Stanford (1980-83); now assistant general manager of the Minnesota Vikings.
JEFF SIEMON, '72
Siemon captained two successive Rose Bowl championship teams and served as co-captain on the College All-Star team. He was named the country's top college linebacker in 1971.
After Stanford: Eleven years with Minnesota Vikings, playing in three Super Bowls and four Pro Bowls; Vikings' 1978 MVP; area director of Search Ministries, a national nondenominational lay organization; lives in Edina, Minn.
JIM PLUNKETT, '70
Stanford's only Heisman Trophy winner and the second player--after Nevers--to have his number retired, Plunkett chalked up all-time NCAA records in passing yardage and total offense. At Stanford, he holds records for most touchdown pass yardage in a Big Game (229 yards in 5 passes) and longest touchdown pass (96 yards).
After Stanford: First draft choice, New England Patriots; later played with San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, retiring in 1983; Super Bowl MVP, 1980, 1983; active in charitable groups and Stanford athletics fundraising; lives in Atherton.
DARRIN NELSON, '82
The first college football player to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 50 passes in the same season, Nelson was called "the most productive offensive player ever to wear a Stanford uniform" by former sports information director Gary Cavalli, '71. The halfback holds Stanford records in touchdowns (40), all-purpose running yardage (6,885), receptions (214) and rushing yardage (4,033).
After Stanford: Ten years with Minnesota Vikings; five at a brokerage firm; now at Stanford as assistant athletic director.
JOHN ELWAY, '83
The No. 1 high school quarterback in the country played baseball as well as football at Stanford. No quarterback ever threw more Big Game touchdown passes than Elway (6). In his last Big Game, he threw for a stunning 330 yards, but was robbed of victory by The Play.
After Stanford: Chose football with the Denver Broncos over baseball with the New York Yankees; NFL career recordholder for most wins as a starting quarterback; veteran of three Super Bowls and four Pro Bowls; now in his 15th season in Denver.
Stanford coaching changed the game.
After the first Big Game, the search was on for a professional Stanford coach. Team captain John Whittemore wrote to Yale's WALTER CAMP for suggestions, never dreaming the Father of Football would volunteer himself. Camp, the architect of the quarterback position, the 11-man team and other basics of the game, arrived in 1892, the first of Stanford's history-making coaches.
GLENN SCOBEY "POP" WARNER introduced speed and complexity to football. The "Warner System" amounted to a total reinvention of the game, from the reverse play to the huddle. It was difficult to learn, but the Stanford team--starring Ernie Nevers--had been coached for two years by Pop's deputies before he arrived in 1924. Two years later, Stanford was named the best team in the country.
Warner left in 1932 and the Vow Boys were gone by 1936. The team lost eight of nine games in 1939. The next year, CLARK SHAUGHNESSY came from the University of Chicago with some groundbreaking ideas. In those days, the quarterback lined up several yards behind the center and received a long snap, much like today's "shotgun." Shaughnessy positioned the quarterback right behind the center so he could receive a direct snap, spin around and, with his back to the line of scrimmage, exe- cute a handoff --or a fake--to one of the backs lined up in a "T" behind him. Defenses were confounded by his T-formation. The effect was impressive: 10 consecutive wins for the 1940 Wow Boys, including the Rose Bowl. In 1986, Smithsonian magazine revealed that Shaughnessy had based his revolutionary strategies on a Nazi general's field maneuvers.
Former Wow Boy and rookie coach CHUCK TAYLOR used a passing offense to propel the Indians to the 1952 Rose Bowl. Taylor succeeded by introducing a sophisticated gameplan that required players to diagnose the defense and alter their plans while the play was in progress. He was way ahead of his time. Nearly two decades later, Stanford would again adopt Taylor's passing game as its linchpin, leading to Rose Bowl upsets in 1971 and '72.
A few years later, BILL WALSH made his mark, refining the passing attack and applying complex pro strategies to the college game. "We won't hesitate to use plays that were successful in the 1940s, and we won't hesitate to innovate," he said. In two years on the Farm, Walsh's quarterbacks led the country in passing, and he had two Big Game victories and two postseason Bowl wins. He returned to lead the Cardinal to 10 wins in 1992 and stayed until 1994.
Newsweek called Walsh "the thinking man's coach." The same can be said of his pathbreaking Stanford predecessors.
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