Stanford Cal - The Game - Football

26th May 2022

"The Game," as the Stanford Cal football rivalry is known, was first played in 1892, seven years after Stanford was founded. Its rival was founded 24 years earlier. The teams meet every year, and alternate games between Berkeley and Palo Alto, although during their inaugural season they met twice, in March and in December. We depict the history of the series through game programs, highlighting one (or sometimes more) from each decade to help give more insight into this unique rivalry.

The first Stanford Cal game was held in San Francisco and 9,500 fans were in attendance. This seems low by today's standards, although only 5,000 tickets were printed for the game, this means that almost two times the number of fans thronged the game. Stanford won 14-10, an outcome that was considered an upset. The game was played in a baseball stadium called the Haight Street grounds in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Given the urbanization of the city, the stadium, which opened in 1887, was town down three years after this first game, in 1895. The first four Big Games were played on the Haight Street grounds. Among those in attendance at the game were Herbert Hoover, at the time a freshman at Stanford. The first program was a simple four page cardboard foldout with a simple action illustration at the top and a list of the players and coaches.

The first Big Game Stanford-Cal program from 1892

The Stanford University Archives have a copy of the third Big Game program, from 1893, and they have generously let us share the image and some others below. The game was played on Thanksgiving Day and it rained very hard and the field turned into mud. The contest was a 6-6 draw.

Stanford Cal Big Game program 1893

The 1894 Big Game program was football shaped and the game was also played on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, the 3rd through 10th games were all played on Turkey Day. The Cal track team was the first team for the University to use a blue silk banner with a golden image of a grizzly bear on it; from that point forward, in 1895, the team has been known as the Golden Bears.

Big Game program, 1894

The 1904 Big Game program was only the 14th meeting of the teams and the first one that was played at one of the school's fields (at Berkeley) rather than in San Francisco. The 1904 program is pictured below.

Big Games played between 1906 and 1914 which were actually played as rugby games instead of under traditional American football rules. Rugby rules were introduced as it was thought to be a safer form of the game. Note the “football” about to be kicked by the players on the 1914 program, consistent with a rugby shaped ball.

The rare 1908 Big Game program

The 1911 Big Game program also shows the rugby style of play

The 1918 Big Game is one that is sometimes referred to as, “The Game That Never Was.” If you are a Stanford fan, you probably wish the game was never played; California won the game 67-0. The two teams did not meet between 1915 and 1917 due to the war. Some people contend the 1918 game should not be counted and is an “unofficial” football game because Stanford fielded a team played by Student Army Training Corps (SATC) team and thus it should not be included in series record. 

A copy of the rare 1918 Big Game program

The early 1920s saw the opening of new stadium for both teams, with the covers of the respective programs showing off each teams new digs. The program for the centennial game, played in 1997, notes that the, "Roaring Twenties would turn out to be the greatest era in Cal and Stanford football." The two schools played in six of ten Rose Bowls--three apiece," during the 1920s.

The 1923 Cal Memorial Stadium opening program with pastel colors

The 1937 program shows a young student in the middle of the program and he is sitting between a Stanford fan and a Cal Berkeley fan, trying to decide which one to ask out, presumably. Notice the cover of the program the Stanford fan is holding, which contains an image of the program she is depicted in in 1937.

Program covers from the 1940s featured the school's mascots often: The Stanford Indian and Cal Bear. Of the seven games played during the '40s, four program covers featured the mascots, including the 1942 program below:

The 1957 program, below, features two students, one whose father is a Stanford fan carrying a megaphone and wearing a white Stanford sweater, and a female student carry a pom-pom and wearing bobby socks, whose father is a University of California fan. The Stanford campus is pictured beautifully in the background. It is again such a classic 1950s image. The illustrator, Haines Hall, had an eye for capturing the spirit of the event and the times and does an especially good job capturing the wholesomeness and prosperity of Eisenhower Era post-war America.

Our favorite cover from the 1960s is the 1965, with its classic images of collegiate tailgaters wearing their preppy sweaters:

Program covers of the 1970s began to use color photographic images and much of the charm of the early programs was lost. The 1974 program cover below is indicative:

Ninety years after they first met, they played one of the most classic of all college football games on November 20, 1982. All-American Quarterback John Elway was a senior playing in his final game as a Stanford University Cardinal. This now legendary rivalry game took place at the Cal’s Memorial Stadium and featured Joe Kapp’s never-say-die Cal team against shell-shocked Stanford under third-year head coach Paul Wiggin. The two schools were meeting for the 85th time and no one could have known that the game would end on what is widely considered to be one of the most amazing plays in the history of college football, a five-lateral circus return for trombone-crushing touchdown now know simply as  …  “The Play”. After Stanford had taken a 20–19 lead on a field goal with four seconds left in the game, the Golden Bears used five lateral passes on the ensuing kickoff return to score the winning touchdown and earn a disputed 25–20 victory. Members of the Stanford Band had come onto the field midway through the return, believing that the game was over, which added to the ensuing confusion and folklore. There remains disagreement over the legality of two of the laterals, adding to the passion surrounding the traditional rivalry of the annual Big Game.

The difficult to find 1982 Big Game program, the most famous game of them all

The 100th meeting of the Big Game was in 1997

Those interested in the program covers should buy the 1997 program, which has a fold out poster and an image of all previous Stanford-Cal programs