Another historic play for California; LSU's Tigers growling

Those who witnessed it in person, saw it on TV highlights, or even just read about it are still discussing California's shocking kickoff return.

The play, and the widely circulated photo chronicling it, are destined for the history books. By now the details are fairly well known. Trailing by one point following a Stanford field goal, and with only four seconds remaining, Cal needed to score on the ensuing kickoff to win. The Golden Bears did just that with a 55-yard return that appeared to come out of the sport's first playbook. The ball was lateralled five times like a hot potato before Kevin Moen, the original ballcarrier, got it back and crashed the last 20 yards into the end zone through the visiting Stanford band, which was ready to launch into a victory march. Final score: Cal 25, Stanford 20.

The loss served to knock Stanford out of the Hall of Fame Bowl, but history will quickly forget the relatively unimportant circumstances, etching only ''The Return'' in memory.

By coincidence, another California game produced a similarly unforgettable escapade in 1929, when Roy Riegels ran the wrong way in the Rose Bowl. The disoriented California center and team captain picked up a Georgia Tech fumble and took off toward his own goal line some 70 yards away. A teammate finally caught up to him at about the 1, where Tech players tackled him. On the next play a California punt was blocked out of the end zone for a safety. The points helped the Yellow Jackets to an 8-7 victory and national crown. Cal's latest contribution to the football funnies was not produced without some controversy. Some Stanford players apparently thought Dwight Garner, the third Golden Bear to carry the ball, was down and that one official had indicated this. Others questioned whether the last lateral was a forward, and thus, an illegal toss.Hopefully the air will be cleared to the greatest extent possible, because the play will obviously live on. Louisiana State on the rise

Hardly anybody's holding the Tigers of Louisiana State anymore. One of the major surprises of the current season, LSU (8-1-1) has vaulted to sixth in the latest UPI poll and landed a Orange Bowl invitation opposite whichever team, Oklahoma or Nebraska, wins the Big Eight Conference championship on Friday.

Not many people were impressed by the Bengals' fast start. After all, they had a lot to prove after last year's disappointing 3-7-1 campaign, in which they lost to lightly regarded Tulane 48-7 in their finale. And victories over Oregon State, Rice, and Kentucky (three of this season's weakest teams) didn't exactly change many minds either. But with two exciting freshman running backs and an accomplished senior quarterback, LSU has provided all the proof any bowl official could ever ask for. The Tigers have knocked off two of the South's best teams in recent weeks, beating Alabama 20-12 and Florida State 55-21.

In the latter game, running back Dalton Hilliard raced into the end zone four times, allowing him to break Herschel Walker's freshman record with 16 rushing touchdowns. Hilliard alternates at tailback with fellow frosh Garry James in an arrangement much like that at Southern Methodist, where Eric Dickerson and Craig James have shared the running spotlight. When QB Alan Risher isn't handing off to this pair, he's passing effectively, so well in fact that he's broken nearly all of Bert Jones' school records. Random thoughts and notes

* It had begun to look like the only victory either Oregon or Oregon State would enjoy this season would be at the other school's expense. Before last week, each team was 0-8-1.But now they own a win apiece entering Saturday's head-to-head battle. Oregon, which earlier tied Notre Dame, broke into the win column by upsetting Arizona, as Oregon State knocked off Montana.

* The Michigan-Ohio State game normally determines the Big Ten's Rose Bowl representative one way or another. Michigan, however, had the Pasadena trip sewed up on the basis of an insurmountable conference lead entering last Saturday's contest. Even so, the Buckeyes rained on Michigan's parade, beating the Wolverines, matching their 8-3 record, and drawing attention to the Big Ten's inconsistent schedule. Both schools finished with one conference loss, but Michigan wound up with a better winning percentage by virtue of playing and winning one more conference game. In 1983 and '84, the Big Ten plans to go to a full round-robin, thus avoiding the present, awkward situation.

* Furman Bisher, writing in the Sporting News, makes an intertesting point about the kind of quarterbacks that play on national champion teams. They tend to be steady, unflashy types who hand the ball off more often than they pass it.

Last year, of course, Clemson's Homer Jordan was plenty exciting, but he didn't have the glittering passing statistics of a John Elway or Tony Eason. And this season, if Georgia remains No. 1, fans may have a hard time remembering that John Lastinger was the Bulldog quarterback. The last time an All-America quarterback and No. 1 team were packaged was in 1949, when Bob Williams led Notre Dame to the mythical national title.

* Last season Iowa, West Virginia, and Washington State surprised people by going to bowl games. More unexpected guests are headed off to post-season engagements this year. Boston College heads for the Tangerine Bowl, Air Force and Vanderbilt meet in the Hall of Fame Bowl, and Kansas State makes its first bowl appearance in 86 years when it tangles with Wisconsin in the Independence Bowl.

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