‘The band is out on the field!’

36 years later, Dr. Casagrande reflects on infamous sports mishap


Photo by photo courtesy of Dr. Casagrande

Dr. Casagrande in his Stanford band uniform

Jared Greenspan, R2 Sports Editor

As Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley resume their storied rivalry on the football field tomorrow for the 121st rendition of the Big Game, it brings to mind one of the most well known moments in college football history: The Play. In 1982, California used a series of laterals to score a game-winning kick return touchdown as time expired, stunning Stanford 25-20.

What makes The Play so memorable is the notorious involvement of the Stanford Band, who went onto the field before the game ended because they mistakenly thought that Stanford had already won the game. One of the members of this Stanford Band was none other than WHS Chemistry Teacher Louis Casagrande, a Stanford graduate student at the time.

During The Play, Dr. Casagrande, along with the rest of the band, took the field to celebrate what seemed to be a Stanford victory and start the customary postgame concert. As the field filled with members of the Stanford Band, California player Kevin Moen sprinted toward them, barreling over trombonist Gary Tyrrell, Casagrande’s section leader.

‘It was like, “Oh my God, we caused this to happen, we caused them to lose.” To this day, people still blame us.’ ”

— -Dr. Casagrande

“I’m out at the 25-yard line with my back to the play—I missed the whole thing,” Casagrande said. “Then I’m getting confused because all of a sudden, the Cal crowd starts erupting in cheers. I’m thinking to myself, ‘We won the game, why are you yelling?’”

As Casagrande realized that Stanford had not won the game, a sense of disbelief and guilt flooded over him.

“It was like, ‘Oh my God, we caused this to happen, we caused them to lose,’” he said. “To this day, people still blame us.”

While the initial embarrassment of the moment seemed bad, for Casagrande, the worst part was the post-game experience. On the walk back to the buses, the band had to walk through Cal Berkeley’s fraternity row. “Everyone was  toasting us, thanking us for winning the game,” explained Casagrande.

Upon returning to the Stanford campus, the situation grew even more awkward, with band members hesitant to reveal their involvement in The Play. Instead of celebrating the end of the season and performing traditions that the band looked forward to, according to Casagrande, the occasion turned out to be quite somber.

Leading up to the Big Game, Casagrande noted that there were a few technicalities that enabled the mishap to transpire. First of all, California Memorial Stadium, the venue for the 1982 matchup, differed from most other stadiums in that it lacked an outside track. Thus, there was no boundary separating the football field from the band members at the field level.

In addition, the Stanford Band itself was late to the stadium, causing them to have different seats than they would usually have. The band members were placed in the end zone, directly next to the Cal section.

“We had to wear hardhats the whole game because Cal fans were known for throwing frozen fruit at the band during our performances,” Casagrande said. “The rivalry is actually good-natured, but we just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.”

When Casagrande and the rest of the band saw what they thought was a signal from the referee ending the game, the opportunity to escape the Cal fans arose. It was a prelude to the infamy that was to follow.

“After that, all hell just broke loose,” Casagrande said. “It was nuts.”

In retrospect, 36 years later, Casagrande takes a more light-hearted view on The Play. His involvement has gained him recognition over the years.

“As time goes by, being a part of that, it’s really a little minor celebrity,” he said. “And my first year at Stanford—eventful, you might say?”