Cal will play against Washington State on Saturday for the 76th time. For as many times as it has been renewed, the “rivalry” has produced few significant games or plays – with one notable exception.
The longest scoring play in Cal football history --- Don Guest's 108 yard return of a missed field goal attempt – came against Washington State way back in 1966. That feat should have been unforgettable, but primarily because it happened in one of the worst seasons in a generally uninspiring football era, it was generally forgotten.
That is until last year.
When Auburn's Chris Jones stunned Alabama and thrilled a national television audience with his 109-yard missed field goal runback on the game's final play, Guest became something of celebrity. Shortly after Jones crossed the goal line and Alabama's hopes for a national championship disappeared, Guest's phone began to ring.
“I heard from reporters from all over the country. I think the Wall Street Journal called, the New York Times,” Guest, now an orthodontist in Santa Rosa, said in a recent interview. “Old teammates called me and said, 'Hey, they broke your record.' “
Guest did not see Jones' sprint as it happened. “I went back and looked at it. I had it on tape,” he said. “I watched it. Wow, what a way to end. The fact they tried a field goal. I don't know why.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban was probably wondering the same thing, as had three other coaches over the years. According to NCAA records, Jones was the fourth player in FBS (formerly Division 1) history to bring a missed field goal back more than 100 yards. Guest was the first. His distinction didn't last long; only two years later Clemson's Richie Luzzi brought a field goal try back 108 yards against Georgia.
Then came a gap of 46 years before it happened twice within three months. LSU's Odell Beckham returned an FG 109 yards against UAB in Sept. 2013. In November along came Jones.
The NCAA has no statistical category for missed field goal returns, so all four of these are listed as punt returns, with an asterisk. And as far as the NCAA is concerned the return distance of any kick brought out of the end zone is now measured from the goal line. Thus all four are officially 100 yards. Cal still calls Guest's run 108 yards, as well it should. He certainly ran that far.
That game, a 21-6 Cal victory, was one of the strangest in Bears' history. Guest's was one of three electrifying Golden Bear plays in an afternoon that was otherwise an exercise in offensive futility. Cal had 142 yards of total offense and eight first downs. None of the touchdowns was scored by the offense. Besides Guest's, Cal's touchdowns were a pass interception return (71 yards by Wayne Stewart) and a punt return (73 yards by Jerry Bradley).
Cal, which just two years earlier had an All American quarterback Craig Morton, attempted just three passes the entire game, completing none. That was not by design, but the Bears were limited by atrocious field position much of the day. They did not have an offensive snap on the WSU side of the 50-yard line until the fourth quarter. But by then they led 21-6 and weren't about to get reckless.
The Cougars, who managed just 276 yards themselves, felt they had a weapon they could use from anywhere inside the 50, a kicker the likes of which Cal and most other teams had never seen. Ted Gerela, a former soccer player, was the WSU place-kicker, and was helping introduce a new way of doing his job. He, along with his more well known brother Roy, who would be a pioneer of the NFL, were among the first to use the so-called “soccer style,” on place kicks.
Approaching the ball from an angle, swinging the leg sideways and making contact with the side of the foot, now used by virtually every place kicker in football, was something of novelty in 1966, so unusual in fact that in the San Francisco Examiner story of the Cal-WSU game, the writer devoted an entire paragraph describing it.
Many coaches in the 1960s, sneeringly referred to such kickers as “sidewinders”, were convinced it was merely a fad and that “foreign” way of kicking wouldn't last. Little did they know that the traditional straight-on style would soon disappear. Randy Wersching became Cal's first kicker in the new style in 1969.
As they opened the 1966 season with a WSU “home” game in Spokane, both the Bears and Cougars were optimistic. Cal had broken even in 1965 (5-5), which was quite an improvement over the combined six years (13-44-3) following the 1958 Rose Bowl team. WSU had gone 7-3 in '65 and had grand designs coming into 1966.
With temperatures approaching 100 degrees, Gerela gave Washington State a 3-0 lead with a 34-yard field goal in the first quarter. “When I saw him kick like that for the first time I didn't see how he'd get it high enough, fast enough to get it over the linemen,” Cal defensive end Mike McCaffrey said in a phone interview. That factor would come into play later.
Cal would take the lead for good in the second quarter when Stewart intercepted the first of three a WSU passes he would pick that day, and ran it back 71 yards for a score. Gerela showed off his leg again before halftime, this time from 33 yards to make the score 7-6.
Cal's offensive miseries continued in the third quarter, and the Bears lost a fumble on their own 39 early in the period. History would be made following that turnover. The Cougars couldn't advance the ball and on fourth down they summoned Gerela for a 47-yard try. It certainly seemed within reach of this new kicking phenomenon. Guest, Cal's safety on defense, stayed on the field and headed for the end zone, just in case.
Myrel Moore was the Cal assistant coach in charge of the kicking game – the term special teams was still in the future – and he had alerted Guest to the possibility of a return. “Myrel was smart enough to say that this guy is kicking them so far that if we block one or something, who knows,” Guest said, “It's not like a kickoff, it's a field goal and everybody is packed in there. We might be able to run one back.
“We actually practiced that situation. So we thought it might happen, but the fact that it did was one of those, like, Wow. It was like déjà vu.”
The kick was indeed low and Guest, who was 8 yards deep in the end zone, fielded it on a bounce. “I think (lineman) Ed White might have gotten a hand on it,” Guest said. “That's what made it dribble down into the end zone.”
The intervening years have diminished White's memory of the afternoon. “I think that I was on the field, and it might have been a group I was a part of,” White, who two years later would be an All-American, said by telephone. “I think we had a pretty good push on it. I might have gotten a piece of it. But whether I did nor not, it was all Donnie.”
After he fielded the ball, Guest tentatively headed up field. Until he reached the goal line, he was uncertain whether he would even bring the ball out of the end zone or down it for a touchback. Then he surveyed the field and started running.
“I knew if I didn't make it to the 20 I would be in trouble with Myrel,” Guest said, and he was not the only one thinking that.
“I remember him coming out of there and my wondering 'What the hell's going on?' “ Stewart said also by telephone. “We lived and died by the defense. (Head coach) Ray (WIllsey) was always talking about do the smart thing, take care of the ball etcetera. That was a pretty radical thing for a Ray Willsey player to do. After the fact it's great, but at the time I was thinking this is not good. If he got trapped anywhere south of the 20 Ray would have been all over him.”
But Guest did not think he was being rash. “Because I played rugby I realized I could get to the corner. In rugby you are used to scoring in the corners,” Guest said. “I was looking at them coming them down the field and I hesitated at the goal line, then I thought I could make it to the 20 before they make it to there so I just took off.”
Angling to his right Guest was even with the hash marks as he headed up field. “I was thinking that if he is going to bring it out I better find somebody to block,” said McCaffrey.
Guest was at the 15-yard-line before a WSU player got close to him. But McCaffrey and another Cal player knocked aside a pair of Cougars to create a lane. From there it was pretty much clear sailing.
“I was starting to run toward the side, then I saw there were coming that way,” he said. “So I cut back inside and it's funny, it seemed like there just weren't that many people. 'Where's everybody gone?' “
Bradley was on the sideline, running downfield almost as fast as Guest. “When he got past the 20 you said, 'Look, there's nobody there.' Pretty soon he was past the bench and then you were running down the sidelines looking to see where he went. And boom he was gone.''
Much as Auburn's Jones said when he started running back his kick, all the Alabama players were “fat guys” who blocked for the field goal, Guest noticed the same thing. “These weren't guys who were used to covering kicks.” he said.
After he crossed midfield, only two pursuers were within range, and Guest simply out-ran them. “I remember the kicker and another guy coming up behind me. Gerela was kind of diving for my feet and he knocked off balance.”
After a brief stagger, Guest crossed the goal line virtually alone. But the suspense wasn't over. “I got to the end zone and thought, 'This really didn't happen did it?' I looked around for a flag. 'Who clipped?' Because this can't really have happened. I looked around and saw no flags , and that's when I thought. 'Oh My God.' ''
A video of Guest's runback is available by clicking here.]
Bradley's punt return in the fourth quarter put the final touches on what would turn out to be the high point of the Bears' season. They finished a disappointing 3-7, even losing to San Jose State for the first time. Guest's achievement received little attention nationally or even locally. The fact it was Cal's longest play was barely mentioned.
The memory, however, did endure, at least for a while in certain quarters. Two years later Bradley was in his second season with the B.C. Lions of the Canadian League, when the subject came up. “We had a guard from Washington State named Dave Golinksy. When he first met me he said, 'I hate you and I hate that other guy (Guest). On Sunday, (Coach) Bert Clark had us run field goal and punt coverage an hour and half. We ran coverage forever.'
“He was an offensive lineman, of course, and was one of those covering the kicks at the time. Two years later he was still mad.”
- Guest would score another touchdown later that year, returning a punt 58 yards through a muddy Memorial Stadium in the Big Game.
- Bradley also returned another punt for a score, taking one back 76 yards against Pitt.
- Stewart, who had eight interceptions that year, had another score, a 47-yarder also against Pitt.
- White played offense for the first nine games in 1966, then when injuries hit the defensive line, he begged to play defense in the Big Game. Willsey relented and White had a huge game, making nine unassisted tackles and assisting on seven others. He was moved to defense permanently the next season and was a consensus All-American as a senior.
- He, Stewart and McCaffrey all played in the NFL.
- Many believe that White, who moved back to offense in the pros, deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is in the College Hall of Fame.