ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The triumphant return of Bill Walsh was slowly, painfully on its way to becoming a reality when that other coach, R.C. . . . what's his name?. . . Slocum made the real genius move of last night's Disneyland Pigskin Classic.
Down 7-0 and going nowhere fast, the Texas A&M coach decided to pull sophomore quarterback Jeff Granger midway through the third period and replace him with freshman Correy Pullig. Smart guy, that Slocum. Pullig promptly went 0-for-4, was sacked twice and nearly threw an interception.
Slocum pulled Pullig and replaced him with freshman Matt Miller, who lasted three plays and one sack before Slocum motioned for Granger to put his helmet back on and do the Aggies proud.
Granger did just that, leading seventh-ranked Texas A&M to a 10-7 victory against No. 17 Stanford and spoiling Walsh's storybook comeback to the college game.
A candidate for the next time capsule, this game wasn't. There were 22 punts, enough dropped passes to last a lifetime, a botched official's call and little offense. The crowd of 35,240 didn't know whether to applaud or pop No-Doz.
But that was before Slocum started exercising his right to substitute. Searching desperately for a quarterback to do something ... anything ... he went through his entire depth chart TC before returning Granger to the lineup. Granger, who was 6-for-21 for 66 yards at third quarter's end, thanked him by immediately leading the Aggies to a tying touchdown.
He did it on his own, dodging onrushing Stanford linebacker Dave Garnett and then lofting a 21-yard scoring pass to tight end Greg Schorp, the Pigskin Classic MVP, who beat linebacker Tom Williams to the back of the end zone with 12:10 remaining.
Granger did it again with less than six minutes to play, this time dodging -- ta-da -- an onrushing Garnett and breaking free for a 33-yard run. The -- moved the Aggies from their own 38-yard line to the Stanford 29. It was the longest offensive play of the game and the most important, if you don't count Terry Venetoulias' 39-yard field goal three plays later.
"I knew we were in big trouble," Walsh said of Granger's run. "When he broke that play like that, you hope you wouldn't lose that way, but that's the way we lost."
Walsh even went so far as to partly blame himself for Stanford's troubles. The Cardinal gained only 236 total yards and only had two first downs during the entire second half. The San Francisco 49ers, who Walsh coached to three Super Bowl victories before retiring in 1989, used to gain that much in a quarter.
"I think everyone did a great job, except me," Walsh said. "I got frustrated."
Nothing could have been more frustrating than watching Granger do the improbable -- elude Garnett twice and make game-deciding plays each time. The touchdown pass was bad enough, but the 33-yard scramble was the killer.
"It was like, 'We got him, we got him ... Oops!' " said Stanford linebacker Ron George.
Granger's run gave him the team rushing lead, which is about all you need to know about the rest of the Texas A&M offense. He also finished with 11 completions in 31 attempts for 132 yards, which explains why Walsh knew Stanford had let a victory slip by.
What if Stanford had been able to make a few key first downs in that second half?
What if Stanford figured out a way to protect quarterback Steve Stenstrom, who was sacked five times?
What if Stanford devised a better plan to free up all-purpose back Glyn Milburn?
These were the topics Walsh considered at game's end. He congratulated the Aggies, but he also lamented his own team's failings, which were numerous. Stop Granger one of those two times and the game is probably Stanford's to win.
"Offensively, we were groping," he said. "It was a tough opener for Stanford."
It was a tough opener for everyone, especially Granger, who fumed on the sideline while Pullig and Miller took turns going nowhere.
"When Coach pulled me, I got real frustrated," he said.
And when he returned? "I just made the best of the opportunity that I had," he said.
Slocum, who knew the Cardinal was daring his team to throw, said: "I thought he looked a little more focused the second time in there."
Walsh must have been tempted on occasion to try something drastic too. Stenstrom was inconsistent -- 17-for-33, 161 yards, two interceptions -- and the much publicized Stanford offensive line was anything but memorable.
Milburn did his part, though. He had three catches for 18 yards, 15 rushes for 59 yards and four punt returns for 61 yards. But it wasn't near enough.
"I'm not used to this," said Walsh of an offense, his offense, not being able to move the ball. "I was frustrated. I haven't been frustrated for a long time in coaching."
Welcome back, Bill.