A quarter-century later, former Stanford trombonist Robert Smith can laugh about playing a small part in the craziest play in college football history. But it wasn't so funny at the time.
"The whole next few hours were painful," says Smith, now a software engineer for ESPN Mobile in Seattle. "Cal fans came up and congratulated us. Driving past the fraternities on the bus home and having the frat guys cheering us was not the most pleasant trip of my life."
Smith vividly recalls marching onto the field under the assumption that his school had just won, thanks to a dramatic drive by senior quarterback John Elway and a last-minute field goal. And then things got crazy. "I remember seeing some football players running by me and wondering, 'Why are there football players chasing after each other? There must be a fight.' "
It wasn't a fight. And Stanford hadn't won. And ... well, you know what happened.
Despite the band's infamous role in The Play, Smith says he didn't feel any animosity from Stanford fans. "I never heard any vitriol from any student, with the exception of reading a quote from a player in the media. This is Stanford we're talking about, not Ohio State. There is no expectation we would actually win."
He still gets asked about The Play. "It's one of those things where other people who know about it bring it up when they're introducing me," he says. "It's a tremendous calling card. We're more than willing to exploit the memory of it. All of us trombone players were issued football helmets the next year. My only photo in Sports Illustrated was me and three or four others wearing football helmets at a game."
And 25 years later, how does he feel about The Play? "Given that it happened, I'm glad to have been part of it," Smith says. "But I would rather have won the game. We still blame the referees."