Postscript: Two meetings, three vignettes

March 13, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 13, 2014

On Sunday, I posted about two encounters I had at Stanford football practices. Today, I offer three codas to those two meetings.

Vignette the First: Stanford hosted Northwestern in 1992, beating the Wildcats of Evanston, Ill., by a 35-24 score. The Cardinal finished that season with a 10-3 record, including a dominating 24-3 victory over Penn State. (This was the first and last time that Joe Paterno, the now-disgraced dean of East Coast football, coached against Bill Walsh, the still-revered figure credited with popularizing what some call the West Coast offense.)

But 1992 was the last time Walsh would post a winning record. The team devolved to a very disappointing 4-7 record; that included a loss in the Big Game against traditional rival cal (lowercase c intentional).

Still, Stanford started the 1994 season with high hopes. The team opened in Illinois on Sept. 10 with a game at Northwestern. This turned out to be a wild and woolly affair. It ended in crushing disappointment — not with a Stanford loss, but in a 41-41 tie. The Cardinal was in position to win, but kicker Eric Abrams (whom I’d tried to interview mid-practice a few years ago) badly missed on a fairly close 23-yard field goal try with three seconds to play.

Abrams, who is left-footed, told reporters that he was bothered by the ball being placed on the left hashmark; he would have preferred to kick from the right. “Before I kicked the ball I knew there was a problem. I didn’t do a good job of adjusting,” Abrams said.

I was in the stands that day, having decided to take a short trip to Chicago with my friend Mark. It was a warm and sunny day, and afterward I remember feeling sweaty, exhausted and demoralized.

It would turn out to be a long, heart-breaking season. It ended on a bitter note, with a 24-23 loss to cal (lowercase c still intentional) in the Big Game. After that contest — ah, but that’s a story I’ll get to another time.

Vignette the Second: Paterno’s coaching legacy was tainted by his overlooking many acts of child molestation by one of his assistant. The same holds true for an athlete who competed in the Blockbuster Bowl.

Eric Abrams was a promising kicker — he holds Stanford football’s career scoring record — but he never played in the NFL. He did end up making headlines after graduating from college, but for very unfortunate reasons.

In 1999, Abrams was sentenced to two years in prison for felony false imprisonment and a misdemeanor count of annoying or molesting a child. Allegations emerged that the football player made 100 or more phone calls, dating back to his days in high school, in attempts to obtain photos of nude or scantily clad young male athletes. Abrams posed as a Stanford football coach or recruiter for at least some calls placed during his time as a college student.

Vignette the Third: Despite living a great deal of my life in and around New York City, and making fairly frequent trips to Manhattan, I have had very few celebrity encounters.

There was the time I met Joe Montana at a Stanford football practice, and…that’s pretty been it.

Except for the night, I believe in early 2002, when my then-girlfriend Daisy and I were walking near her apartment on the Upper East Side. We were headed south on a broad, empty sidewalk when Daisy said, “Oh, there’s Mike Wallace!”

I hadn’t noticed anything or anyone. “Where?” I asked.

She somehow drew my attention to the elderly couple headed into the entrance of a diner or restaurant.

I studied the man’s visage for a moment. It was indeed the face of the famed correspondent on CBS’ legendary “60 Minutes” news magazine program.

No, I did not approach Wallace or his (presumed) wife. Nor did I request an autograph.

So my autograph collection remains at one.

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