It’s only fitting that the final game of Bob Biggs’ nearly 40-year career as an Aggie athlete and coach comes against longtime rival Sacramento State, a team Biggs has been battling every year since before he was old enough to vote.
Yes, when Biggs first strapped on an Aggie helmet at the beginning of his standout playing career, you had to be 21 to vote, though they lowered the age to 18 before Biggs graduated, most likely because of the maturity he showed while quarterbacking the Aggies to dramatic victory after dramatic victory.
While current and recent Aggie players and fans will remember Bob Biggs only as a head coach, most of my memories are of his playing days. And what memories they are.
Bob was one of the most gifted athletes ever to set foot on the UC Davis campus. While he starred in football, he could have played on the basketball team and would have been a welcome addition on the varsity tennis team.
On the football field, he had a flair for the dramatic. He could scramble to keep a broken play alive, then spot a receiver in the wide open spaces of Toomey Field.
Ah yes, Toomey Field. The joke is that they promised Biggs a new stadium was on the drawing board when he brought his talents to Davis from Vacaville High School, and ultimately that promise was fulfilled with the opening of Aggie Stadium nearly four decades after Biggs first showed up for freshman orientation.
In the many, many years that UC Davis has played intercollegiate football, one game stands out above all others in Aggie lore. And no, it’s not the stunning 20-17 Aggie win at Stanford in 2005, with Biggs utilizing every scrap of his coaching acumen in the final seconds.
What instantly became known as the “Miracle Game” took place the afternoon of Nov. 6, 1971, at Cal State Hayward, which entered the game as the class of the Far Western Conference against a rapidly improving Aggie team that was 6-1 in Jim Sochor’s second year as head coach.
The Pioneers, who anticipated a bid to the Camellia Bowl in Sacramento’s Hughes Stadium with a win, took a 29-14 lead late into the fourth quarter as their jubilant fans began chanting “Camellia Bowl, here we go.”
Hayward was still up 29-14 with 20 seconds left, but somehow the Aggies managed to score 16 points in those magical final seconds to take an improbable – some would say impossible — 30-29 win.
Never before, and never again, has any team at any level scored so many points in so few seconds.
And the man who engineered it all was none other than Bob Biggs, setting up the first touchdown with a 24-yard pass to Mike Bellotti that carried to the Hayward 2, and the second with a 29-yard scoring strike to Bellotti with no time left. After both scores, Biggs tossed for the two-point conversion, the first to Rick Fortner and the second to Mike Everly, his old Vacaville High School teammate.
Said Biggs afterward: “I didn’t see Mike catch it. I got knocked down as soon as I threw it. All I saw was the referee put his hands in the air and I just couldn’t believe it. It was insane.”
Maybe so, but insanity was the rule of the day for the rest of the season as a fourth quarter goal-line stand beat Sacramento State, 24-17, and a last-second field goal stunned Humboldt State, 29-28, to earn the Aggies a share of the Far Western Conference championship.
At Humboldt, it was Biggs again who fueled the comeback, marching the Aggies through a dense fog in Arcata’s Redwood Bowl after Humboldt had taken a 28-26 lead with just 50 seconds left.
Adrian Wagner’s 39-yard field goal at 0:01 sealed the deal, but it was Biggs who set it all up with a 14-yard strike to Everly that carried to the Humboldt 21.
The next year Biggs was pretty much the only quarterback the Aggies had, taking every snap and throwing every Aggie pass as he led the nation in passing on the way to a berth in the Boardwalk Bowl in Atlantic City.
Four times that season he threw for more than 300 yards, topped by a 399-yard performance against San Francisco State and 388 more against Massachusetts in the Boardwalk Bowl.
As head coach for the last 20 years, Biggs is 143-85-1, second in wins only to Jim Sochor’s 156. He is the longest-tenured head football coach UC Davis has ever had.
But behind all the wins and all the heroics and all the last-second comebacks is a man of great decency, kindness, intelligence and integrity. A man who respects his opponents, win or lose, and who is invariably the first to offer a congratulatory handshake or an encouraging word when the opposition has won the day.
He never blames the officials or bad luck or the football gods after a difficult loss and he never pats himself on the back after a particularly satisfying win.
He knows to his core that his job is much bigger than winning and losing. He is, first and foremost, an educator. Over the years, hundreds of young athletes have been entrusted to his care, some for four or five years, some for only a year or two.
It makes no difference. He treats them all the same, whether they’re All-Americans or scout team members who will rarely see action on a Saturday afternoon.
The storybook ending here is a hard-fought win over Sacramento State before a packed house at Aggie Stadium, but Biggs is much smarter than that. He knows it’s not about winning and losing. Never has been.
No matter what happens tomorrow, his legacy is already set in stone. It’s a powerful legacy that will live on in the lives of the players he’s taught and coached and mentored and loved. It will also live on in the hearts of Aggie fans everywhere.
Well done, coach, well done.
— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected].