The day Elway beat Elway for the last time

On September 18, 1982, the visiting San Jose State Spartans upset the Stanford Cardinal 35-31, giving head coach Jack Elway a victory over his quarterback son, John Elway. It was the fourth and final time the two would meet.

Location: Stanford, California, United States

The final contest between father and son couldn’t have come any closer.

After San Jose State built an early 14-0 lead in front of 60,000 at Stanford Stadium, John’s Cardinal rallied to take a 24-21 lead going into the final frame. The senior quarterback played a big role in the rally by tossing a pair of 40-yard-plus touchdowns. However, a successful finish just wasn’t on the cards for Stanford that afternoon.

To start things off in the fourth quarter, Spartan quarterback Steve Clarkson found Tim Kearse for a 32-yard pass touchdown. The Cardinal responded with a 12-yard touchdown run from Vincent White with 9:05 left. White would later drop a fumble at his own 18-yard line, ultimately setting up the deciding score.

That decider came off a trick play with 3:52 to go. Clarkson stepped up to the line of scrimmage and quickly snapped the ball before anyone was set. He then dashed three yards to snag six points and the lead. Clarkson said after the game that the play was unplanned and that he changed the call at the last moment.

Venue: Stanford Stadium, shown here in 2004 (UNCCTF/Wikimedia Commons).

The Cardinal had a chance to answer after the younger Elway connected with White for a 43-yard pass that put the offense on the San Jose State 26. However, the Spartan defense stood strong and sacked Elway on four straight plays to finish out the tilt.

Elway rounded out the game by completing 24 of 36 for 382 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Clarkson put up shining numbers as well, going 21 of 40 for 285 yards with a trio of touchdowns but also a trio of picks. Clarkson’s favorite target, Kearse, caught all three touchdowns as well as three other passes for a total of 163 yards.

The matchup was the fourth of the Elway series: Jack’s Spartans had won in 1981, while the Cardinal took wins in ’80 and ’79. The result in 1982 meant that the all-time Elway series was tied at 2-2, although John was hurt as a freshman and played sparingly in the first contest.

It hurts because we lost. It’s tough to reflect on my performance, but I’m glad I’ll never have to play against my father again. I’ve been around him so long that I knew we’d have to play well to beat him. He’s got so many trick plays under his sleeve.

John Elway
Jack’s son and Stanford’s quarterback


Stanford rebounded the next week by upending No. 13 Ohio State 23-20 in Columbus, Ohio. The Cardinal couldn’t muster much more the rest of the season, though, and limped to a 5-6 overall record and a seventh place finish in the Pac-10 (3-5 in conference).

San Jose State defeated another Pac-10 foe by topping Oregon State 17-13 the following week. The Spartans struggled down the stretch, however, and finished 8-3 overall while taking third place in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association with a 4-2 conference mark.

Jack left San Jose State for Stanford two seasons later. After only one winning season in five years with the Cardinal, he was fired in 1988. He later coached in the World League of American Football (later renamed NFL Europe) for the Frankfurt Galaxy. Jack Elway passed away in 2001 at the age of 69.

John, meanwhile, finished runner-up in the 1982 Heisman Trophy voting to Georgia running back Herschel Walker. His eventual NFL career spanned 16 seasons—all with the Denver Broncos—and saw him win a pair of Super Bowls after three unsuccessful tries. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and currently serves as the Broncos’ general manager and president of football operations.

This was a real roller-coaster ride. It was an interesting and entertaining ball game, and I’m glad it’s over with. I thought John had a great day, and I was very proud of him.

Jack Elway
John’s father and San Jose State’s head coach


I was unable to find any video of the game. However, a few images of the game do exist. This one of John Elway getting tackled during the contest is probably the best:

Photo by Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel via

This is a no-win situation for the family. I love them both dearly.

Jan Elway
The wife of Jack and mother to John, before the game


  • San Jose State upset Stanford 35-31 during the 1982 college football season. It was the fourth an final time Jack Elway (San Jose State’s head coach) would compete against his son, John Elway (Stanford’s quarterback).
  • John’s Cardinal won the match-up his freshman and senior year, while Jack’s Spartans won the final two contests.
  • The elder Elway went on to coach Stanford for five seasons starting in 1984. The younger Elway, meanwhile, spent 16 years in the NFL and won the Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos in 1998 and 1999.


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