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Baseball in the Big Game: Two-sport stars from the Bay

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Over the course of its 122-year history, the Big Game has featured a number of football phenoms. Many of them, such as Andrew Luck ’12 or former Cal quarterback Aaron Rogers, have gone on to have successful careers in the NFL. Less common, however — though hardly less impressive — is the number of athletes in the rivalry that have dominated on both the diamond and the field. Both the Cardinal and the Golden Bears have had many athletes take on Division I football and baseball; however, there are a couple names that stand out through history. 

John Elway ’83 (Stanford): One of the greatest players in the history of Stanford football, Elway ended his Cardinal quarterbacking career with 774 passes for 77 touchdowns and over 9,300 yards. In 1982, Elway’s 24 touchdown passes were the most of any college quarterback in the nation. The previous year, he had nine home runs and 41 RBI — not to mention a .361 batting average — as an outfielder on the baseball team. He was selected by the New York Yankees as the last pick in the second round of the draft, and Elway played on the Yankees’ minor league team before his infamous NFL career.

Steve Bartkowski (Cal): A few years before Elway, Bartkowski was a standout quarterback at Berkeley who became the first-overall pick in the 1975 NFL draft. With the Bears, Bartkowski was an All-American in 1974, but it wasn’t the first time he’d received that honor. In 1973, he received All-American honors as a first baseman for the Golden Bears and led the team that season, batting .329. 

Ernie Nevers (Stanford): Though Nevers attended Stanford from 1923 until 1926, to this day he remains one of only two Stanford athletes to play both baseball and football professionally. An All-American on the football field, Nevers was regarded as one of the most impressive — if not the most impressive — running back of his time, an opinion fueled by a 114-yard rushing performance in the 1925 Rose Bowl. Nevers went on to play three years in the MLB before switching to the NFL. He was a member of the inaugural class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.

Orval Overall (Cal): A four-year starter for Golden Bear football, Overall is almost wholly responsible for Cal’s 2-0 defeat of Stanford in the 1901 Big Game. The lone two points came when Overall blocked a kick for a safety. After college, Overall played professional baseball with the Chicago Cubs, and was a key player on the team during both the 1907 and 1908 World Series.

Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu.