It's the greatest moment in college football history, known simply as The Play.
Nov. 20, 1982. The John Elway-led Stanford Cardinal hold a 20-19 lead over the Cal Golden Bears. With four seconds left Stanford kicks off, and Cal starts the unlikeliest of comebacks. It begins with one lateral, and as the Bears near the endzone, it looks like one of the Cal players, Mariet Ford, is down. All 144 members of the Stanford marching band run onto the field celebrating, thinking the game is over. But Ford is still up, and he presses on, lateraling the ball blindly over his right shoulder to a teammate who charges his way through the band, toppling a trombone player as he pushes into the endzone for a Cal win.
It was the stuff of legend. The kind of moment you could never predict in a million years. Which makes it all the more surprising that Ford now sits in a prison cell. Sixteen years after The Play, Ford was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and 3-year-old son, then setting their bodies on fire. Then and now, Ford has maintained his innocence.
“None of it makes sense. None of it has been fully explained … The prosecution unearthed no murder weapon, no physical or DNA evidence linking Ford to the crime, no history of spousal or child abuse, no motive or eyewitnesses,” S.L. Price wrote when he reported out this story for SI 20 years ago. Except it never ran. Now, Price returns to the story to try and make sense of it all.
Why would Ford murder his family? If he did it, why arrange it so that his brother, Orrin, who was also his best friend, was the one to find the bodies? And what was it about this case that seemed to haunt so many people and derail so many lives?
Lateral Damage debuts January 7.
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