Most college football fans don’t recognize the name Mariet Ford. However, those same fans know the player for his significant role in the most iconic moment in college football history simply known as “The Play” when California shocked John Elway and Stanford in 1982 on a last-second kickoff return.
Unbelievably, years later, Ford found himself in the headlines and became known for doing something much more shocking. He murdered his pregnant wife and three-year-old son, then set their bodies on fire inside their home. Here’s a look at how one man went from the heights of college football glory to an inmate in the California State Prison system, where he will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Mariet Ford makes final lateral in “The Play”
Mariet Ford was a big part of the University of California football team during his two seasons with the Golden Bears. In 1981, he caught 45 passes for 600 yards with a pair of touchdowns. He also returned punts.
In 1982, he hauled in 42 passes for 568 yards with two more touchdowns. That season he was also the kick and punt returner. He led the Pac-10 in punt returns with 302 yards.
Despite his solid statistics as a receiver and a return man, Ford is most remembered for one specific return on Nov. 20, 1982 against Stanford. On the final play of the game, California received the squib kickoff. After three of Ford’s teammates had successfully lateraled the ball and kept the play alive, he received the fourth lateral from teammate Richard Rodgers.
The 5-foot-9 Ford caught the pitch in stride at the Stanford 45-yard line and raced down the field until three Stanford players surrounded him. The speedy receiver then blindly flipped the ball over his right shoulder at the 27-yard line, where it was caught by Kevin Moen, who then charged into the end zone through the Stanford band for the improbable touchdown and victory.
Mariet Ford kills pregnant wife and young son before burning bodies
After college, Mariet Ford signed as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons but was cut near the end of training camp. After a brief stint in the Canadian Football League and a couple of tryouts with USFL teams, he retired from playing in 1985.
In his personal life, Ford got married a first time, but it only lasted three years. He then met Teresita “Tess” Cabello, who got pregnant, and the pair married soon after.
In January 1997, tragedy struck. Ford would later tell police he was out soliciting business when he called his brother, Orrin, to check on his wife, who was eight months pregnant, after she had not answered the phone.
When his brother arrived, he discovered a gruesome scene. According to court documents, Orrin found the still-smoldering bodies of Tess and his three-year-old son, Mariet Ford Jr., on the dining room floor. Autopsies determined both were killed before their bodies were set on fire. Ford’s son died from repeated blows to the head and his wife sustained a broken jaw, three broken ribs, and a broken clavicle.
Found guilty and sentenced to 45 years to life
After police interviewed Mariet Ford three times, inconsistencies in his story led to his arrest six months after the crime. Ford went on trial in April 1998. Prosecutors didn’t present any physical evidence linking Ford to the crime, but asked jurors to find him guilty for multiple compelling pieces of circumstantial evidence, including gasoline found on his shoes; a fresh scratch on his face; a half-hour gap in his alibi; no gas container in his garage, despite owning a new gas-powered lawnmower; and no sign of forced entry.
After five days of deliberations, the jury found Ford guilty of three counts of second-degree murder and one count of arson. In October 1998, Ford was sentenced to 45 years to life in prison.
Despite consistently maintaining his innocence, Ford will not be eligible for parole until 2036 when he turns 75.