After the game, Maryland Coach Jim Tatum and UCLA Coach Red Sanders blew each other long, admiring kisses. "That team is majestic, simply majestic!" said Red Sanders, whose team had been beaten 7-0. Said Maryland's Jim Tatum, whose club had just shut them out: "UCLA will become the highest scoring team in the nation."
Actually, the game had been neither majestic nor high scoring. It had been a taut, brittle struggle in the mud and rain between two teams which were more than a little afraid of each other and a little overawed by the stakes. And it had been decided by a single, simple mistake.
It was in the third quarter and Maryland had the ball on the UCLA 17, fourth down and one foot to go. The UCLA Bruins lined up defensively in a virtual nine-man line. It was the moment Maryland Quarterback Frank Tamburello had been waiting for and he quickly changed the play he had called in the huddle in favor of an around-end option.
The play was classic split-T. Tamburello slid along the line of scrimmage to his right. He showed the ball tantalizingly to Bruin End Johnny Hermann, like a guide giving a tourist a flash of a French postcard. Hermann hesitated, then lunged. In that instant, Tamburello pitched the ball quickly out to the trailing halfback, Ed Vereb—and the UCLA Bruins had lost their first ball game since the 1954 Rose Bowl.
October 2, 1955
But that was simply the outcome of the game. The drama of the game did not star Tamburello and Vereb at all but that old, familiar father-and-son act of Knox and Knox—Harvey, father, and Ronnie, son.
Ronnie's part in the game consisted of throwing 15 passes, completing 10 and seeing two intercepted. Harvey's part was a little more complicated. To begin with, there was the matter of the Harvey Knox quotes, the ones Coach Tatum pasted up in the Maryland dressing room. Not the usual run of "We-will-do-our-best" sentiments; these were fine, reckless throwback quotes, the kind worthy of a John L. Sullivan at a brewery picnic. In substance, they served notice on the football world that Harvey Knox, father, expected Ronnie Knox, son, to be able to lick any football team in the house by five or six touchdowns—in this case, Maryland.
Since this is not the kind of rugged honesty football coaches ordinarily afflict each other with, Coach Sanders was understandably distressed. Although he is no believer in the emotional plea or hair-shredding school of coaching, it occurred to him that Harvey's quotes by now had become an integral part of the Maryland attack and somehow had to be dealt with along with the quarterback-keep and the fullback-counter.
Accordingly, in the pre-game confidential scouting report—a document normally given over to a dispassionate discussion of how to meet the flesh-and-blood hazards of the game without confusing the boys with those they cannot throw out of bounds—Red saw fit to caution his team: "Do not be misled by the various artificial methods used by an opponent seeking the psychological advantage. They [Maryland] can't try much harder [to beat you] than they did last year."
Of course, Red did not want his players to think Harvey was the only one who had any confidence in them. "We think," he told them in the scouting report, "we have an excellent chance." He also warned them: "In no way are you to consider Maryland as the 'make-or-break' game on our schedule or that you haven't been tested yet. You had a pretty fair test last week by a team [Texas A&M] that tried real hard to defeat you."
That, of course, was Sanders' pre-game outlook. Harvey Knox, who had issued a somewhat more extravagant and unconfidential memo of his own, had reason to regard the game as a make-or-break game, at least for him. But when he arrived at Seat 5 in Row V, Section 24 of Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md., wearing a black hat with what he called a "college crush" and a jaunty angle, Harvey was ready for a little escapology. "This rain has got to hurt us," he announced as he sat down and began to look with cheerful interest for No. 18 among the gold-and-light-blue uniforms of the UCLA team. He spotted No. 18 just as it was completing the first practice pass to a teammate. "That's a good omen," shot in Harvey quickly. "Have no fear. We're all right."
He spotted Ronnie cleaning his cleats with a wire brush. "That's a trick we learned at Santa Monica High," explained Harvey quickly. "We had two wire brushes. Here, they have only one." He said it disapprovingly.
In the first half, it was just like old times at Santa Monica. Ronnie threw five passes and completed five passes and better yet he kept Maryland bottled up in its own territory with his ball-control and quick-kicking. Once, he quick kicked 61 yards, the ball rolling dead on the Maryland three. Other times, he sat on the bench on the phone to the UCLA spotters upstairs plotting more devastation for the Marylanders whose rotating defense sometimes seemed to have the effect of rotating the players into each other.
INTO THAT RED LINE
Harvey lost his aplomb only once. In the beginning of the second quarter, Ronnie drove the team from the Maryland 47 to the Maryland three. He called for his fullback, Doug Peters, to go crashing into the line. He made two yards. Ronnie called for him to try it again. Peters fumbled and lost the ball. "Oh, no!" shrieked Harvey. "He knows better than that. I have taught him never to put the football in there twice in the same place. I have taught him better than that!"
When UCLA took over on the Maryland 39 just before the end of the half, Harvey was on his feet waving his arms. "All right, now, Ronnie—over for six!" He sat down. "We're gonna move now!" he predicted confidently.
Down on the field, UCLA moved—the wrong way. On the first play, Ronnie was hit for a 19-yard loss. The next play, he was spilled for an 11-yard loss. The third play, a Knox Statue of Liberty, was hit for another 11-yard loss. When Knox finally dropped into punt formation, he couldn't even kick the ball to where he had been.
"No more tricky stuff," promised Harvey when he had recovered his breath. "Tricky stuff is out on that slippery field. We know that now."
Between the halves, Harvey ignored the antics of the band and the drum majorettes to concentrate on the business at hand: "If I were coach," he began, "if I were coach in this half coming up, I would say we have to do this: we have to send Davenport up the middle and we have to throw hook passes—my tailback rolling out on my option passes or runs. But no lateral stuff—no lateral stuff. The field's too wet. I might interject a little short, flat pass. But nothing laterally. We're trying too much tricky stuff."
For the first six minutes of the second half, UCLA and Knox got no chance to try any stuff. Maryland took the kickoff and ground its way down for a touchdown in that time.
Harvey was equal to the challenge.
"It's not over yet," he said brashly as Maryland prepared for the point after touchdown. "This point here will determine whether we win or lose." Maryland's Bob Laughery booted it squarely between the goal posts.
"Now," explained Harvey, "we will see Ronnie under pressure." He spotted Ronnie near the bench with Coach Sanders. "It's Ronnie and Red," he said quickly. "Ronnie has got his work cut out for him." On the field, Ronnie was chronically disappearing from sight under a shroud of red jerseys. "Ronnie seems hurt," Harvey sensed once, jumping to his feet. "Ronnie has hurt his shoulder."
Later, when Scatback Chuck Hollaway entered the game, Harvey cheered up again. "Six points just went in," he told the stands. "Six points. Know why? He's fresh and Ronnie will hit him with a down-and-out for six. If Maryland ever played loose it better play loose now."
Ronnie tried a wide sweep and floundered on Maryland Center Bob Pellegrini for a two-yard loss. "They were red-dogging him. They were red-dogging the hell out of him." A moment later, Ronnie threw to Hollaway but missed him. Harvey was plunged in gloom. Behind him, a spectator cracked, "If these Bruins don't show something we haven't seen, they are going to lose." "We have seen it all," confessed the depressed Harvey. "We have seen it all."
In the last quarter, Ronnie got one last desperate drive on the way. Harvey was on his feet. "Look at that boy!" he said, a light in his eyes. "Would you just look at him! C'mon, Ronnie. Send Peters up the middle. Tighten them up, Ronnie, tighten them up. Plenty of time to go in that end zone yet."
As it happened, there wasn't plenty of time, although Ronnie completed a pass from his own end zone with only a minute to play. A moment later, he hit Right End Tom Adams with a pass but it was fumbled and fallen on by Pellegrini, and the game was over.
In the dressing rooms, Maryland was scornfully jubilant, UCLA scornfully disappointed. Pellegrini praised his team's scouting report. His team's strategy lay in forcing Ronnie to try to run, he said. "They said Ronnie thinks he's a triple threater," said Pellegrini. The Maryland captain singled out the UCLA captain, Lineman Hardiman Cureton, for the best game on the field. Tamburello also told the press, "I think Hardiman Cureton is an All-America. Anyway, he is the best lineman I've ever played against."
UNDER A 20-GALLON HAT
In the UCLA dressing room, the players couldn't say they hadn't been told. Their scouting report informed them bluntly: "They [Maryland] have no poor players. Tamburello is probably the best split-T quarterback in the nation and he, more than anyone else, makes them tick on offense.... Defensively, they are big and tough, with Pellegrini being the hub...."
It was a game Maryland had wanted to win for a year—ever since its national championship club lost to the Bruins in Los Angeles last October. As for Sanders, who had confessed in his scouting memo, "UCLA has now the best offense in its history," he had some explaining to do. Harvey Knox stood in the emptying murky stadium.
"How come?" he wanted to know darkly. "How come Maryland and UCLA played last year out in California on a field that hadn't been rained on in seven months and they played a tight, defensive game, kicking on third down and playing it close to the vest? And how come this year on a field that is soaking wet and being rained on right this minute they come out and play a spread formation with passes and tricky stuff?"
Tatum, with no Harvey Knox to answer to, cocked a 20-gallon hat over his eye and gloated: "They said last fall this game is the World Series of football. I think both clubs were great, but we were the better ball club." And he grinned at the reporters as he started to the door. "What about Harvey Knox?" someone called after him. Tatum smiled. "Harvey Knox?" he taunted. "Who's he?"