A rose bowl game, like a first-class war, is one which begins long before the opposing sides take the field against each other. This year's Rose Bowl game, for instance, began not in the center of the Arroyo Seco at 2 p.m. on January 2 but in early December at a football awards banquet in New York. The two rival coaches, Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State and Red Sanders of UCLA, were sitting near each other, separated by Oklahoma Coach Bud Wilkinson.
"Duffy," asked Sanders, "since we get the choice of the ball this year what kind of football would you like to use?" Wilkinson, overhearing, put in with a grin: "It's not going to make much difference to Duffy; he's not going to get to use it much anyway." Whereupon, Daugherty answered: "We're not going to need it much."
It was this quip which not only touched off the pregame war of nerves but also put the West Coast on notice that in Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty a new type of visiting coach had hit the Rose Bowl. Accustomed to dour, cloak-and-dagger characters who behaved in Pasadena as though they were abroad in a jungle full of Mau-Maus, West Coasters did not know at first what to make of Daugherty. He not only permitted hostile (i.e., California) newspapermen in to his practice sessions—an unheard-of breach of security to the likes of Fritz Crisler of Michigan and Woody Hayes of Ohio State—but he even waved the public in and not only ran off his whole repertory of plays but even took the microphone in hand personally to explain them to the crowd.
This was a little like telling a man you were coining to rob his house and at what hour and by what entry, and it soon occurred to the West Coast chauvinists that Daugherty's tactics were a lot more unnerving than keeping the Coasters standing outside the practice field counting the flying teeth. Could, the Coast wondered, Michigan State be that good?
January 9, 1956
Daugherty not only gave in good-naturedly when dozens of invitations for everything from Disneyland to Witching-Hour Awards banquets were accepted by his team, he also held twice-daily press conferences that were studies in runaway optimism and he actually played a round of golf three days before the game, an almost supreme gesture of contempt as football preparations go. "Daugherty almost acts as though he considered this just a game," one observer marveled.
Daugherty's attitude not only began to affect Sanders, it began to infect his own press. The Toledo Blade's Grove Patterson laid his ears all the way back on his head and snarled: "I am a football fan...and my blood pressure is already on the way up in contemplation when those soft Californians, trained on orange juice and pomegranates, will for the first quarter labor under the false delusion that they can beat the corn-fed, husky, rugged, cold-weather boys from East Lansing. California teams do fairly well in the first half but then they sag because they don't have what it takes. This is a soft country and it produces soft men."
These were fighting words worthy of a midseason Harvey Knox, but even Harvey had succumbed to the Daugherty brainwash and, with his famous football son Ronnie limping pitifully through UCLA practices, Harvey took to television on the eve of the game to confide dejectedly he expected Daugherty and Michigan State to triumph.
Most surprising of all was that Sanders himself began finally to run scared. Where the Michigan State Spartans whirled through a social schedule that would do credit to Elsa Maxwell, Sanders took to posting desperate notices on the blackboard like "Remember—between now and January 2—SLEEP is most important!"
Where Daugherty scarcely mentioned the fact that his first-string tackle and second-string halfback were out of the game, Sanders took to agonizing hourly over whether Ronnie Knox would or would not be ready for play. And where Daugherty grinned at the fire-eating trumpetings of the Toledo Blade and allied sports experts, Sanders even took occasion for the first time to muzzle Harvey Knox in a closed-door conference. It was, perhaps, the most depressing note of all for UCLAns.
All in all Daugherty had played his propaganda cards with the deftness of an expert in the water-drop treatment so that by game time Sanders was all but shaking the bars and screaming to be let alone.
But it was not altogether Daugherty's unnerving confidence that pushed the West Coast to the threshold of despair. By pregame agreement UCLA was presented with two Michigan State films and State likewise with two UCLA films. They were almost as eloquent testifiers of Spartan skill as open practice sessions. "We're ready for our finest game," gloomed Sanders, "but that might not be enough. They might be too much for us this year. In fact, they might be the finest Michigan State team ever and the finest Big 10 team ever to come to the Rose Bowl." Since the currently accepted finest team ever to come to the Rose Bowl (Michigan) won 49-0, this kind of talk was evidence the propaganda barrage was having its effect.
Even the UCLA practice-field tactics seemed geared more to keeping the score down than running one up. Figuring to be outpunted, Sanders experimented with putting three receivers deep on fourth-down situations, hoping by runbacks to neutralize the on-the-fly advantage of the Spartans. Goal-line stands were almost daily rehearsal routines. "We figure we might be in a lot of them," confessed Sanders sadly.
Meanwhile, right up to game time, Duffy Daugherty sat in his Huntington-Sheraton Hotel press conferences and swished a bottle of beer around in his pudgy lineman's fingers. Wasn't he afraid he was betraying too much optimism? someone wanted to know. Daugherty shook his head: "I'm not an optimist—I'm a realist." Was he afraid Sam Brown might go all the way? Daugherty shook his head again. "Our boys have been knocked down lots of times but they always get up to make the tackles. And no man in the country with a football is going to run as fast as Walt Kowalczyk without one." Well, didn't he have any worries? Daugherty laughed delightedly. "Look," he compromised, "what good would it do me to get out the crying towel? I'm sure Red will come up with something. We know we're in for our toughest game. But we hope we have a great football team...."
But in the last 55 seconds of the football game Duffy Daugherty, along with 101,000 other football filberts who were seeing it "live," lost his aplomb completely. What happened was still in some confusion for an hour after the game. But the bald truth was that it happened to Red Sanders and not to Daugherty.
Daugherty, munching an apple, appeared to have the game safely won, with a 14-7 lead and seven minutes to go. Sanders took a deep breath and sent Ronnie Knox into the game. For a few plays Ronnie had as much trouble as the other UCLA backs, but suddenly he was wheeling out to the right and throwing a 47-yard pass to Jim Decker on the seven-yard line. Knox and Peters crunched into the end zone and abruptly the score was tied 14-14, Daugherty had thrown his apple away and there were four minutes left to play.
By the time Michigan State had swept down the field to the UCLA 30 there was only a minute left to play. Michigan State's Gerry Planutis tried a field goal from the 30 and it wasn't even close, the ball slithering off to the right. The game appeared all over. But on the sidelines UCLA Assistant Coach Jim Myers was still full of fight. He began frantically to signal his team to try a pass. An official intercepted the signal, picked up the ball and paced off a penalty to the UCLA five-yard line. It was Ronnie Knox's turn to show he was still full of fight and he tried a hair-breadth running pass from his end zone. While the Bruin coaches fell backward in apoplectic agony Knox managed to get the ball away just before disappearing in a swarm of green jerseys. But the pass was incomplete and, moreover, on the technical ground that UCLA had an ineligible receiver downfield, the officials trotted the ball back to the one-yard line.
There were only 30 seconds to play when Knox punted the ball, a high soaring kick to Michigan State's Clarence Peaks. Peaks wisely signaled a fair catch, but UCLA's Hardiman Cureton bounced off him and the Bruins were penalized another 15 yards.
There were seven seconds left to play when Dave Kaiser's place kick from the 31-yard line made the score 17-14. Now Duffy Daugherty could smile and mean it. In the dressing room afterward, a bitterly disappointed Red Sanders confided that the key penalty was the fault of sideline coaching. Would he have been glad of a tie? someone asked. Red grinned wryly. "I sure would," he said. Which player gave him the most trouble? Red grimaced. "The guy who kicked the field goal."
In the Michigan State dressing room Daugherty had another apple and he was chewing it nervously as he accepted the congratulations of his athletic director Biggie Munn. "I guess you know now how Jack Fleck felt when he came through to win the Open, Duffy," someone offered. Daugherty grinned, then slipped back into his accustomed role of genial guest: "I just hope you all feel," he told the press, "that I would have been as gracious as Red Sanders if I had lost it." He almost sounded sorry to have missed the chance.