After the game one USC rooter, glancing mournfully at the sad news on the scoreboard, tried to be brave about it. "It just goes to prove the old Confucian saying," he said. " 'Man with blood in the eye cannot see football well enough to win game.' "
To be sure, USC's Trojans had gone north to play Stanford Saturday with blood in their eye. It was to be less a football game than a kind of holy mission. The players had been built up to it in stages ever since the preseason banquet when they sat uneasily and listened to rabid alumni in voices choked with emotion abjuring them when they met Stanford to "hit 'em hard, hit 'em clean, hit 'em often—and bust 'em in half."
Stanford's sin, in the view of the Trojans, lay not so much in escaping unscathed while the rest of the Pacific Coast Conference was rocked by ineligibilities but—far from lying low—in coolly casting the lone vote not to let the penalized seniors play even half a season. The USC-Stanford game was to be an historic mission of retribution on the order of St. George and the dragon. Unfortunately, the dragon won 27-19.
The game, in fact, was a rather heroic one. USC, traditionally a team which wins only those games which are not too much trouble, started out as though driven by fury. Jon Arnett, playing his last game thanks to the conference penalty, speared through and around the Stanford line which had less incentive but, as it turned out, a good deal of skill—which was better in the long run.
November 5, 1956
The score was 13-0 almost before Stanford had their helmets fastened. Knighthood seemed in full flower. Then Stanford Quarterback John Brodie, who treats football as an art rather than an emotional outlet, began to make his presence felt, and the script was fouled up for fair. Seven plays after the next kickoff Brodie had a touchdown, picking up the last 30 yards in one deft flip to his right end. Since it took the Trojans roughly five times as long per score, five yards by agonizing five yards, this incident seemed to unnerve them. A few plays later USC's C. R. Roberts dropped the ball. Stanford recovered and in no time Brodie was off toward another touchdown. The whole USC team deployed for passes with no one watching the store up front. Brodie helped himself to the free yardage and went ahead on a one-yard buck 14-13.
But USC broke its lance permanently in the first series of plays of the second half. After having ground out 212 yards rushing in the first half, it decided it liked Brodie's way better, and three times it passed. All three were incomplete. The Trojans had to punt and give up the ball to Brodie, a fatal mistake. Two plays later Brodie had his clinching touchdown on a 23-yard pass to End Carl Isaacs.
It was obvious to USC at the outset that the only way to beat Brodie's Stanford was to control the ball. USC did, 73 plays to Stanford's 60—but not enough.
Brodie scarcely had a breathtaking afternoon statistically. He passed 21 times, completed 10 and had four intercepted. Yet he proved himself as hard to defense as Yogi Berra. He was at his most dangerous when he seemed to be boxed in. Then he would ad lib a play and catch the Trojan secondary relaxed and watching the pursuit instead of the receivers. Brodie would hit whichever receiver pleased him.
At the end of the game Jon Arnett, tears streaming down his cheeks and blood dripping from his nose, seemed to symbolize the USC mood—frustrated but still full of futile fight. He played a brilliant first half, gaining 101 yards, but he gained a net of only 16 in the second half. "We used what we call the super overshift on him," crowed Coach Chuck Taylor later. "We gave Roberts the weak side and gambled he wouldn't have a good day." As a matter of fact, Roberts didn't. Taylor's gift had strings attached and Roberts rolled up less than 60 yards for the game. Defensive End Isaacs usually boarded C. R. at the scrimmage line and rode him to the ground shortly thereafter.
USC's plume was deep in the dust at the end. Stanford's final touchdown came with only 30 seconds to go and with USC's goal posts already torn down as a final fillip of humiliation. In the dressing room afterward, Coach Jess Hill, who had seen his team penalized a robust nine times (including once on a touchdown pass) stalked up and down for some minutes to compose himself before he talked to the press. What did he think of Stanford, he was asked. "Without Brodie, they wouldn't be the same ball club," he consoled himself.
The win left Stanford a clean leader for the Rose Bowl, but they still have UCLA's Bruins, also vengeful, to get past next week. Oregon State, which last week handed the Bruins their first conference loss in 20 games, 21-7, is by no means to be discounted; but Coach Taylor, the kind of optimist who could convince the Confederacy they still have a good chance, sees no problem:
"We'll play well in the Rose Bowl," he confided.