There is no defense against the Santa Ana, the wind that comes blustering in off the Mojave Desert in searing, grimy gusts. When it hits, southern California goes from pure euphoria to instant funk. Friendly dogs snarl, people with suicidal tendencies eye straight razors, sleeping pills and the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks with renewed longing, and perfectly compatible couples start divorce proceedings.
All week long San Diego wheezed in the Santa Ana and then, just as Ronald Reagan—up there on all those billboards smiling in quiet approval of private enterprise—began to disappear behind layers of dust, the Santa Ana stopped. An omen? Why not? At that moment North Dakota State University, the No. 1 small-college team in the country, arrived, seeking an answer to the question: Can a small agricultural college from the Northwest find happiness in the swinging southland? The answer was not long in coming, and it was no, not without help from a Santa Ana. Without as much as a soft breeze, in fact, San Diego State, the biggest little monster in the land, did what no one has been able to do since 1964—beat the Bisons. They did it, furthermore, 36-0.
San Diego State, known as the Aztecs to its 17,000 students, but for years unknown, unloved and ignored by southern Californians in general and by lovers of big-time football everywhere, had not only gone through six games unbeaten but had done so with such dash that by last week most observers had the impression San Diego halfbacks were racing around end in Aloha shirts. Before the Saturday game San Diego State was rated second among the country's small-college teams. And did this lofty station turn San Diego aquiver with joy? It did not. "The hell with No. 2," said a student. "We're the fastest, the meanest, the most explosive team in the world. We're No. 1."
Really? North Dakota is a small state. You could, in fact, almost stuff its population into Balboa Stadium, where the two teams met Saturday night. But North Dakota State has spent the last three years whomping everyone it has played. The fact is, the teams confronted each other in mutual terror, and those coaches' cries of anguish for once had the ring of truth.
"Put that thing on regular speed," Dakota's Ron Erhardt told an assistant running a film showing San Diego backs racing off in spectacular isolation.
"Coach," said the assistant, "this is regular speed."
"Good grief," said Erhardt.
Nor did the Bison films that San Diego Coach Don Coryell studied bear any resemblance to light comedy. After each play, a perfectly audible "Ooph" was heard. It came from Coryell. "Teams down here don't hit like that," he said.
The wonderful part of it was that both Erhardt and Coryell had good cases. Coryell has always gone after players who had trouble holding still long enough for an interview, running backs like Nate Johns and Don Shy, for instance, who think a 9.7 hundred is dogging it. A series of injuries has slowed Johns this season, but Coryell's newest man in perpetual motion, Haven Moses, makes up for whatever Johns has lost. And right in the middle of all that speed is Fullback Teddy Washington, a chunky 210-pounder who is just as fast as the rest.
Coryell knew he had something exceptional brewing, but there was a flaw: the offensive line. "They hit the right people," he noted, "but they don't do anything to the people they do hit." Coryell reasoned that until the young linemen learned how to bowl people over, he would teach them the rudiments of pass-blocking for Don Horn, onetime captain of the Washington State freshman team who left there when he found out that the Woody Hayes philosophy of direct frontal assault was about to become all the rage.
In five games, three of which were absolute hair-raisers (San Diego State beat Weber State 38-34, scoring three times in the last quarter; got by Cal Poly 14-13 by blocking an extra point try after the final gun; and outlasted Long Beach State 21-18), Coryell ignored the run and sent ends, flankers, tailbacks—anyone eligible to catch a ball—scampering this way and that, and Horn knew exactly what to do with the situation.
Then, two weeks ago, against Fresno State, the young line came of age, and Shy and Washington nearly matched Horn's passing yardage with their runs—at least for a while. In the second half a fog came in and both teams disappeared. "We know you're there, Aztecs. We know you're there," was one chant offered up by the student cheering section. Another was: "We love you, Aztecs, wherever you are."
Ron Erhardt's idea of good football is to hit somebody—or everybody—so hard that something inevitably collapses. His game plan for North Dakota was simple: get Horn. And then, follow Teddy Washington—everywhere.
It was a sound plan, but following Washington and doing something about him are different problems. On the first play from scrimmage the fullback went right up the middle for 32 yards. That was the end of San Diego running until the last quarter when Washington squirted loose for an 86-yard touchdown—but no matter. Horn took turns passing to Moses and End Craig Scoggins, a little fellow who reminds people of Howard Twilley. Only Scoggins is much faster—naturally—and just like that San Diego had 14 points.
Not that North Dakota was through. The Bisons are a proud lot, and Erhardt kept them whopping away with traps and short passes right down to San Diego's four-yard line just before the end of the half. Then came disaster No. 1. The fourth-down plunge missed by an inch. Disaster No. 2: Horn completed a 41-yarder to Scoggins, who ran out of bounds on North Dakota's 18. Disaster No. 3: with four seconds left, Johns tried the first field goal of his career—and nearly fell down from shock when he made it. Disaster No. 4: the second half. By the middle of the third period North Dakota State's entire backfield was on the bench nursing injuries and it was then no longer a question of who was No. 1, but whether the old No. 1 would score. The Bisons came close, but Bob Jones, an Aztec defender, intercepted a pass on the two and sprinted—what else?—for 98 yards.