Make way for the Wild Bunch

That's the nickname for the USC defense, an unyielding group which last week helped to beat crosstown-rival UCLA
December 01, 1969

Across the way the USC students had raised a banner that said THE WILD BUNCH TAKES NO——! The Wild Bunch is the Trojan defensive unit, and all season it hasn't let anybody's offense push it around, including UCLA's. All afternoon and evening the Wild Bunch bounced Dennis Dummit around the coliseum floor like a double dribble, smothering him for loss after loss and forcing him to throw the football upward, downward and sideways. This was the main reason USC eased into the Rose Bowl last week for a record fourth straight year. In this unwitting era of scoring, the defense finally had its day.

It would be tempting to sit back and say that USC whipped the Bruins 14-12 on the biggest break since the San Francisco earthquake, meaning a pass interference call on a poor, sad, sick UCLA defender named Danny Graham, a play which gave USC a chance to come up with a winning touchdown pass in the game's last two minutes. But actually that Wild Bunch of Coach John McKay had slowly been winning the game all afternoon by burying Dummit no less than 12 times when he was searching for a receiver—and intercepting him five times.

Dummit is a marvelously accurate thrower when he has time to glance around for somebody, but the Trojan defense is a quick, vicious crew which doesn't like to wait around for that. Especially the front five, which consists of Al Cowlings, Bubba Scott, Charlie Weaver, Jimmy Gunn and Tody Smith, Bubba Smith's brother. That UCLA almost pulled it out when Dummit somehow, some way, after he had been chased, whomped, injured and terribly maligned all afternoon, moved the Bruins to a touchdown with only 3:07 to play for a 12-7 lead is a fine tribute to him. For a fleeting spell there before the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum's 90,814 fanatics, it looked as if Dummit, the transfer from Long Beach, had risen from the dead to become one of the great Hollywood legends.

But USC is accustomed to winning late. Going into Saturday, the Trojans had won four games in the fourth quarter, a feat which had earned them another nickname—the Cardiac Kids. Stanford they had beaten with no time left on the scoreboard clock. In fact, McKay's gang had won or tied 11 of its last 19 games in the last quarter. So what was the big deal about trailing the hated Bruins with only three minutes to play in a game for the Roses, the Pacific Eight Championship and what the two schools like to call the city championship? All you do is let this zany sophomore quarterback, Jimmy Jones, finally start completing passes. Of course, he sometimes has to have a miracle, but he gets that, too.

Here's how it went for all of you television viewers who were lulled into a nap by the old-fashioned defense that flavored the day. USC had the ball on its own 32 with only those three minutes left and it had to pass, right? And Jimmy Jones had thrown 13 times so far and had completed only one—for one yard.

Up in the press box a wit said, "Throw the one-yard bomb, Jones."

But Jones didn't do that. He found an end for 10 and a first down. Then he threw to another end for eight. Then he hit a third pass, and the ball was across midfield. The clock had been rolling, though, and there were less than two minutes left. The UCLA defense, a unit known as the Quiet Bunch and led by an end named Bob Geddes and a tackle named Floyd Reese, hadn't done a bad job on its own. It had shut down Clarence Davis, who entered the game as the nation's leading rusher, giving him only 37 yards. And until now it had been scampering after Jones, harassing him into throwing the ball toward downtown. Jones, in fact, then proceeded to throw four straight incompletions from the UCLA 43, and the Bruins went berserk. The game was over. The Bruin cheerleaders, who had the best moves of the day, were ready to go back into their boogaloo chant, "We got the spirit and we got the soul."

There was only one thing wrong. Down on the UCLA 32 where a Jones pass for Sam Dickerson had missed him from Watts to El Segundo, a flag had fallen. UCLA's Danny Graham, overanxious, had needlessly banged into the receiver as the ball sailed overhead. Interference.

So on the next play, a thing called "60 play-action pass X-post on the corner," one that will have to be filed away with all of those runs that people like O.J. Simpson and Cotton Warburton and Morley Drury made, Jimmy Jones drifted back and let go to the far right-hand corner of the dark end zone. Dickerson, a fast junior from Stockton, raced toward it, beating his coverage. The ball and Dickerson somehow met in a diving, falling, desperate instant—just six inches inbounds—and USC had made the Rose Bowl.

In regard to these heart-attack games that McKay and Prothro keep playing against each other, McKay said later, "I've checked my heart and I don't have one."

All week there had been some concern among those who care about big games as to whether Saturday's usual 90,000 would turn up in the coliseum. The tickets had all been sold, of course, but officials from both campuses might not have been too surprised if a lot of the students had given them away to, well, let us say perhaps the Committee for the Liberation of Perspiring Cafeteria Employees who Vote Democratic. The attitude toward the game was especially apathetic, it seemed, out around UCLA, the big school, the one with so many students it has many of the social concerns and civic elements that USC doesn't, USC being the tidy little school, the "conservative" school. Both campuses were littered with signs and placards nailed to trees, but few of them in Westwood had anything to do with beating the Trojans.

Rather, the signs dealt with beating America, or beating American "imperialism." They also dealt with grape boycotts, with housing problems and with lost-and-found items like puppies and transistors. One afternoon in midweek a trim Oriental girl stood on one of the malls before a concerned group and asked everyone to join in the protest to "rehire Charles," apparently a cafeteria worker who had been fired. And numerous signs were displayed calling for a lunch-in in behalf of the same distressed individual. In fact, The Los Angeles Times quoted a student member of the UCLA rally committee as admitting, while the game drew closer, that "people don't care about going to the Rose Bowl as much as they care about Asian movements."

It was slightly different around USC. Some thoughtful protectors had draped cellophane around the statue of Tommy Trojan in case UCLA pranksters tried to dump blue and gold paint on it, as they had on occasions in the past. Except for a table on a corner by the athletic building where some kids were selling peace buttons, and except for a mall where several students knelt down and painted slogans like EXPAND THE MIND, all was tranquil and looked like campuses used to look. Collections of magnificently beautiful coeds strolled along toward classes, and all sorts of near-Katherine Rosses pedaled around on bicycles.

No one who cared in the least about fresh air and exercise and who had a ticket was about to miss the big game, however. It is a ritual as much as anything, like Texas-Oklahoma or Army-Navy. And after all, this time both teams were undefeated for the first time since 1952. It did not have the added importance of Who's No. 1? and the Heisman Trophy as it did two years ago in what has become cherished as the O.J. Simpson-Gary Beban game. But it had the old question of whether USC's John McKay has UCLA's Tommy Prothro's number, or vice versa, and the new question of precisely how good the two teams were, being unbeaten but practically forgotten in terms of national prestige.

This, of course, was the situation on Friday. By noon Saturday, after everyone had watched TV and seen Michigan do that unbelievable thing to Woody Hayes and Ohio State, the Trojans and Bruins had even more incentive. Suddenly everybody was back in the race for No. 1.

The gates to the coliseum had opened at 9 a.m. so the students from both schools could enter and begin what has become one of the longest and most colorful days in sport. They bring food and drink, they bring music, and they turn the coliseum into perhaps the world's largest open-air discotheque. This time they listened to Ohio State take the 10-count on the radio and they let out howls between dancing and beverages and needling one another across the field.

When the game started, UCLA looked like it might lay as big a claim to No. 1 as any other undefeated team. Dennis Dummit rolled the Bruins 75 yards in eight plays for a touchdown which came on Greg Jones' pass to George Farmer, a surprise halfback-to-wingback flip which Prothro ordered on third-and-one. The play covered 41 yards and caught the Wild Bunch snoozing for one of only two times. The other time came when Dummit hit Brad Lyman with a 57-yarder there at the last, the play which set up his go-ahead scoring pass to Gwen Cooper from the USC seven.

In between all of this, however, the game belonged to the Wild Bunch. They kept the Bruins back in their own end of the field, and it seemed they would never get out. The Wild Bunch would pound Dummit and then help him up, and End Charlie Weaver would say, "Come on, get up so we can hit you again." Weaver explained, "We hoped to discourage him somewhat. And I think we did. By the middle of the third quarter I thought he began to panic. He'd drop back and start looking for us instead of his receivers, and he'd get rid of it before he wanted to."

Actually, everyone should have known the Trojans would find a way. On Friday the Bruins had an ex-student named Raquel Welch at a pep rally, but on Saturday the Trojans had Anthony Quinn and Bill Cosby on their bench. And guys can beat girls at football any old time.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)