The I-Bone lives and reigns supreme. The I-Bone belongs to USC and John McKay, who announced earlier in the week of that social event known as the UCLA game that all his Trojans intended to do was kick heads and take names. This is exactly what they did, and it was as easy as their other nine victories this season because the Trojans have so much talent they look like they could play two or three different sports at once. And win them all. USC has a bunch of guys who can wrestle, push the shot, run the quarter mile, field fly balls, long jump, high jump and shoot one-hand push shots, and they bring these abilities to the football field along with an appalling confidence. Last Saturday against the hated Bruins in what was expected to be the usual old emotional showdown for the Rose Bowl bid, McKay's Trojans laughed it up while whipping what they called "the best team your taxes can buy."
The score was 24-7 and it well might have been worse if McKay had been playing Stanford again, Stanford being the Pacific Eight school that McKay enjoys referring to as the "Radcliffe of the West," the school he wanted to beat 2,000-0 this year on his way to what he expects will be a third national championship.
John McKay has a neat sense of humor and he has always brought it to the game he coaches so well. The I-Bone was McKay's answer to UCLA's Wishbone, which USC linebackers turned into a drumstick last Saturday. He is one of the few good coaches in the country who has stuck to the Shifting-T or Limping-I or Strolling-I-T formations throughout these five years that the Wishbone has been the vogue. Nebraska's Bob Devaney is another, and the systems of USC and Nebraska are very similar in that they look more like the type of formations you will see from a pro team. The I-backs, the slots, flankers, split ends and so forth.
One might also say that the talent of USC and Nebraska is not that much different from the pros, either. The Trojans are big and fast and capable, and they simply do everything well, from passing to playing defense. It is not usual for a team that relies as much on the pass as the Trojans do to maintain a strong running game, but they have plays with names like Blast Orbit and Student-body Right tailored for the exceptional running ability of their sophomore streak, Anthony Davis, and they run and run and run, just as they did on the Bruins.
Davis, who puts on some kind of a cloak of invisibility and sort of scoots along underneath people, got 178 yards. He is near 1,000 for the season, which is not bad for a youngster who used to wrestle and play the outfield.
"I coach him not to get tackled," smiles McKay in his sumptuous office (one of two, actually) in USC's new Heritage Hall.
It was raining on Thursday just as it had been raining most of the week, and McKay seemed as unconcerned about the lack of work his Trojans had done preparing for UCLA as he seemed unconcerned about the Bruins themselves.
"If I can find the gymnasium in the old building, I'll show you some fantastic athletes," McKay said, drawing on his traditional cigar. "We might be better than we've ever been. At least we've never before had a former basketball star at tight end [Charles Young], a shot putter at fullback [Sam Cunningham], a quarter-miler at split end [Edesel Garrison], a flanker who can long jump [Lynn Swann] and a linebacker who can high jump 6'6" [Ray Rodriguez]. Plus my son."
That's J.K. McKay, the team's leading pass receiver who alternates with Garrison bringing in plays from McKay to Quarterback Mike Rae, who throws well and boots field goals and used to be a baseball and basketball star.
That Thursday the Trojans were in the gymnasium out of the rain, running through a few plays and laughing, working for a whole 26 minutes.
"If we can play the game indoors in our stockings, I think we're ready," McKay said.
"The coach must think we're pretty good," said Swann. "Last year he hollered at us a lot. This year he's mellow. When we do something wrong, he just says, 'Way to miss a block, Swann.' "
To this, McKay said, "You don't have to holler so much when you win."
The Trojans started winning fast against UCLA, leading 10-0 after six minutes of the first quarter. UCLA managed a nice drive before the period ended to narrow it down to 10-7 and it looked, briefly, as if there might be a football game. Then came the second quarter. First, Davis fumbled a punt and gave UCLA the ball on USC's 27-yard line. If the Bruins had been able to get any points out of it, the Trojans might at least have had something to be concerned about. But the team that upset Nebraska way, way back there in early September just couldn't wishbone it any closer than the 16-yard line, and then missed a field goal. After that, with the Bruins for some reason refusing to pass—young Mark Harmon didn't get his first completion until deep in the third quarter—the UCLA attack came almost to a halt.
One of the reasons UCLA could not move all evening were some young defenders who promise to keep USC a terrific defensive team for another season or so, primarily two linebackers named Richard Wood, a sophomore, and Jim Sims, a transfer junior. They made about 25 tackles between them, never letting UCLA's James McAlister and Kermit Johnson get more than a glimpse of daylight. One play was typical. McAlister broke loose over tackle and turned toward the outside, and after five yards there didn't seem to be anyone between him and Pasadena. But out of nowhere came Wood, a 6'2", 220-pound cat from Elizabeth, N.J., to catch him from behind and nail him for only those five yards.
It was late in the second quarter, with Rae throwing and Davis pulling his disappearing act, that USC motored 80 yards for the touchdown that made it 17-7 at the half, and it was in the third quarter that USC did more of the same on a 96-yard drive to wind up the scoring and let the contest rattle around in UCLA futility throughout the last period.
It was so easy that UCLA Coach Pepper Rodgers could only sigh, "I guess USC is the best team I've ever seen, period. There isn't anything they don't do well on offense or defense and they know they can do it, and they do it."
Anthony Davis said afterward, "It was funny how unemotional we were. We were high, sure, but we weren't in a frenzy the way I always thought USC was supposed to be for UCLA."
John McKay sat grinning in the locker room. "The I-Bone is back," he said. "I don't care what happens the rest of the year because we're going home." Home is the Rose Bowl, which almost became McKay's personal property there for a while. At least it did until Stanford went the past two years.
"Gentlemen," said McKay, "I'd like to announce that the Rose Bowl no longer belongs to Radcliffe."
Would No. 1 belong to the Trojans?
Well, it will if USC can get past Notre Dame next week and then past the Big Ten champion in the Rose Bowl. USC has led the polls ever since Nebraska fell, and now that McKay has the Pacific Eight championship tucked away, the only worry he has is with his old pal Bear Bryant and Alabama about this poll business.
"I was talking to Paul on the phone the other day and I told him I had voted for him in the UPI poll," said McKay. "I said, 'That's two votes I know you got, but don't blame me for all those other dumb guys voting for us.' "
They may not be so dumb.