Anthony (or A.D. or Tony) Davis, on his knees in the end zone, still looked like somebody winning a jitterbug contest in a 1943 Stage Door Canteen. Which means that he had just scored for USC in the Rose Bowl and that the Trojans were having the kind of fun day against Ohio State that reflects the difference between the currently sad Big Ten and the brash, bruising Pacific Eight. When all the bowls were finally over, the question was not whether USC was still No. 1 but who might be No. 4, because surely these talented, flashy types of John McKay were No. 2 and No. 3 as well. Right? Next case.
For a while out there in Pasadena it seemed as if the Trojans had taken McKay too seriously when he told them that they were the national champions regardless of what happened against Woody Hayes. In the first half they lolled around and got themselves outblocked and outtackled and tiescored, 7-7. But then came a new half and an old Trojan team, the one that had buried 11 straight opponents. Davis kept wiggling through holes that weren't always there, gaining his 157 yards; and Mike Rae kept throwing to a Lynn Swann that the Buckeyes never did find, and to Charles Young, who might be the best tight end ever; and Sam Cunningham kept high-jumping for a record four touchdowns, and all of a sudden, even before the third quarter was over, the Rose Bowl was no longer a football game, only a telecast.
This was the one that mattered the most, since it settled the debate over a national champion, but after that close first half, it turned out to be as one-sided as two of the other big bowls—the Sugar and Orange—played last weekend. Only the Cotton had real drama.
Before McKay got around to winning his third national title, Oklahoma on Sunday night in New Orleans had won a battle with itself and whipped Penn State, and on Monday afternoon a most surprising Texas team had stung Alabama in one of the best Cotton Bowls ever. Eventually, the whole hangover weekend concluded with the Orange Bowl on Monday night, where Nebraska did just about anything it wanted to do with Notre Dame, a bit of a surprise in itself. Johnny Rodgers even came up with a new kind of miracle by throwing a 52-yard touchdown pass. Threw it. Didn't catch it, like usual. Took a lateral and threw it.
Very few collegiate football teams have ever swept through their schedule the way USC did, with hardly a bead of sweat beyond the third quarter. McKay simply had too many weapons for the Buckeyes. When Ohio State slowed down the running game, Mike Rae hit the passes. And this in turn opened it up for A.D., the artful dodger. It was Davis' sneaky 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, when he swerved, broke two tackles and then high-stepped into the end zone, that put the game away. That is when he went into his end-zone act. Crawling and jiving on his knees, arms upraised, teeth flashing. Well, he's only a sophomore.
Davis did not play much the last quarter when the Trojans were making it 42-17. It was probably because McKay wanted to make a hero of Sam Cunningham, whose four high-soaring touchdowns set a Rose Bowl record.
Said McKay, "I owe Sam something. He was a great runner but I made him a blocker for three years. He's the best runner I ever ruined."
No doubt the Oklahoma Sooners were pretty happy watching the Trojans struggle during the first half of the Rose Bowl. Oklahoma had muddled through against Penn State, finishing up with an 11-1 record and visions of claiming any No. 1's available if USC lost. Oklahoma, however, had not actually looked that good.
For some reason Penn State has a knack of bringing out the worst in good teams. Maybe it's because the Nittany Lions do not command enough respect, being from the East and all. Whatever the reason, Joe Paterno's bowl opponents seem to show up looking as if they had food poisoning and Oklahoma was no different in that New Year's Eve Sugar Bowl affair.
Oklahoma did its usual thing of losing five fumbles, but this time the Sooners were a trifle more inventive. They lost two of them inside Penn State's two-yard line, boners that helped hold the score down to 14-0.
As expected, Penn State saw a different Wishbone from the one the Lions supposedly solved last year in the Cotton Bowl against Texas. The Sooners ran and passed for more than 450 yards and seemed always to be headed for a touchdown that would end any suspense about the outcome. Oklahoma's defense, led by Lucious Selmon and Ray Hamilton, rarely gave the Easterners anything worthwhile, even a first down. Against the Sooners' quickness and size, Penn State's celebrated quarterback, John Hufnagel, was not quite the operator he was against all the Armys and Marylands who made him an All-America.
And for that matter, Greg Pruitt did not look much better. Pruitt fumbled almost every chance he got, and the Oklahoma offensive star turned out to be 17-year-old Tinker Owens, a freshman pass receiver who looks as if he could fit in the hip pocket of his older brother, Steve Owens of the Detroit Lions. Tinker caught a 27-yard touchdown pass and made a diving scoop of another ball that set up the second OU touchdown.
But even without the Pruitt of better days, Oklahoma was an overwhelmingly superior team and it was the Sooners' own raggedness that made the game interesting—and the score deceptively close. As Joe Paterno said afterward, "They were the best team we've played since Michigan State in 1966."
It was a good holiday for Wishbones all around. Texas, staying with the offense that Alabama deserted at times, summoned up an inspired effort to upset the Crimson Tide in Dallas. Trailing by 10-0 in the first quarter, Darrell Royal's Longhorns, a team that kept improving all year, took charge of the scrimmage line in the second half and proved to be a better ball club in the best-played bowl game of all.
Much of the way the teams appeared to be remarkably even, with Alabama's Terry Davis giving Bear Bryant a slight edge in quarterbacking over Texas' Alan Lowry. Lowry threw the two early interceptions that put Alabama in front by what seemed like a safe margin. But then it was Lowry, with a little help from his slamming fullback, Roosevelt Leaks, and a lot of help from Royal's fine offensive line, that won the game.
With some pure Wishboning, Lowry constantly took Texas into Alabama territory but the Longhorns kept coming away with no points. Finally, however, when it was 13-10 Alabama with about 7½ minutes left to play, Lowry calmly passed and ran Texas 80 yards to the winning touchdown.
Lowry, who had been a defensive halfback for two seasons (but before that a high school quarterback), hit two crucial passes under pressure and then skittered 34 yards for the touchdown that gave Royal his third victory over Bryant—against no defeats and one tie—when in each case Royal's team has been the underdog. On the run, Lowry faked beautifully to Leaks and then went to his left. He turned the corner. And then he just danced down the sideline and scored. He may or may not have stepped out-of-bounds on the way, but if he did and the officials blew it, then perhaps it was retribution for Texas being denied a first down that Leaks obviously made on an earlier drive that failed. The breaks were even all around, and what the contest probably proved was that Alabama was never quite as good as advertised, and Texas, having finished with a 10-1 record, never quite as bad.
As it turned out, the best of all possible arrangements would have been Nebraska against USC, since the Cornhuskers, playing it for the retiring Bob Devaney, went out and resembled the great team they were on most Saturdays. They made Notre Dame look like displaced persons masquerading in uniforms of the Fighting Irish, and that is not an easy thing to do. In fact, Nebraska handled Notre Dame more easily (40-6) than USC did when Anthony (or A.D. or Tony) Davis scored six times and wore out the knees of his pants. It was 40-0 halfway through the third quarter, the most embarrassed a Notre Dame team under Ara Parseghian had ever been. At this point Johnny Rodgers had very nearly equaled Anthony Davis' marvels. Closing out a superb career, Rodgers had scored three times from scrimmage and whirled himself 50 yards for another touchdown with a sideline pass, thus setting an Orange Bowl scoring record. All this and the touchdown pass he threw, which caught Notre Dame looking like New Year's Eve celebrants when the balloons started popping.
It is too bad Johnny Rodgers and Anthony Davis could never meet, but it is nice that Davis is going to be around now that Johnny has gone.