The week of the UCLA-USC football game is a time for pranks, which is probably a healthy thing because otherwise the crosstown hatred would make the Los Angeles atmosphere more poisonous than it is, with malice coating the cars and tennis courts like ashes from the recent Tujunga fire. There was the time some USC culprits released a squad of cardinal-and-gold-painted mice in the crowded UCLA library. And once some Bruins kidnapped the late George Tire-biter, USC's mongrel mascot, and shaved "UCLA" into his fur. Another time USC students hijacked a UCLA delivery truck the day before the big game and substituted copies of a parody Daily Bruin for the originals. That same year UCLA students hired a helicopter and tried to dump manure on USC's Trojan warrior statue—and missed by several blocks.
But the week leading up to last Friday night's 45th renewal of the rivalry was relatively quiet, the only prank of note being USC's attempt to cut attendance at a Bruin pep rally by distributing a phony postponement notice on UCLA stationery. Perhaps sophomoric spirits were dampened by the fact that the game was to be the last in the Coliseum for USC's John McKay, as a college coach. Perhaps UCLA schemers were too busy worrying about their team going to the Rose Bowl—if UCLA lost or tied, Cal would get the bid. Ah, but tradition held up after all. Some sly devil waited until the game itself and, apparently, managed to spread something resembling Vaseline on the football just about every time UCLA had possession.
In a ghastly giveaway show before 80,927 people in the stands and a national television audience, UCLA fumbled 11 times, tying the conference record for butterfingers, one game, and lost eight of those fumbles, breaking the conference record in that category. The errors almost overshadowed the other statistics, specifically that UCLA, led by its fine option quarterback, John Sciarra, managed to hang on to the football long enough to gain 414 yards against one of the nation's toughest defenses and win the game 25-22.
"That's the hard way," said UCLA's second-year coach, Dick Vermeil.
December 8, 1975
"If we fumbled the ball 11 times and still won," said Sciarra, "we must be the best team."
And as the best team, UCLA will represent the Pacific Eight in the 62nd Rose Bowl on New Year's Day against Ohio State. Since UCLA lost to Ohio State 41-20 earlier this season, lost to Washington, was tied by Air Force and nearly gave the game away to USC, it seems likely that Woody Hayes' undefeated Buckeyes will be better than two-touchdown favorites. Even if the Rose Bowl officials allow guaranteed nonskid stickum on the football.
(The Cal Bears, who matched UCLA's 6-1 league record but were beaten by the Bruins rather convincingly, will sit home over the holidays twiddling their thumbs. They will not be consoled by the fact that they ended up as perhaps the most symmetrical offensive power in NCAA annals, with 2,522 yards gained rushing, 2,522 gained passing.)
Let us now follow the bouncing ball in more detail:
The Bruins started slowly, fumbling only once in the first quarter. USC led 7-0 after taking the kickoff and marching 71 yards. On UCLA's fifth play from scrimmage Halfback Wendell Tyler fumbled. USC recovered, went nowhere and missed a 35-yard field-goal attempt.
The offenses then functioned smoothly for a while. UCLA, which had not been stopped by anybody all season, scored three touchdowns on drives of 80 yards or more, Tyler sprinting 57 yards for the second. USC added its second TD via the running and passing of Quarterback Vince Evans.
Leading 18-14 in the second quarter, UCLA kept possession when Sciarra's fumble was knocked out of bounds. On the next play USC pounced on Tyler's second fumble of the half at the UCLA 28. Continuing the pattern, USC failed to convert its good fortune into a touchdown, mainly because Bruin Linebacker Dale Curry threw Evans for a 12-yard loss on second down.
In the third quarter the show really got rollicking. Tyler suffered his third fumble, but USC Fullback Mosi Tatupu fumbled it right back on the next play, and UCLA went ahead 25-14 on a Sciarra-to-Don Pederson pass.
In another series of slippery downs a few moments later, Sciarra recovered his own fumble and only lost a yard, Halfback Jim Brown's bobble was recovered by a teammate and, finally, on the USC three, Halfback Eddie Ayers' fumble was grabbed by USC.
USC drove to the Bruin 10 after intercepting a Sciarra pass but lost the ball on downs, whereupon Ayers handed the ball right back to the Trojans. Given another chance, USC scored (Tailback Ricky Bell's second touchdown of the chilly night) and made a two-point conversion (Bell again, and easily, on a plunge) to trail by only 25-22.
After five fumbles in one quarter, one would have thought UCLA might have sewn handles on the ball, but no. Tyler fumbled away a pitchout on his 23, but the UCLA defense, criticized and rightly so for much of the season, held off USC again, helped by Evans' inaccurate passing.
On their next possession the Bruins were forced to try a punt, from their 42, but Kicker Brett White fumbled the ball and USC got it at the UCLA 18. Three incomplete passes and a 15-yard penalty stopped USC.
On its next possession, having given up on Tyler, UCLA had Kenny Lee in his spot. Lee carried twice before he fumbled the ball away. Number 11. With a bit more than a minute left on the clock, Evans could not even get USC close enough for a field-goal try.
"Thank the Lord for the defense," said Tyler afterward. "I don't know why I fumbled so much tonight except that I was trying so hard. I was running before I had control of the ball."
"I've been waiting for this moment," crowed Guard Cliff Frazier. "Now I can say it. Our defense is great! We showed the nation, we showed John McKay and all those people who ridiculed us that we can play defense."
Praise of the defensive unit floated all over the UCLA locker room, from Sciarra, who huddled with rival Coach McKay for a few minutes, to the 39-year-old Vermeil, the handsome head man who started out 16 years ago as an assistant high school coach in Northern California, not far from his native Napa Valley wine country.
"Our offensive team's been winning for us all year," he said, "and in the last game of the year our defense rose up and did it."
Just a few days earlier he had been praising McKay and shaking his head in wonder at having a team compete for a Rose Bowl bid for the second straight year. Now he was being asked what he planned to do to celebrate his biggest Bruin victory. "I'm going to find my wife," he said, "and go home and open a bottle of 1971 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley."
For USC the frustrations were numerous. The Trojans set a record of sorts, too, losing a fourth straight league game for the first time since they entered the Pacific Coast Conference back in 1922. It was only the second time the Trojan seniors had lost a game in the Coliseum.
Bell, the nation's leading rusher, who had been averaging 173.9 yards a game, needed only 143 yards to break Ed Marinaro's NCAA single-season rushing record. He got 137 to finish with 1,875 yards, six short of the mark. But Bell is just a junior and will be back next year along with Fullback Tatupu, Wide Receiver Randy Simmrin, Defensive Tackle Gary Jeter and Offensive Tackle Marvin Powell to play for new Coach John Robinson. And there is still the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Dec. 22 against either Texas A&M or Arkansas. That will be McKay's collegiate swan song.
Unfortunately for McKay, whose USC teams won four national championships in his 16-year reign and went to the Rose Bowl eight times, winning five, his departure from the university to coach the new pro franchise in Tampa was horribly botched. After the announcement that he was going to Tampa, USC went from a 7-0 record to 7-4 and a San Jose State psychologist told the L.A. Times that the Trojan players were losing games because they had lost their father image.
Stopping UCLA's Rose Bowl bid might have eased some of the disappointment, but it did not happen and McKay was gracious in defeat. He hugged Vermeil and talked of his USC days as "the happiest of my life. I'm sorry it ended on a note of defeat, but in between my first defeat and my last one there were a lot of victories. As I told the kids, there was an article in the paper that the lack of a father image got 'em down. I told 'em I'd be very proud to be the father of any of 'em. They played extremely well for me, as have all the other people. They have developed John McKay and put him where he is and I'm most appreciative of that."
But, finally, McKay could not resist taking the cigar out of his mouth and putting his tongue in his cheek.
"I'm going into the sunset and taking the seniors with me," he said.
Although Arizona State has been beating a lot of opponents for years (67 wins in its last 76 games), its schedule has led to more than a few remarks concerning whether State really belongs among the big boys. Come Dec. 26, an answer will be forthcoming when ASU (11-0) plays powerful Nebraska (10-1) in its hometown Fiesta Bowl at Tempe. State's participation (this is its fifth bowl in six years) was made possible by a 24-21 defeat of Arizona, which gave the Sun Devils the championship of the Western Athletic Conference.
Eighth-ranked State was led by sophomore Quarterback Dennis Sproul, who threw to John Jefferson for two touchdowns and in the fourth quarter went over himself for the winning score. In the wake of State's unbeaten season, rumors are circulating anew that Frank Kush, who has been coaching at the school for 18 years, may be leaving.
In Philadelphia, Navy routed Army 30-6 in the game that once was a capital event but has long since gone into sad decline. Nevertheless, there was considerable joy among Navy partisans over the Middies' first winning season (7-4) since 1967. But the crowd of 81,576 was the smallest in 37 years. The only real excitement came in the last quarter when the possibility arose that Army would manage to score against Navy for the first time since 1972. The Cadets did, but required four plays to move the ball two yards, Quarterback Leamon Hall diving in for the TD.
Navy started off with a 27-yard field goal by Larry Muczynski. Then rugged Bob Jackson, who was to rush for a total of 133 yards, scored from the two, Bob DeStafney lumbered 42 yards after scooping up an Army kick blocked by Jeff Hoobler, and Muczynski added another field goal to put the Middies ahead 20-0 at halftime. In the second half Army allowed yet another Muczynski field goal and another Jackson touchdown.
In Birmingham, Bear Bryant said yes sir, he sure did wish that Auburn had played somebody other than his Crimson Tide so that rival coach Ralph (Shug) Jordan could have gone out a winner. As it was, Alabama ripped Auburn 28-0, an unhappy end to Jordan's 25 years as head coach. Bryant tried to help by saying his team played one of its best games ever. The victory, 'Bama's 10th straight after its opening loss to Missouri, was engineered by Quarterback Richard Todd, who ran for two touchdowns and passed for two others.
At the half, with Alabama ahead only 7-0, Jordan had hopes. "I thought then it would be a stomp-down good game," he said. No luck, which sums up Jordan's frustrating last-season record of 3-6-2. His lifetime mark, 175-83-7, is considerable consolation.
In another SEC intrastate showdown, Georgia mauled Georgia Tech 42-26 after building a 42-0 advantage before the end of the third quarter. "This team," said Coach Vince Dooley, "has earned the right to walk in the company of champions." Georgia finished at 9-2 and will play in the Cotton Bowl; Tech will spend the winter changing its bandages.
Georgia's star among many was Safetyman Bobby Thompson, who intercepted a pass on the first play of the game and ran it to the Tech 12. Bingo, 7-0. Later in the first quarter Thompson caught Tech's Bucky Shamburger from behind with a fine tackle after a 68-yard burst.
Gator Bowl-bound Florida struggled to victory No. 9—a regular-season high for the school—by beating Miami 15-11 on a 63-yard punt return by Henry Davis with 3:48 to play. Vanderbilt upset Tennessee 17-14, defeating its cross-state rival for the first time since 1964. Rutgers beat Syracuse for the first time ever, 21-10, in the 10th meeting of a sporadic series dating back to 1914. Houston upset Tulsa 42-30. And when Baylor beat injury-riddled Rice 25-7, losing Coach Al Conover gloomed, "We didn't have enough to play and the ones who did play didn't play very hard." Hawaii upset a good San Jose State squad 30-20. It was Hawaii's sixth victory in eight home games.