The unlikely hero and his coach danced at midfield like a couple of inebriated circus bears. A few seconds earlier, on the final play of the game, 6'5", 260-pound, Samoan-born Nose Guard George Achica had snuffed out UCLA's Rose Bowl hopes and saved USC's 22-21 victory by blocking Norm Johnson's field-goal attempt with one big paw. Now Coach John Robinson was all over him.
What was left at the Los Angeles Coliseum after all the excitement was over Saturday were two very good teams shut out of their neighborhood bowl game, but with nice holiday trips planned nonetheless. USC will play Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl; UCLA gets Michigan in the Bluebonnet. And the Trojans' Marcus Allen gets a lock on the Heisman Trophy. Allen carried 40 times for 219 yards and two touchdowns to finish the year with 23 TDs and NCAA seasonal rushing records of 2,342 yards, eight 200-yard games, 212.9 yards per game and 5.81 yards per carry.
And UCLA Coach Terry Donahue is now 1-5 in season finales against USC. On Friday afternoon he said he'd be the first person to both play for and coach UCLA in the Rose Bowl—he was a defensive tackle for the Bruins when they upset Michigan State in 1966. He also said, "It's killed me getting here."
Because the Rose Bowl berth depended at least as much on the matchup in Seattle as on the one in Los Angeles, both teams and the 89,432 fans who packed the Coliseum had two games to worry about. The spectators on either side of the field took turns making noise as the score went from 3-0, USC, to 7-3, UCLA, to 12-7, USC, to 21-12, UCLA. The USC side let out a mighty roar early in the fourth quarter when the Coliseum P.A. announcer informed the crowd that Washington and Washington State were tied 10-10. USC's Steve Jordan had just kicked his third field goal of the game, a 22-yarder, to make the score 21-15, UCLA. A Trojan TD would mean a USC victory and, if the Washingtons' tie held up, an astronomically odds-breaking trip to the Rose Bowl.
November 30, 1981
While USC was driving to the UCLA 33, the news from Seattle was that Washington had gone ahead of Washington State 17-10, and Allen immediately fumbled. Despair for Trojan partisans. But three plays later USC had the ball back, on an interception by Troy West, and six plays after that Allen scored from the five. It was 22-21, USC, but UCLA's hopes were not quite crushed. In the final 2:14 the Bruins moved the ball to the USC 29.
In came Norm Johnson, who had hit on 14 of 18 field-goal attempts this season, to try the most important kick of his career from 46 yards, but the Trojans were ready. Assistant Head Coach Marv Goux had spent the week scrutinizing film of UCLA's kicking unit. He had detected that Bruin Right Guard Mike Mason went into a slightly wider-than-normal split on kicks, so Goux shifted his three interior defensive linemen slightly to Mason's side. Right Tackle Charles Ussery played head-up on Center Russ Rowell, Left Tackle Dennis Edwards shaded toward Mason, and Nose Guard Achica, who had missed the previous two series because of a slightly separated shoulder, came off the bench to line up between the two. On the snap, Ussery and Edwards lunged low, like blockers opening a hole for Achica. With his left hand, the only one attached to a functioning arm, raised in the air, Achica swatted the football—and the Rose Bowl dream—right back at the deflated Bruins. Said Johnson, "I heard the thump...thump, and I knew it was all over."
As for Donahue, 37, he may be ready for that tombstone. "Right now," he said after the game, "I don't know if I ever want to try to beat USC again."