Iowa is an old Indian word," Bob Hope said last week. "It means, 'Whatever the hell happened to Michigan and Ohio State?' " That's what NBC, which outbid CBS and paid $8 million to televise Washington's 28-0 defeat of the Hawk-eyes, must have been saying, too.
Both Iowa, which hadn't played in Pasadena in 23 years, and the Huskies, who were back for the third time in five seasons, won their conference championships after the closest races in Pac-10 and Big Ten history. Washington became the Pac-10 titlist on the last play of the regular season, beating Washington State as UCLA lost to USC. Iowa actually shared its Big Ten crown with Ohio State and received the Rose Bowl berth only because the Buckeyes had appeared in the game more recently. Who hadn't? "For us, just being here is its own reward," said Hawkeye Coach Hayden Fry, who guided Iowa to an 8-3 record, its first winning season in 20 years.
Both teams' style of play was identically dull: excellent defense, strong punting and dismal offense. "We do a lot of things on offense," Fry said. "We just don't do any of them well." Small wonder folks began calling this the Couple-of-Joes Bowl and the Doze Bowl. Which, without Jacque Robinson and 30,000 frenetic Iowans, it might well have been. ("The last one to leave the state, turn out the lights," said Governor Robert D. Ray.)
Washington quickly hushed the Iowa hordes by testing the Hawkeye pass coverage. While Iowa was rated fifth in the nation in rushing defense, it had given up 327 yards passing against Indiana and 263 more at Illinois. On the Rose Bowl's first series Quarterback Steve Pelluer moved Washington to the Hawkeye 40 with three completions and might have put his team in the end zone had he not overthrown Split End Anthony Allen on a deep crossing pattern.
So Iowa got the ball and the chance to show off what Fry had promised would be his more wide-open attack. Fry has always been an offensive coach at heart: One of his SMU teams threw 76 passes in a game against Ohio State. Against Washington, his Hawkeyes, who had occasionally lined up in unorthodox formations during the season, used shifts on most downs, put men in motion and even unveiled two different shotgun alignments. Yet on the first series they lost a total of one yard in six plays. "I think they were trying to confuse us," said Husky Coach Don James.
So it went for the remainder of the first quarter, with Washington dropping passes and Iowa moving every which way but forward. Finally, as the second period began, James called on Robinson, a 5'11", 204-pound freshman from San Jose (Calif.) High who had been in for only four plays to that point. "See that guy? He's going to be the best running back here since [NFL Hall-of-Famer] Hugh McElhenny," a longtime Washington fan had said at the previous Tuesday's practice. Robinson, thinking similarly, had told his roommate, freshman Cornerback Michael Collins, that he intended to be the Rose Bowl MVP.
Those were strong words by and about a second-stringer who had carried the ball a mere 38 times all season, but when Pelluer handed it to Robinson three times in a row against Iowa's vaunted, senior-dominated defense, he made 10 yards. Then Robinson ran for two more first downs, one of them on a 17-yard burst to the Hawkeye six. On his seventh carry of the 11-play series, a pitchout to the left from the Iowa one, he glided into the end zone to complete a 65-yard drive and put the Huskies ahead 7-0.
Robinson, whom James considered "one of the top two high school runners on the West Coast last year," nevertheless started the 1981 season near the bottom of the Washington depth chart—and then sank even lower. In late September he tripped while running up a flight of stairs, dislocated two fingers and had to sit out five weeks while recovering from hand surgery. When he returned to practice in November, before the USC game, he was supposed to imitate Heisman Trophy winner-to-be Marcus Allen for the benefit of the Husky defense. "On Tuesday of that week," recalls James, "I came off the field and told the coaches, 'We've got a problem. Our best tailback's out there pretending he's Marcus Allen.' " Robinson gained 42 yards in limited duty in the 13—3 win against the Trojans and ran for 93 the next week in the season-ending win over Washington State.
With less than two minutes left in the half, Pelluer hit Flanker Paul Skansi on crossing routes for gains of 18 and 20 yards to the Iowa 19. After a pass interference in the end zone, Fullback Vince Coby ran in from the one to put Washington up 13-0 at the half.
The Huskies' 3-4 defense—led by its only senior members, All-America Tackle Fletcher Jenkins and Inside Linebacker Mark Jerue—held up its end. "Fletcher and I came here in the same class with all the juniors we've got now [12 starters]," said Jerue. "We were the only ones who didn't redshirt in 1978. It's hard to leave those guys, but I at least wanted it to be on a good note." Even when Iowa switched tactics and turned conservative in the third quarter, using an unadorned I formation and running on 10 consecutive downs, it could accomplish little against Jerue and his friends. At the end of the period, Washington still led 13-0, and Hawkeye Quarterback Gordy Bohannon had thrown two interceptions and fumbled. Then Robinson's twisting 34-yard TD run and reserve Quarterback Tim Cowan's three-yard bootleg into the end zone put the game away.
James's second Rose Bowl victory in three appearances—the Huskies beat Michigan 27-20 in 1978 but lost 23-6 last year—was his most satisfying as he had to rebuild almost his entire offense since last season. Quiet Don doesn't receive much attention, but his 57-24 record at Washington is among the country's best and should get better. Next season, 16 starters will return.
Robinson, who finished Friday's game with 142 yards on 20 carries and the MVP award he sought, will be back to pursue his own goal: winning the Heisman. As darkness approached on Friday afternoon, however, he sounded too humble to have boasted of such an objective. What would be his encore to the Rose Bowl? "I don't know," he said. "I just got here."