The coach is more professorial than pyrotechnic, and not even good for a laugh the way, say, John McKay used to be. The tailback, in the line that brought us Garrett and Bell and White and Allen, is said to be more Oh, No than O.J., the kind of runner McKay or John Robinson would have said could turn a four-yard gain into a four-yard gain.
As for the quarterback, well, he's lefthanded, you see, and his throws can be described as picture passes only because they tend to hang. He thinks he can be 6'1" just by saying so for publication in the program, though he stands nose-to-Adam's apple with a 6-footer. Even his coaches think he's more mouth than marvel; he's even kept from the press before games because he's likely to say something that'll appear on the opposition's bulletin board. Still, he says things like the USC offense was easier to learn than the one he played in junior college because it "isn't as intricate."
And as the team won seven of its first eight games by playing tough D, the defense didn't get all that much respect. A recent compliment by a Los Angeles newspaper reporter brought the suggestion from a reader that the reporter should transfer to the food section of the paper so he could write about things he was "familiar" with—"turkeys," for example, and "chicken liver."
But don't be deceived, children. This is the Southern Cal football team, all right. And though it may still not be completely out of the doghouse after its days of NCAA probation and mediocrity (4-6-1 in 1983), it's going back to the Rose Bowl, heretofore its home away from home, for the first time in four years. And it's going there over the fallen body of previously unbeaten Washington, which had been the No. 1 team in the country for three weeks.
To be sure, the Trojans did it defensively, beating the Huskies at their own game. Swarming, stifling, grunt-and-groan defense, door-to-door and hand-to-hand. It was a game of painstaking drives to field position, of kickers and kick returners. But USC did it offensively, too, and that will take some telling because it may not have seemed that way. And if you didn't think the Trojans' win was spectacular—it wasn't—you have to admit it was impressive, because it was.
The superficial conclusion is that with a 16-7 victory last Saturday in the cool, crisp autumn air of the L.A. Coliseum, USC's cool, crisp second-year coach, Ted Tollner, Robinson's hand-picked successor and possessor of the kindliest tutorial demeanor this side of Fulton Sheen, established himself as the defensive superior—for at least a day—to that defensive genius, Washington's Don James. Tollner certainly has as good help as anyone could hope for. He has a dandy defensive coordinator named Artie Gigantino, who was diagramming ways to stop the Huskies even in the elevator going down from the Trojans' quarters at the Wilshire Hyatt on Saturday morning. Tollner also has a Lombardi Award nominee in linebacker Jack Del Rio, and another linebacker, Duane Bickett, who may be even better than Del Rio.
So it's hardly a surprise that this game followed precisely the lines it figured to follow: defenses that give rival coaches insomnia versus offenses that put fans to sleep. Voracious, offensive defenses versus nibbling, inoffensive offenses. How inoffensive are they? Well, Washington ran up three first downs and 109 yards in edging Oregon on Oct. 20. Rivals want to kick off to the Huskies. The USC attack, in turn, needed a Seeing Eye dog to find the end zone early in the season. It went eight straight quarters without a touchdown, and opposing coaches had maligned it as being composed mainly of chronic holders.
Defense carried Washington to its first 9-0 record in the 95 years the Huskies have fielded a football team and to the giddy edge of the university's first national championship in any sport. James, however, knew where the skeletons lay. Two nights before the game with USC, James and his wife, Carol, were on their way out of the Metropolitan Steak House in rain-swept downtown Seattle when a Husky fan, flushed with unabashed pride and unknown liquids, made the victory sign with his fingers and said, "Thirty to 17, coach!" James muttered to himself, "I'd take 17 right now, but I'd hate to have to get it."
He didn't get 17, of course, although it would have been just enough. And what usually happens when two immovable objects (the Husky and Trojan defenses) meet two resistable forces (the Trojan and Husky offenses) happened. Which is to say, not much. In the first half, there were only a pair of field goals by USC's Steve Jordan and a 38-yard touchdown drive by Washington after a pop-up by Trojan punter Troy Richardson that went only 33 yards. Until then, Richardson had led a charmed life. Twice Washington's Ron Milus failed to field his short, tumbling punts and let them bounce past him—once to the Husky 12, putting Washington in a hole to set up Jordan's first field goal, a 51-yarder, and then all the way to the one to set up Jordan's second three-pointer, a 47-yarder.
That, of course, is the way defensive games are won, and the way Washington had been winning all year. But it had also won because rival offenses had come un-glued, first from their confidence and then from the ball at the impact of attachments being made on their persons. It had been a matter of percussion, Tollner pointed out the day before the game. "They intimidate you with their hitting, especially in the secondary," he said. "We can't let that happen. We can't give them the turnovers they're used to."
And therein lies the reason the USC offense ultimately made the difference. Tailback Fred Crutcher, a bulldog at 5'10", 195 pounds, carried the ball 35 times for 117 yards, never once for more than eight yards. But, he said later, "Every time I ran, I thought, 'Hold on, hold on! Don't be the one that blows it.' " And he held on. In fact, except for one inconsequential interception of quarterback Tim Green in the first quarter, the Trojans never suffered a turnover.
Consequently, besides its one short touchdown drive, Washington had poor field position all day. Eleven of the 14 times the Huskies had the ball they had to start inside their own 30. Nine times they were forced to begin on or inside their 20. Washington's decisive failure on offense occurred midway through the third quarter. At the time it was no more than a blip on the screen. Ahead 7-6 on the strength of Jacque Robinson's four-yard TD run just before the half, the Huskies had fashioned their best drive of the day, moving smartly from their 28 to a third-and-two at the USC 32. There, quarterback Paul Sicuro put a tight spiral right into the front door of split end Mark Pattison, who was running free and toward the sidelines near the Trojan 20. But Pattison's hands rejected the ball, fumbling it away as he passed over the sideline. So instead of continuing on to perhaps a touchdown or an easy field goal, and a lead that might have held, Washington drew a blank by missing a subsequent 49-yard field-goal try. Taking over at their 32, the Trojans put together the day's only drive worthy of the name.
Enter the irrepressible Green. Actually, Green had been in all along, but he'd been restrained by the game's conservative bent and Tollner's impositions against "going crazy." Which would be more Green's style. Descriptions that come to mind when coaches and teammates talk of Green are the various derivatives of words like "brassy," but they say them with a smile. Tollner says Green has "the style and temperament of a linebacker." Indeed, everyone pretty much agrees that if you could have one guy to help you take on 30, you'd pick Green.
Green's swagger, however, hardly hides his limitations. He had never played much and was scheduled to be redshirted this, his senior year, but starting quarterback Sean Salisbury went down with an injury in the second game. Green volunteered to forgo redshirting to help fill the gap, knowing, he said, "that even if I wait a year, I'll probably sit on the bench again."
Green started the fourth game, against Washington State, and progressed at a snail's pace. Tollner was careful not to give him too much responsibility, but he enjoyed Green's "guts and gall," the way he yelled at teammates to do better. Once when freshman tailback hotshot Ryan Knight spelled Crutcher and fouled up, Green shouted, "Hey, Ryan, run like an SC tailback is supposed to run or get the hell off the field!"
On Saturday, Tollner was still imploring Green to "stay in control." And he did. "He never forced a pass," said Tollner afterward, "and when he got hit he tucked the ball in and held on." Green threw accurately if not stylishly and began the winning drive with a 23-yard first-down strike to flanker Timmie Ware.
He came back to Ware two plays later, this time for 11 yards to the Washington 34. Then on third-and-seven at the 31, he made the offensive play of the game—a 12-yard pass to split end Hank Norman on virtually a busted play. "I blooped it over a guy, and Hank wasn't even running the right pattern," said Green. "I'd called an audible, but my voice was gone, so he didn't pick it up, and he ran the wrong route. School-yard football. But it's not a matter of running out and cutting here or there. It's a matter of guts and fight. We've got that."
From the Husky 19, Crutcher carried five straight times, battering the Washington line left and right on a mix of quick hits. "Bam, bam, bam, pass," said Green. "Bam, bam, touchdown. That's USC football." Jordan then put the game out of reach on Southern Cal's next possession with his third field goal, a 46-yarder.
In the USC dressing room, Tollner told the Trojans how "lucky" he felt to be their coach. Tollner knows about luck. He was one of 26 survivors of the 1960 plane crash that killed 16 members of the Cal Poly football team. He then gave a game ball to university president James Zumberge, who had taken that job in 1980 only to run smack into the NCAA charges of academic and recruiting malfeasance that rocked the USC program and led to the two-year ban on TV and bowl appearances. Next, the president of the Rose Bowl committee, Jim Boyle, thrust a bouquet of roses into Tollner's hands, and as Tollner doled it out stem by stem to the players, Boyle shouted, "It's of-fi-cial!"
A Trojan in the back croaked, "Was there any doubt, baby?"
It was probably Green.