As darkness and fog slipped into the San Joaquin Valley last Friday evening, Fresno State University coach Jim Sweeney gathered his football team on the practice field and asked, "What did Plato say 3,500 years ago?" The players responded in unison, "Plato said, 'Take charge of your life. You can do with it what you will.' "
The coach looked pleased at the recitation. So what if Plato actually lived only 2,400 years ago and probably never said anything like that? No matter. Sweeney loves the sentiment and insists his athletes do, too. The next day, the players went out and did Plato proud—assuming he would have had an interest in the California Bowl, the first in the orgy of 18 college bowl games this season. The Bulldogs took control of their lives, and of their opponent, Bowling Green, which had the nation's longest winning streak (14), with a crushing 51-7 victory. The triumph strengthened Fresno State's claim on a place in the Top 20 for the first time ever and established the Bulldogs as a rising power to watch next season.
The dimensions of the victory were stunning because the contest matched two of this season's three undefeated football teams (Penn State is the third). Only twice since 1973 had there been bowl matchups of undefeated teams: the '73 Sugar when Notre Dame beat Alabama 24-23 and the 1980 Rose when USC toppled Ohio State 17-16.
If Bowling Green (now 11-1) did a single thing right before a beyond-capacity crowd of 32,554 at Bulldog Stadium, it escaped notice. To be charitable, the Falcons stank. Leader of the Stink Attack was the theretofore splendid quarterback Brian McClure, who came within 300 yards of Doug Flutie's record 10,579 yards as the alltime leading college career passer. But on this day McClure, holder of five NCAA records, fumbled twice, which led to two Bulldog scores; threw three interceptions, two of which resulted in Bulldog scores; and got tackled in the end zone for a safety by Fresno State's crashing rover, Cliff Hannemann. Said the fallen hero, who was clearly befuddled by the Bulldog defenses, "Somebody upstairs decided we weren't meant to win, and we didn't."
Part of the problem may have been that Bowling Green coach Denny Stolz was too busy looking for a new job and not busy enough preparing his charges for the bowl. Just three days before the game, Stolz flew down from Fresno to accept the head coaching job at San Diego State, returning to Fresno after dinner. The timing of the announcement could not have been worse, but Stolz played down the impact. "A football team has to play over adversity," he said in his own defense.
The Falcons didn't. The 44-point defeat was the second worst in bowl history, surpassed only by Alabama's 61-6 thrashing of Syracuse in the '53 Orange. A key factor in the lopsided result was the punting of MVP Mike Mancini, who averaged 47.4 yards per try, putting the ball out on the Bowling Green one, the four and the nine.
Typical of how luck and opportunity joined hands all day for Fresno State (now 11-0-1, tied by Hawaii) was a play early in the third quarter on which a McClure pass was batted in the air and continually batted almost like a volleyball—six players appeared to touch the ball, including McClure again—before it fell into the hands of Bulldog free safety Rod Webster. Three plays later, Fresno State quarterback Kevin Sweeney, the coach's son, threw a pass intended for split end Stephen Baker. A defender tipped the ball up, and it floated into the hands of flanker Gene Taylor, who happened to be cruising in the neighborhood. Bingo, a 53-yard touchdown. In the seven-TD salvo, Taylor hooked up with two scoring passes from Sweeney, Baker had a third and tailback Kelly Skipper ran for two more, with Anthony Mosley and James Williams scoring the others.
In fact, Kevin Sweeney, who was nine of 19 for 185 yards, had predicted the debacle. Asked during the week where he felt Fresno State could hurt Bowling Green, Sweeney responded slyly, "All over." Dead on.
Sweeney, a junior who needs just 2,320 yards to eclipse Flutie's career passing mark, has marvelous football sense in his genes. "He provides leadership," says his dad, "on a fierce basis." Which is called taking charge of your life and doing with it what you will.