A NEW OLD RIVALRY
In the 10 years since John Robinson left Southern Cal, college football has changed so much that he shouldn't even be able to recognize it. For one thing, his "student body right," which earned two of his tailbacks (Charles White and Marcus Allen) Heisman Trophies and one of his teams the national championship, has been retired to the nearby La Brea tar pits, where it's now the official game plan of woolly mammoths.
But Robinson is nothing if not adaptable. Coming back to Troy this year after nine seasons in the NFL, he has come up with a passing game that may be more sophisticated than any he ever had with the Los Angeles Rams. In allowing Rob Johnson to throw for more than 3,000 yards this fall—hundreds more than White or Allen ever gained rushing in a season—Robinson showed he's willing to do whatever it takes to resurrect a shaky USC program. He has evolved into a higher form of football mammal—Air Robinson.
Further, he has learned not to take for granted the casual dominance his teams once enjoyed over UCLA. A USC whipping bear in Robinson's time, the cross-town Bruins were 5-4-1 against the Trojans during his absence. UCLA is now 1-0 since Robinson's reappearance. "Things have changed," said Bruin coach Terry Donahue after his team held on for a 27-21 victory at the Coliseum to win a trip to the Rose Bowl. "The college football game is different than it was 20, even 10 years ago."
The game is certainly different in Los Angeles. Before Saturday, UCLA was 0-10 against the Trojans when the Rose Bowl was at stake for both teams. Bruin senior Vaughn Parker remembers some older teammates' crying over a 10-10 tie with USC during his freshman season. "We were 3-7," says Parker, "and I'm thinking, Great, a tie. But big, crusty guys crying tears!" The Bruins have lost just one Crying Game since.
The 8-3 Bruins have definitely been the dominant team in town this year. The passing combination of Wayne Cook to J.J. Stokes (1,005 yards) has been nearly as effective as USC's Johnson-to-Johnnie Morton battery (1,365 yards). Plus UCLA has a running game and a defense. USC (7-5), retool as Robinson might, hasn't always had both this season.
Like every other USC-UCLA game in the last four seasons, this one was decided by less than a touchdown. Like last year's game, when a walk-on transfer quarterback named John Barnes led the Bruins to victory, this one was led by an unlikely hero, running back Ricky Davis, an eager but slow athlete who was number four on the depth chart only weeks ago. Davis rushed for 153 yards. And like last year's game, when USC missed a two-point conversion, this one, too, was decided by failure in the final seconds.
Johnson had passed the Trojans down-field, putting them on the UCLA two with 56 seconds left and USC trailing by six. But Johnson, whose TD-to-interception ratio of 24 to 4 had been one of college football's most impressive statistics this year, mysteriously threw into triple coverage and was intercepted by Bruin free safety Marvin Goodwin, and that was that. "The script was there," said Robinson, "but we screwed it up."
Still, he was not disconsolate. The sport may have changed, but at least this rivalry remains exciting. You almost believed Robinson when he said, "I was glad I was there."
HOW WELL HE SERVED
The field had to be cleared for the final second of Joe Restic's 23-year career as Harvard's coach. A few thousand spectators from the crowd of 33,776 had run onto the grass at the Yale Bowl to celebrate Yale's apparent 33-31 win in the 110th edition of The Game, but wait...hold on.... The Bulldogs had surrendered the ball on downs at the 50-yard line, and one second remained on the clock. Joe Restic had one more chance.
"I've always said you play right to the end in this game," said the 67-year-old Restic later. "You never know what's going to happen."
Restic had announced his retirement at the beginning of this season and had gone through a series of emotional goodbyes. In a halftime ceremony during his last home game at Harvard Stadium, a week earlier, a player from each of his 23 teams, stretched in a straight time line, had autographed a football, passing it one to another. The ball was then presented to the man at the end of the line—Restic. The game, alas, was a 27-20 loss to Ivy champion Pennsylvania, part of a sad Harvard season that included only three wins.
But a last-gasp victory over Yale would redeem the season. Wouldn't it be a fitting tribute to a man who had said he wanted most to be remembered for "how well I've served my players"? The Crimson had already come back from a 33-17 deficit in the last 5:25. The stage was set.
The field was cleared. Harvard senior quarterback Mike Giardi took the snap. Three receivers ran down the left side of the field, and Giardi planted his feet to throw into the end zone. However, the right side of the Eli defensive line smothered him, the ball rolling from his hand. End of game. End of Restic's career. He finished with 117 wins, 97 losses, six ties. "I was watching the clock tick to the end," Restic said. "The end of an era."
"What next?" Restic was asked.
"I have no agenda," he said. "I don't believe in five-year, 10-year plans; that's why communism failed. I believe in living for the day. That is what I always have told my players. Enjoy today. Enjoy this practice. Enjoy being with your friends. So many people go through college worried about their future, worried about everything. They miss the moment."
BACK AND BLUE
Heading into the last three games of the season, Michigan was 4-4 and challenging Syracuse for the dishonor of being the nation's most disappointing team. But then the Wolverines woke up and defeated Purdue, Minnesota and Ohio State by a combined score of 111-17. The 28-0 rout of the Buckeyes last Saturday was especially sweet for the Wolverines because it put Ohio State's Rose Bowl plans in jeopardy. "We salvaged our season," said Michigan cornerback Alfie Burch. "We're a totally different team now."
He's right, and the main reason is that the defense finally began fulfilling its potential. In their first eight games the Wolverines came up with a total of four interceptions and 11 sacks; in the last three they had nine interceptions and 12 sacks. On Saturday, Michigan had four interceptions and four sacks and held the Buckeyes to 58 yards on the ground. "At midseason we were not able to mix it up with teams like Ohio State because we had so many injuries and a lot of young guys," said Wolverine defensive coordinator Lloyd Carr, whose unit had five first-year players starting on Saturday. "The beauty here is that we hung together. That's what makes this so rewarding."
One reward is a trip to a bowl, possibly the Hall of Fame Bowl, in Tampa, to play the fourth-place team from the ACC (probably Virginia) on New Year's Day. That may not seem like much for a team that whipped both Ohio State and Penn State, but it should make for a much happier start to the new year than the one the Wolverines were looking at a month ago.
In Fresno State's 63-37 win over San Diego State, Bulldog QB Trent Dilfer, who two weeks ago broke the NCAA record of 224 pass attempts without an interception, extended his string to 271....
By gaining 223 yards in Texas Tech's 58-7 romp over Houston, Red Raider running back Bam Morris ended his season with 1,752 yards rushing to break the SWC record of 1,744, set by Earl Campbell of Texas in 1977....
In Cal's 46-17 win over Stanford, Lindsey Chapman became the 10th running back this year to rush for at least 100 yards against the Cardinal....
Let's hear it for Temple! By "holding" Pitt to 28 points in a 28-18 loss in their final game, the Owls lowered their points-allowed average to 47.9, 1.6 below the national record, set by UTEP in 1973.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Scott Semptimphelter, a senior at Lehigh, completed 27 of 43 passes for 373 yards and six TDs as the Engineers beat Lafayette 39-14 and won their first Patriot League title.
Michigan cornerback Ty Law, a sophomore, had two interceptions and lour tackles, broke up a pass and caused a fumble in a 28-0 win over fifth-ranked Ohio State.
Preston Jackson, a UC Davis senior, ran for 178 yards and four TDs to lead the Aggies to a 37-34 victory over Fort Hays (Kans.) State in a Division II playoff game.