2122...
TGS PAC-12 RETROSEPCTIVE...THE YEAR OF THE "CARDIAC KIDS" AT USC
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


It’s easy to identify special seasons from the past at many college football programs...especially those without too many of those memorable campaigns. When it comes to the traditional powerhouses, however, selecting specific outstanding teams from the past becomes a bit of a chore, simply because there is so much from which to choose.

After all, which Notre Dame, Alabama, Texas, or Ohio State sides does one select to highlight?

On the Pacific Coast, the same dilemma presents college gridiron historians who want to examine Southern Cal’s numerous glories. Evaluating so many great Trojan teams from the past can prove quite a headache for those looking to feature just one or two of those great teams from years gone by.

The 2013 football season is fast approaching! And we're ready at TGS with discounted JULY subscription prices! Click here for more special JULY subscription info on THE GOLD SHEET now!

During our publishing history at TGS, however, we believe one particular Southern Cal side deserves special mention. Unfortunately, it has become mostly lost in the recollection shuffle at Troy as new generations in the L.A. area have adopted SC as their own. (Although that dynamic might come under a real challenge in the next few years, or as long as Lane Kiffin continues to coach SC and alienate everyone within earshot, while crosstown UCLA, which beat the Trojans for the first time in six years last November, continues to re-emerge under HC Jim Mora and threatens to steal SC's local thunder).

We'll tell you more about that specific, and our favorite, SC side, the 1969 "Cardiac Kid" Trojans, in just a moment.

In the meantime, Kiffin, however, might be serving one purpose for these many new-wave Trojan backers weaned on the Pete Carroll era, and who probably have conveniently forgotten (if they ever knew) that SC had mostly struggled in the decade before Carroll's arrival in 2001, unceremoniously firing the three preceding coaches (Larry Smith, Robinson in his second stint, and Paul Hackett). If anything, Kiffin’s struggles last season might have made some of these sorts realize that winning at SC is hardly a birthright, and maybe, just maybe, acknowledge what sorts of special players, coaches, and teams created the whole Trojan legacy and mystique in the first place.

This new era of SC backer, including the hip-hoppers and other L.A. urban-area transplants, also has no idea how exciting and charismatic (what’s that?) some of the old Trojan teams used to be, unlike the many self-flagellating Carroll and, at least during a successful 2011, Kiffin squads that routinely ran up the scores vs. overmatched opposition.

Powerhouse sides need a foil to test their true worth, and it is in the regard that we believe some of the luster had begun to seep from the last decade of Trojan dominance under Carroll. Whereas Muhammad Ali had his Joe Frazier, SC used to have old, nasty rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, against whom all Trojan progress used to be measured.

While it might be hard to convince SC backers, there might be a benefit to last year’s losses to both the Bruins and Irish, the first time that has happened in the same year since 1995. This was the first such experience of this new generation of SC backers that had not been able to relate to some of the thrills of days when the Bruins and Fighting Irish could compete on equal terms, if not do a bit better, against SC.

Maybe now, some of those sorts are beginning to realize what they have been missing over the last decade and appreciate future success by the Trojans; there was a lot of football played at SC long before Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin, or Reggie Bush, or anyone knew of Kim Kardashian, who first gained her notice when saddling up to Bush at Trojan events. And close games, not blowout wins, vs. the likes of Notre Dame and UCLA are what forged previous eras of SC gridiron greatness.

It also might surprise some modern Trojans that SC suffered an 8-game losing streak vs. the hated Bruins that endured throughout almost the entirety of the ’90s. Troy also had a 13-game winless streak vs. Notre Dame within recent memory (1983-95). But those were after the days that first defined the SC legend, which had been established long before we began publishing TGS in 1957.

Interestingly, in our first TGS season, the Trojans were shackled by NCAA penalties (sound familiar?) resulting from the slush-fund scandals of the ’50s. Had we stopped publishing after that first 1957 season, we would have only known of SC as one of the nation's worst teams. The Trojans were not without some legendary names that season; linemen included Ron Mix, a future Pro Football HOFer, and Monte Clark, a long-time NFL star and coach, plus a fellow lineman named Mike Henry, who would play for a few years in the NFL before becoming an actor and joining Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe and others as those who played the role of Tarzan. The QB, Willie Wood, would go on to stardom as a DB for Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers; the HB, Don Buford, would go on to become a baseball star with the White Sox and Orioles. But those Trojans, under HC Don Clark, stumbled to a 1-9 mark, never scoring as many as 20 points. Maybe the losses were due to the tacky-looking gold helmets (above right) SC wore in '57, never to reappear.

The season concluded with a lopsided 40-12 loss in the freezing cold at Notre Dame (the Trojans always used to face the Fighting Irish at the end of the regular season; beginning in 1963, the games at South Bend began to take place in mid-October, although the renewals at the L.A. Coliseum continued to be played at the conclusion of the season). Irish end Monte Stickles, a future 49er, caught a pair of TD passes from Bob Williams, and a back named Bob Doyle ran back a kickoff 92 yards for another Notre Dame score. It might have been the all-time low point for SC football.

By comparison, Kiffin’s bumpy ride to a 7-6 mark last fall looks downright lovely. Maybe reminding the new generation of SC fans that there were periods of such lowlights in the school's football history will serve to humble them, if just a bit.

The series vs. UCLA also used to be a lot more interesting than what it had become until last fall upon Mora’s arrival in Westwood. Since the late ’90s and up until 2012, the Bruins went into a shell and almost graciously seemed to allow the Trojans to dominate them until Mora arrived last season with the sort of fire that predecessors Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel lacked.

A lot of Trojans, even the older ones of whom we are far more fond than the new generation, had trouble admitting that the UCLA game was, for decades, the real defining one for SC. Losses to Notre Dame were never easy to swallow, but defeats to the Bruins lingered, living as the Trojans were in the same town, where the previous result was inescapable for the subsequent year.

Not that SC has had to bother to worry about much of this stuff lately, at least until last year. But in the days when UCLA was good, real good, and there were such days, wins over the Bruins were always the most satisfying, for they often accompanied Rose Bowl invitations.

We are forever glad that we were around in Los Angeles in the ‘60s, especially the last half of the decade, when USC vs. UCLA elevated to another plateau. The arrival of Tommy Prothro as the Bruins’ coach in 1965 set the stage for a series of unforgettable chess matches vs. Trojan coach John McKay as the crosstown rivalry became so white-hot it would even keep not just L.A. and the West Coast, but the entire nation, spellbound.

Prothro outfoxed McKay in the first two of their meetings, although anyone who saw Gary Beban rally the '65 Bruins to a late 20-16 win on a pair of long TD passes in the last four minutes to Dick Witcher and Kurt Altenberg still probably can't believe what transpired. McKay finally got his first win over a Prothro-coached UCLA in the epic 1967 battle for number one in the polls, a game which immortalized O.J. Simpson for something other than what happened almost three decades later. Simpson, a juco transfer who had burst upon the scene that season (I was there, by the way, for Simpson’s debut in a Friday night mid-September game vs. Washington State at the L.A. Coliseum), scored the deciding TD on an epic 64-yard run in the fourth quarter, giving Troy a 21-20 win and a ticket to the Rose Bowl, where McKay’s men claimed the national title after a 14-3 win over gallant Indiana.

To many, the 1967 game was the high-water mark of the series. Understandably so, as the Rose Bowl, top ranking in the country, and Heisman Trophy (eventually won by Beban over Simpson in a close vote) were all on the line in what was a magical autumn of football at the old Coliseum, around which the gridiron universe seemed to revolve in ‘67 (earlier that year it had hosted the first Super Bowl; also, the L.A. Rams were the rage of the NFL during a wildly-successful campaign that fall for HC George Allen).

But to us at TGS, we have always believed the 1969 UCLA game to be the apex of the rivalry, and that year's Trojans were as memorable as any of the storied teams in SC's history. It was certainly the most exciting team, and had more thrilling finishes, than any Trojan squad in our lifetimes. Only some odd twists of fate due to national ranking dynamics prevent that squad from joining other SC national champions.

Indeed, of all of the Trojan national title winners since 1962, four of them (1967, 1974, 1978, and 2003) had losses; the ‘74 team, which along with the ‘78 squad would share the national title with Oklahoma and Alabama, respectively, also had a tie on its results list (we were at that one, too, 15-15 against Cal; someday when time and space permit we’ll get around to recalling that pulsating encounter and the ‘74 season). But the 1969 team, which finished 10-0-1, had a better record than those four aforementioned national title winners. It only had the misfortune of playing in the same season when Texas and Penn State teams would finish undefeated and untied and 1-2 in the polls.

Though highly regarded entering ‘69, there was a bit more uncertainty surrounding that John McKay edition, seeking its fourth straight conference title and Rose Bowl berth. First, the Heisman-winning Simpson, perhaps the best running back in a generation, had graduated and would be playing for the AFL’s Buffalo Bills that fall. Second, the Trojans would need to break in a new QB after the graduation of the resourceful pride of Gardena, California, Steve Sogge, who was also a catcher on some of Rod Dedeaux’s great Trojan baseball teams. The new signal-caller on the scene was sophomore Jimmy Jones, a product of Harrisburg, PA.

Jones also happened to be black, at a time when the color barrier at QB was very real. The previous year, the Denver Broncos’ Marlin Briscoe had become the first black starting QB in the modern pro football era. There had been a few black starting QBs in major college FB throughout the ‘60s (Minnesota’s Sandy Stephens, Michigan State’s Jimmy Raye, and for a brief spell, Stanford’s Gene Washington in 1966 and UCLA’s Bill Bolden in 1968), but not many. Even in a progressive clime such as Los Angeles, Jones’ presence was viewed with some suspicion by many locals and various longtime SC backers, some of whom not with roots in the liberalized California locale.

(Eventually, the presence of Jones and another QB, Mike Rae, a year behind Jones before joining the varsity in 1970, would help divide a couple of Trojan teams along racial lines. Quite ironically, in fact, since the ’70 SC team so credited with breaking color barriers in the South when it went to Birmingham and destroyed one of Bear Bryant’s lesser Alabama teams in the opener, was, according to sources, itself ridden with racial strife.)

Jones, however, never lost a varsity game in high school and kept his winning streak in tact at SC. The naysayers had to acknowledge that Jones might be the real deal after all in the opener at Nebraska, when Jimmy passed for 164 yards and a pair of TDs in a 31-21 win over the host Cornhuskers. Jones was rewarded with his picture on the cover of the following week's Sports Illustrated, not bad for a kid making his first varsity start! Moreover, McKay seemed to uncover a suitable replace for Simpson in the form of juco Clarence Davis, a transfer from East LA College who would gain 114 YR in Lincoln and lead the nation in rushing for much of the season.

Those Trojans, however, would eventually go on the sort of thrill ride that earned them a very apt “Cardiac Kids” nickname. White knucklers became the rule rather than the exception, with Jones, who completed only 41% of his passes that season, often waiting until late in the game to pull rabbits out of his hat.

Fortunately for McKay, that ‘69 edition of SC would be more defined by its stop unit, in particular a nasty defensive front that adopted the “Wild Bunch” label. (Nice, isn’t it, to recall an era when teams would have nicknames like “Cardiac Kids” and “Wild Bunch,” eh?)

Ah, yes, the Wild Bunch...Al "A.C." Cowlings (a longtime friend and teammate of O.J. at San Francisco’s Galileo High and San Francisco CC, also later known as the driver of the infamous “white Bronco"); Jimmy Gunn, Willard "Bubba" Scott, Charlie Weaver, and Bubba Smith’s “little” brother Tody. We'll revisit some of their many exploits as we proceed.

The ‘69 thrill ride for SC really began in an October 11 night game at the Coliseum vs. a dangerous and 14th-ranked Stanford, with strong-armed jr. Jim Plunkett at QB. John Ralston’s then-called Indians had put quite a scare into the Trojans the previous autumn in Palo Alto when losing by a mere 27-24 count, and believed they could reverse the outcome in ‘69. Stanford was also an angry team, having lost the previous week in a thriller at 8th-ranked Purdue, 36-35, in one of the great college football games of that season. On a muggy day in Indiana, Plunkett had a passing duel with the Boilermakers' Mike Phipps, who threw for 429 yards. Phipps completed all 12 of his passes on the final drive, including a touchdown pass with three minutes left to close within a point. Purdue went for the two-point conversion and got it, on another Phipps pass

But Plunkett had put on quite a show in West Lafayette, too, passing for 355 yards and 4 TDs, and Stanford-SC game seemed like a possible Rose Bowl showdown in the Pac-8.

Indians-Trojans was an instant classic. Plunkett, not blinking in the face of the Wild Bunch, was sharp early. He whipped a pair of TD passes in the first half to stake Stanford to a 12-0 lead, but the Indians would miss a kicked PAT and a 2-point pass, miscues that would haunt later in the night. Late in the 2nd Q, SC got back in the game, first on a short TD run by tailback Mike Berry, and then a 57-yard interception return down the sideline by DB Tyrone Hudson, who had a caravan of blockers keeping any Stanford tacklers away. Hudson’s dramatic interception return on the last play of the first half staked SC to a 14-12 lead at intermission.

The second half would start a bit more tediously before all hell would break loose deep in the 4th Q. Midway in the 3rd Q, however, Plunkett would methodically move the Indians into FG position before Steve Horowitz converted to give Stanford a 15-14 lead. Jones would then answer for SC with a TD drive capped by a 19-yard TD pass to TE Gerry Mullins. Continuing the botched conversion theme of what would become a dramatic night for the football ages, Troy missed on a subsequent 2-point try to keep the score at 20-15.

As the 4th Q proceeded, it was then time for Plunkett and the Palo Alto bunch to respond. Aidid by a 30-yard pass interference penalty against Trojan LB John Young, the Indians were able to regain the lead at 21-20 on a short TD blast by RB Bubba Brown. Again, however, Stanford could not convert a 2-point conversion, and the margin stayed at 1 point.

Well into the 4th Q, Jones would then answer with his own drive that would result in a short Ron Ayala FG to put SC back ahead, 23-21, with just over three minutes to play.

Already to that point, the game has featured more back-and-forth than that summer's All-Aussie Wimbledon Men's Tennis Final between Rod Laver and John Newcombe. But we hadn't seen anything yet.

That’s when the fireworks really began.

Backed up deep in their own territory at the 12-yard-line, the Indians and Plunkett reached into their own bag of tricks and pulled out what at the time looked to be the game’s decisive play. Flushed out of the pocket to the right, Plunkett heaved a rainbow down the right sideline, which WR Randy “The Rabbit” Vataha would steal from a pair of SC defensive backs and race all of the way to the Trojan 21 yard-line for a dramatic 67-yard gain. With 55 seconds to play, PK Horowitz would be summoned again and slammed a 37-yard FG straight through the uprights to give Stanford a 24-23 lead.

Most of the huge Coliseum throng of over 83,000 was hushed except for the 6000 or so Stanford fans wedged into the corner of the endzone near the famous tunnel, who whooped as if they had won the national title. The Indian cheerleaders, complete with their feathered headbands of the day, boogied in joy as a conquest of hated SC finally seemed at hand. When the Trojans were pinned at their 15 following the kickoff, the Stanford section was really dancing up a storm.

The improbable, however, was about to happen. Only 51 seconds remained.

Jones began the last-minute drive by misfiring on a couple of passes and moving the offense only five yards in three plays. Soon, SC had a 4th-and-5 at its 20 and no timeouts remaining. Time for Jones to take one more crack at summoning his magic? That would have to wait for a moment...instead he sent Davis crashing over tackle to gain 7 yards and a first down at the 27. But there was still a long way to go to get the ball into the field goal range of PK Ayala, who doubled as a DB and did not have a particularly strong leg. The time remaining was approaching a mere 30 seconds. Once the sideline markers were set after Davis' fiirst down, the clock again began to move.

SC, remember, had no timeouts remaining, either.

All of a sudden, Jones began to resemble Plunkett. Over the middle, he found TE Mullins, who broke a couple of tackles and advanced the ball to the Stanford 45, importantly getting out of bounds in the process.

“You can do it, you can do it, you can, you can!” exhorted the Trojan yell leaders as Jones would have to navigate another 25 or so yards with no timeouts and just a bit more than 20 seconds left on the clock to get into the edge of Ayala’s range.

No problem. Jones, seeming to relish these last-second challenges, calmly fired a bullet to WR Sam Dickerson (remember that name) near the left sideline and inside the Stanford 30. Dickerson fought out of bounds at the Indian 28. Still not close enough, however, for Ayala. Time for only a couple of more plays!

Jones would fire incomplete on first down, then, on second down and under pressure, snapped a pass in the right flat to TE Mullins, who would not be able to get out of bounds but could perhaps struggle for the first down that would temporarily stop the clock (a rule, by the way, only introduced in the previous ‘68 season) and maybe give Ayala a chance to rush on the field for a last-second kick.

Mullins strained to get to the 17, good enough for the first down, but time was running out. The clock would only stop momentarily; once the chains were moved, SC might have time for one more play. Eight seconds remained as the clock re-started and ticked downward.

McKay hurriedly sent his field goal-unit and PK Ayala on the field, with barely enough time to get his tee placed and for the line to get organized and set. The clock was winding to 0:00...which it would hit just after the ball was snapped by C Sid Smith to the holder Jones for a hasty, and quite amazing, 34-yard game-deciding FG try!

At 10:40 PM, Ayala’s toe hit the football at the 24 yard-line and sent it wobbling into the night air. "I looked up to follow the ball and saw the clock flicking to all zeros," said Ron Ayala. "I thought the ball might not carry far enough. And it drifted a little, too." Indeed, there was no immediate celebration in the moments after the kick as players and fans couldn’t tell if the boot would reach the crossbar, or stay between the uprights if it did.

The spinning ball would skim over the crossbar, barely inside the left upright, though for a split second McKay didn't know if the 34-yard field goal was good. "I looked at the people behind the post," said McKay, "and they went crazy. That's when I knew it was good. If the referee didn't confirm it, they would have killed him." SC was a 26-24 winner!

Across the field, Ralston stood momentarily in disbelief, then began to run out of the wrong end of the Coliseum. Stanford’s brilliant linebacker, Pat Preston, threw himself on the ground at the five-yard line and lay sobbing. Ayala dropped to his knees and also began to cry before his jubilant teammates swarmed around. "Neither team should have lost," said McKay.

Ralston, to this day, regrets he didn't take more time off the clock before Horowitz' late field goal that had given his team a 24-23 lead in the last minute. “As stupid as I was, if I had run more time off the clock, the game would have been over,” he said. “And if we'd have beaten USC then, we'd have gone to the Rose Bowl three years in a row.”

But that was only the first chapter in a book of wild finishes authored by the Cardiac Kids.

The next week, now 3rd-ranked SC would travel to South Bend, where it had beaten Notre Dame just once in the preceding 20 years. Another nailbiter and another wild second half would ensue after the teams engaged in a defensive war in the first 30 minutes, level 0-0 at the break. Irish QB Joe Theismann finally fired up a TD drive in the 3rd Q capped by a one-yard TD smash by the pride of Country Club Hills, IL, FB Bill Barz, but Jones would come back to lead a 74-yard drive to tie the game with a TD pass. Then, after that man Tyrone Hudson made a key interception in Notre Dame territory, Jones would hit WR Terry DeKraii for a go-ahead TD that put SC up, 14-7.

The Irish, however, were not finished. Midway through the 4th Q, big Notre Dame DT Mike McCoy obliterated the up-men on SC’s punt team and blocked the kick, recovered by DE Walt Patulski at the Trojan 7 yard-line, and Theismann would soon hand off to RB Denny Allen for the 1-yard score to bring the Irish to within 14-13. Knowing there was still 6:41 to play, and figuring he might get another scoring chance, Irish HC Ara Parseghian, still dealing with repercussions from playing for a tie late in the Michigan State showdown for number one three years earlier, opted for the tying kick PAT to level the score at 14 apiece.

Jones didn’t have his late-game magic this day, however, and only Notre Dame would threaten to snap the tie in the final minutes. After SC couldn’t move, Theismann marched Notre Dame into Trojan territory, and with 2:04 to play, Parseghian sent PK Scott Hempel on the field to try a 48-yard FG, which would have been the longest of Hempel’s career. Hempel belted the ball over the outstretched Trojan linemen, and for a moment it seemed as if the kick would be true, but instead it bounced off of the crossbar and back into the field of play. The game ended 14-14.

That would be the Trojans’ only blemish of the season, but hardly its last heart-stopper. More of those were still to come.

The next week at the Coliseum, SC found itself trailing heavy underdog Georgia Tech by an 18-15 count deep in the 4th Q after Yellow Jacket QB Charlie “The Dude” Dudish led a TD and 2-point conversion drive with 5:22 to play. With just over 3 minutes to play, Jones, who endured 46 yards worth of sacks from Bud Carson’s defensive line, would escape from pressure and let heave a bomb for WR Dickerson, who outfought defenders for the ball and wriggled free for a 55-yard TD. SC would put the game away after the ensuing kickoff when a series of Tech laterals went awry and the Trojans would recover the ball on the Jackets’ 9, preceding Davis’ game-clinching TD in a 29-18 final.

SC was in trouble again the next week at Berkeley vs. Cal, which thanks to three Randy Wersching field goals took a 9-7 lead deep into the 4th Q. Another hairy finish would await, as Jones led a late 55-yard TD drive capped by Davis’ one-yard TD run with 57 seconds to play. The Trojans would escape Strawberry Canyon with a 14-9 win. A listless 28-7 win at the Coliseum over woeful 1-win Washington State, within 14-7 at halftime, would follow.

As a Rose Bowl showdown vs. crosstown UCLA loomed, the Trojans had one more hurdle to clear, against a winless Washington side on the slick Astro Turf at Husky Stadium in Seattle. Again, nothing came easy for SC, locked in a 7-7 stalemate deep into the 4th Q as the stubborn U-Dub defense held the nation's leading rusher Davis to just 84 yards in 33 carries. But the Trojans would turn a Huskies fumble into an Ayala field goal, and then put the game away when Davis scored from the three after a fourth-down gamble by Washington at its own 15 had failed. The drab action on the field almost paled to activity in the stands as scuffles broke out between black and white fans, apparently over the recent troubles between U-Dub HC Jim Owens and some of his black players.

Still, that 16-7 win in Seattle set the stage was set for another epic showdown with UCLA. It was the first USC-UCLA game in which both sides entered unbeaten since the 1952 clash, which, ironically, was the first coast-to-coast live college football game televised by NBC. It's also worth noting that the sides haven't faced each other as unbeatens in the 44 years since.

With all due respect to the historical significance of the Beban-O.J. showdown in 1967, we at TGS have always felt that it was the 1969 game that might have been the greatest of them all in the crosstown rivalry. The Trojans had survived those series of thrill rides, while Tommy Prothro's Bruins had recovered smartly from an injury-plagued 3-7 mess in 1968 behind juco (Long Beach City College) transfer QB Dennis Dummit, and the best UCLA stop unit since the mid ’50s, having shut out three teams that season entering the SC game.

By kickoff time that November 22, however, all also knew the polls were due for a shakeup the next week after top-ranked Ohio State had been upset by Bo Schembechler’s Michigan earlier in the day. That result catapulted the Wolverines, and not Mike Phipps’ Purdue (remember, the Buckeyes were banned by the Big Ten's draconian no-repeat rule of the day), as the Big Ten rep for the upcoming Rose Bowl. Suddenly, a gaggle of teams, including the 5th-ranked Trojans and 6th-ranked Bruins, were very much in the mix for the national title.

The college football world was spellbound for USC-UCLA, as the game kicked off at the odd hour of 3 PM Pacific time (as it had the previous year in 1968), televised nationally by ABC, which made sure its top announce team of Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson were on hand at the L.A. Coliseum (Bill Flemming and Lee Grosscup were behind the ABC microphones for Buckeyes-Wolverines at Ann Arbor earlier that day). And between the two games, ABC's Wide World of Sports televised, live via satellite, the middleweight title fight from the Palazzo Dello Sport in Rome, where Nino Benvenuti defended his title with a dramatic 11th-round knockout of Luis Rodriguez, action that was described by none other than Howard Cosell.

UCLA drew first blood on its opening possession, as the clever Prothro fooled the SC defense when HB Greg Jones lofted a 41-yard option pass TD to wideout George Farmer, staking the Bruins to a 6-0 lead. With no confidence in PK Zenon Andrusyshyn, Prothro opted to go for a two-point conversion, but Dummit’s pass was tipped away by Wild Bunch DE Weaver.

The Wild Bunch, however, would soon begin to exert its will on the game, which quickly turned into a defensive war for the ages. Dummit was pressured incessantly, and under duress midway in the 2nd Q, threw a pick deep in his own territory that was picked off by LB Gunn, whose TD return was called back due to a clip. But SC's offense, not moving much itself, was nonetheless set up deep in Bruin territory, and a subsequent 12-yard TD run by Davis gave Troy a 7-6 halftime lead.

The Wild Bunch was now dominating the action. All season it hasn't let anybody's offense push it around, and UCLA’s potent attack, scoring scoring better than 35 ppg, wasn’t going to, either. Throughout the afternoon and creeping evening hours, the Wild Bunch bounced Dummit around the Coliseum floor like a double dribble, smothering him for loss after loss and forcing him to throw the football upward, downward and sideways. They kept the Bruins back in their own end of the field, and it seemed UCLA would never get out.

The Wild Bunch would pound Dummit and then help him up, and remind him what was coming next. “Come on, get up so we can hit you again," would say DE Weaver, who later added that ”we hoped to discourage him (Dummit) somewhat. And I think we did. By the middle of the third quarter I thought he began to panic. He’d drop back and start looking for us instead of his receivers, and he’d get rid of it before he wanted to."

For most of a brutal second half, perhaps the most-physical thirty minutes of any USC-UCLA game in history, that 7-6 lead looked as if it would stand. As afternoon turned to dusk, and then evening, with bits of fog rolling in, Dummit would have his own lights turned out by the Wild Bunch, which played ping-pong with the Bruin QB, sacking him nine times and forcing five picks. Weaver, in one famous play, knocked a scrambling Dummit into the air and backwards a few yards (left); Dummit has said he recalled nothing of the game afterward, although he courageously stayed in the fray.

Deep into the 4th Q, with under five minutes to play, Dummit, though not recalling any of it after the game, was still firing away. On the play after his ninth sack pushed the ball back to the UCLA 33, Dummit hung tough in the face of the Wild Bunch and let fly a long bomb to WR and track star Brad Lyman, who made an over-the-shoulder catch and raced to the Trojan 10 for a dramatic 57-yard gain, putting the Bruin offense in business for the first time since early in the game. Three plays later, on third-down from the seven, the wobbly Dummit, remarkably standing his ground in the pocket despite facing more pressure, coolly and dramatically hit WR Gwen Cooper in traffic for the go-ahead TD to put the Bruins up, 12-7, with 3:08 to play. Importantly, UCLA missed another two-point conversion to keep the margin at five points.

SC was forced to answer to save its Rose Bowl hopes. To that point in the game, Trojan QB Jones had completed all of one pass, as the best UCLA defense since the Red Sanders era and nicknamed the “Quiet Bunch” (in response to its more-flamboyant SC counterparts) had mostly shackled SC, too, while also holding the potent Clarence Davis to only 37 YR.

But the Harrisburg, PA product Jones, as demonstrated in prior games, was full of magic that fall, began to move the Trojans into UCLA territory with three pass completions. Soon, however, he was faced with a 4th down from the Bruin 43, and his pass sailed far over the head of WR Dickerson.

For an instant, the Rose Bowl bid seemed to belong to UCLA. The Bruin song girls, who had the best moves of the late afternoon and evening hours, and the yell leaders were ready to go back into their boogaloo chant, "We got the spirit and we got the soul!"

But as the ball sailed far over Dickerson, Bruin DB Danny Graham grabbed the Trojan wideout. Although the ball was uncatchable, rules of the day didn't account for that fact; if the ball was anywhere in the air and the receiver was hit, a referee could throw a flag for interference. Eventually, the rule would be changed, but not by 1969. Graham, unfortunately, was victimized, and the Trojans had new life with a first down on the UCLA 32.

The way that season was going for the Trojans, one sensed a dramatic ending, and Jones delivered, heaving his next pass deep into the right-back corner of the endzone, which Dickerson chased down as he was going out of bounds (left).

Touchdown?!?!? Yes!

Those were the days long before refs used video replays to confirm scores, so no review was in the cards to see if Dickerson's dragging left leg was beyond the boundary. The ABC-TV replays were inconclusive, but still-photo evidence would show that Dickerson had remarkably kept his right leg in bounds just as he caught the ball, and a split second before his left leg would land on the endline. The TD stood; SC led 14-12 with just 1:32 to play!

UCLA was not done yet, advancing to the SC 39 in the last minute, although we'll never know if Prothro would have given his spooked PK Andrusyshyn (who had kicked field goals as long as 52 yards in his college career) a chance to win the game, as the woozy Dummit was picked off on the sideline by that man who seeemd to make a lot of big plays in the Trojan secondary, DB Ty Hudson. The final score was 14-12 in SC's favor...ironically the same scoreline when the two faced off as unbeatens in 1952, seventeen years earlier! For the "Cardiac Kid" Trojans, it was also the 12th time in their last 20 games that they had rallied in the 4th Q for victory!

As for DB Graham, guilty of that crucial pass interference call, his postgame reaction summed up the feelings of the crestfallen Bruins. “I feel like my whole life just went down the drain,” said Graham, and perhaps Prothro’s best UCLA team would not even get to a bowl. It was said that Prothro lost his zest for the college game after that bitter loss; he would leave the Bruins for the NFL and the L.A. Rams after the subsequent 1970 season.

Instead, McKay's Trojans reached their fourth straight Rose Bowl and beat Michigan on New Year's Day, 10-3, finishing a remarkable 10-0-1 campaign.

Asked if all of the wild finishes from that season might cause him a heart attack, the clever McKay had a quick answer. "I've checked my heart," said the Irishman, "and I don't have one."

To this day, we at TGS have never witnessed a succession of thrill finishes in big games that quite matches SC's dramatic 1969 campaign.

So, with all due respect to the many other McKay, John Robinson, and Pete Carroll Trojan title teams, they’ve never come any better or more exciting than SC’s 1969 Cardiac Kids!


Return To Home Page