San Diego bills itself "America's Finest City," but Mike Crawford wishes he wasn't here.
To Crawford, San Diego and the Holiday Bowl represent defeat and failure. When the season began, the Sun Devils weren't planning on winding up in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. They were hoping to be in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
Despite his team's disappointment, Crawford, 21, still had a season to remember. A former Thousand Oaks High and Moorpark College star, Crawford transferred to Arizona State for the '83 season. But it took until after the second game of this season for him to get the starting tailback position.
Crawford led the Pac-10 in rushing touchdowns with 11 as the Sun Devils almost earned their first-ever Rose Bowl berth. Arizona State needed only to tie rival Arizona in the season finale to win the trip to Pasadena. Although they were leading 13-3 late in the third quarter, the Sun Devils yielded 13 points in the last 18 minutes and lost, 16-13. Crawford rushed for 68 yards on 13 carries.
"I feel very empty," he said. "The emptiness comes from losing to Arizona with everything on the line. It hurts a lot. The whole thing was just right there for the taking. I don't know if my life would have changed had we gone to the Rose Bowl, and I guess I never will. I feel cheated a little. I don't know exactly how, but I do."
But even though it will be UCLA, not Arizona State, representing the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl against Iowa, don't think that Crawford is preparing to throw himself off the nearest bridge.
"He's a hard-nosed player who has a lot of character," said Arizona State Coach John Cooper.
Crawford's character was challenged when he arrived at Arizona State in the fall of 1983--he had to play behind Darryl Clack, a starter as a freshman the previous season. He backed up Clack for two seasons, and it looked as if he'd play the same role this season. But Cooper, in his first season as coach, moved Crawford to fullback.
But Clack injured his leg in a Sept. 21 game against Pacific, and the 5-11, 203-pound Crawford was switched back to tailback. He responded by gaining 684 yards, fifth-best in the Pac-10, and helping Arizona State to an 8-3 record.
"He was the most dependable back we had this year," Cooper said. "He really took advantage of the situation he was in and it paid off for him. He doesn't have a lot of speed, but he made up for that by doing all the little things well for us, and sometimes that isn't noticed."
Crawford may have been overlooked by the group who selected the all-conference team, but his efforts were definitely appreciated by his teammates.
"Mike was a tremendous lift to us when we were down near the goal line," safety Billy Robinson said. "He just had a nose for the end zone."
Jim Bittner, Crawford's coach at Moorpark, doesn't need to be told of the tailback's scoring capabilities. During Crawford's only season as a Raider in 1982, he led the nation in scoring with 140 points, rushed for 1,329 yards and voted All-American.
"He's a real winner," Bittner said. "I've had some players who were more talented, but I've never had a better all-round athlete than Mike."
Crawford almost cut his career short a couple of weeks before the start of his freshman season.
"I wasn't having any fun," he said. "I wanted to go to Coach Bittner and tell him I wanted to quit, but I never did, fortunately."
Bittner sensed Crawford's feelings.
"We switched him from quarterback, which he played in high school, to tailback," Bittner said. "And in the first scrimmage, he gained about 33 yards on eight carries. I could tell he was really discouraged and that he was thinking that maybe college football wasn't for him."
He adjusted quickly, gaining more than 200 yards in the Raiders' opening game against Pierce College.
Bittner said that he never had a doubt that Crawford would be a successful running back, and he has maintained that confidence.
"Mike is just a super guy and an excellent athlete," he said. "I'll be surprised if he doesn't go in the pro draft. I think he should go fairly high."
The idea of turning professional hasn't escaped Crawford, either. He's reminded of it all the time.
"My friends keep telling me that I'm going to be picked anywhere between the third and the 12th round," he said. "That's a pretty wide range. I'm looking forward to it, though. My future is there and I'm ready to move on."
But before he does, Crawford will be asked to carry the ball one more time for the sake of old ASU.
"It feels good that they are calling on me now," he said. "After losing to Arizona, the Holiday Bowl gives us a chance to redeem ourselves and finish on a positive note."
And the Rose Bowl?
"I probably won't even watch it."
Kennedy High's Jeff Bregel, The Times Valley Lineman of the Year in 1981, could be a key player for USC against Alabama in the Aloha Bowl. The junior offensive guard was named to eight All-America teams and was the only junior considered for the Outland Trophy. He also won the Morris Trophy, given to the top offensive lineman in the Pac-10. . . . Arizona State defensive end Jimmy Reynosa, a Times All-Valley selection at San Fernando High in 1982, started six games this season. He made 35 tackles, recorded 3 1/2 sacks and recovered two fumbles. He is expected to see considerable action in the Holiday Bowl today . . . Air Force kicker Tom Ruby, a product of El Camino Real High, set a team record this season by converting all 52 of his extra-point attempts. The senior also made 10 of 18 field-goal attempts, including 6 of 6 from inside 30 yards. Air Force will play will play Texas in the Bluebonnet Bowl on Dec. 31 . . . Colorado cornerback Lyle Pickens, a former all-state performer at Valley College, led his team with three interceptions. Pickens, a senior, also recovered a fumble and deflected 10 passes. Colorado will meet Washington on Dec. 30 in the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim Stadium . . . Gary Willison, an All-Valley pick at Burbank High in 1983, stepped into the starting noseguard position at USC after the fifth game of the season. He has 19 tackles and one quarterback sack . . . Frank Batchkoff, a junior defensive tackle from Reseda High, had 32 tackles for UCLA, which will play Iowa in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. He also had two sacks and caused a fumble.