You might have noticed that the ads for Freedom Bowl II didn’t include a lot of big-name players. It wasn’t an oversight. It’s just that the participants--Washington and Colorado--aren’t laden with Heisman Trophy candidates and All-Americas.
The closest thing to a household name, in fact, was Washington quarterback Hugh Millen, and he ended up watching the game because of calcium deposits in his right shoulder.
But the bowl must go on, names or no. So, in Millen’s place Monday night at Anaheim Stadium was a gangly 6-4 sophomore named Chris Chandler. The name certainly has a ring of familiarity, though. Didn’t he write mystery novels? Or was he the guy who made all those “B” World War II movies in of the Philippines?
If you’re a USC fan, however, the trivia question “Who is Chris Chandler?” is a cinch. That name is infamous to the Trojan faithful.
The last time Millen was hurt--a month and a half ago--Chandler came off the bench and led the Huskies to a come-from-behind 20-17 win over the Trojans, a victory punctuated by the 98-yard touchdown drive he orchestrated in the last four minutes.
So Chandler, who thought all along he’d be splitting time with Millen, took his place behind center a little after 5 p.m. Monday and three hours later lugged off a huge trophy as Washington’s Most Valuable Player. He was also the game’s top passer, completing 15 of 26 for 141 yards, and the Huskies’ No. 1 rusher, gaining 72 yards on seven carries, as Washington beat Colorado, 20-17.
A lot of people were probably surprised, but Husky tailback Vince Weathersby wasn’t one of them. “After the USC game, nothing surprises me,” Weathersby said.
Chandler wasn’t especially surprised by his performance, but he was surprised to be the only Washington quarterback on the field Monday night.
“No one ever told me I was going to play the whole game,” Chandler said. “When our second series came, I was looking around, expecting Hugh to go in. Nobody said anything, so I just went back in.”
Chandler completed 9 of 10 passes in the middle of the game while the Huskies turned a 7-3 deficit into a 20-10 lead.
“This game was just as much fun as the USC game,” he said. “It gives me more confidence, and I hope it gives the coaches more confidence in me. I felt I had earned a starting spot, but some of the coaches still wanted Hugh and me to alternate . . . that was the plan. I felt like I had something to prove.”
He proved he can run the option, a new wrinkle Washington added to buffalo Colorado. It worked. The Buffaloes were concentrating on the pitch man in the early going and by the time they started looking for Chandler, he had already rambled for 72 yards.
“We were surprised he ran the ball as well as he did,” Colorado Coach Bill McCartney admitted. “It looked like we had a lot of shots at tackling him, but he slipped by.”
Chandler got a good laugh when someone asked him if this was his best game rushing.
“Well, this was my third start and I’m usually good for about three carries for minus eight yards.”
Chandler doesn’t mind being his team’s top rusher in a nationally televised bowl game, but he’d just as soon drop back and pass, thanks.
“I’ll never be a great running quarterback,” he said. “The option gives the defense something to think about, but I’d rather throw the ball. One pop in the wrong place can put you out and it could happen on any given option play.”
Washington Coach Don James says the option is going to be part of the Huskies’ attack for some time to come.
“We’ve got to make defenses think because we’re just not going to overpower people,” James said. “So he’s going to have to run the ball.”
James and Chandler have had their disagreements in the past. It seems that Chandler doesn’t like practice much, and James doesn’t care much for players who don’t like practice.
Chandler, who almost quit the team during his freshman year because he said he was bored and frustrated, doesn’t want to cause any waves at this point in his career (Millen is a senior), but he thinks he’s got an answer.
“Coach says that 99% of the time he has the right people in the game when he’s playing the guys who practiced best,” Chandler said.
“Maybe I’m the 1%.”
It looked that way Monday night, anyway.