Twice in the last three years at UCLA, Craig Rutledge has had his bags packed and ready for a bowl trip to Hawaii.
In went the flowered shirts. In went the shades and the suntan oil.
But twice in the last three years, somebody beat the Pacific 10 leader on the last weekend of the season. That meant a quick change of clothes for Rutledge and a different Pac-10 team for the Rose Bowl.
In went UCLA.
Will it happen again? Will the Bruins rise to the Rose Bowl one more time?
Or will this finally be the season the Bruins greet the state of Hawaii and say: “Aloha, bowl.”?
Perhaps the Bruins will ultimately find their place in the Sun, or some other bowl?
Since Rutledge has a great deal of experience in such matters, it seemed possible that he would be able to provide some insight.
On his way to a philosophy class, he stopped and considered the questions.
“There are two possibilities,” Rutledge said. “We could end up in the Rose Bowl. We could also end up in the No Bowl, if we don’t win our last three games. Or we could wind up somewhere else altogether.”
Those are three possibilities, but who’s counting. After all, mathematics won’t matter unless somebody subtracts Arizona State pretty soon.
If the Bruins are going bowling in Pasadena for the fourth time in the last five years, something must happen to Arizona State because time is running out.
The 4-0-1 Sun Devils haven’t lost a Pac-10 game this year and they probably won’t, unless Cal performs a major miracle or Arizona pulls one of somewhat smaller magnitude.
In the meantime, UCLA is 4-1. The Bruins already had their chance to do something about Arizona State and missed. They lost in their Pac-10 opener, 16-9.
Because of that one loss, UCLA is once again thinking about alternate travel plans for a bowl game.
“We can look back on that Arizona State game and remember the plays we could have made that might have changed the game, but it wouldn’t do any good now,” Rutledge said. “All we can do now is to win the rest of our games and see where we are. But no, we haven’t given up hope for the Rose Bowl.
“We’ve still got a chance to repeat, but obviously Arizona State is in the driver’s seat,” he said.
“You know where you are as far as the Rose Bowl, but it’s kind of hard to talk about it if you can’t control your own destiny like Arizona State can. It would be different if we still had them to play, but we don’t.”
So the Bruins are going to make their stretch run with nothing guaranteed. Even should they win them all, they could very well be out of the Rose Bowl game.
If that isn’t enough to worry about, then how about the last three Pac-10 teams the Bruins will play?
First up is Stanford, at the Rose Bowl Saturday, to be followed by a road game at Washington and a home game against USC.
All three teams are difficult assignments, at least a great deal tougher than UCLA’s last three games, in which the Bruins have outscored Cal, Washington State and Oregon State by a combined 139-16.
The Bruins have been scoring points like mad and not giving up many, either. Beginning in the second quarter of the Washington State game, UCLA has outscored its opponents, 96-0.
Of course, the defense has been having a nice time, too. Rutledge led the way Saturday at Portland when he intercepted three passes and ran back one of them 45 yards for a touchdown in a 49-0 wipeout of Oregon State.
Darryl (Sweet Shoes) Henley also had three interceptions, Alan Dial ran back an interception 100 yards for a touchdown and the Bruins finished the game with 8 interceptions.
Rutledge, a strong safety, had never intercepted more than one pass in a game.
“At this point, I’d say we’re starting to look like a really good team,” he said. “We know this is the hardest part of our schedule. Let’s face it. This is it for us.
“We’ve finally got some momentum going for us and although we got it beating some teams who might not have been as good as others, remember it would have been real hard for us to get momentum playing hard teams instead,” he said. “We wouldn’t really have been as sure of ourselves.”
The Bruins have been in a New Year’s Day bowl game in each of the last four years. But if UCLA loses again, that streak will probably end abruptly, and Rutledge realizes it.
“I can’t say I don’t expect, or want, a New Year’s Day game,” he said. “It would be a letdown for the whole season. I know it’s hard for me to comprehend that we wouldn’t have a shot at the Rose Bowl on the last game of the season. It’s been like that every year.
“Sometimes, guys don’t realize what it takes to get there again and maybe success makes you a little soft,” he said. “We can’t let that happen.”
Bruin Notes The most persistent of the Bowl game representatives following UCLA this year have been the Sun, the Sunkist Fiesta, the Holiday and the Freedom. The Florida Citrus Bowl, a newcomer to New Year’s Day, has not scouted the Bruins since they lost to Arizona State Oct. 4. The Orange Bowl hasn’t sent anyone to see a UCLA game this season and neither has the Aloha Bowl, although the Aloha does not usually send scouts until very late in the season, if at all. . . . When the Bruins play Stanford at the Rose Bowl Saturday, the game will pit brother against brother. Darryl Henley is a defensive back for the Bruins, and Thomas Henley is a wide receiver for the Cardinal. Darryl said his mother has given him some advice. “She told me not to hit him, to let him catch some passes and to look like I’m trying, but fall down,” Darryl said, shaking his head. “I’m going to have to tell my mom to chill out. But my dad was more like it. He told me that if I’m ever covering my brother, to take his head off if I get the chance.” . . . Coach Terry Donahue said cornerback Chuckie Miller and linebacker Chance Johnson won’t play Saturday, but that free safety James Washington (sprained knee ligament) and offensive guard Jim Alexander (broken hand) may play. . . . Because CBS-TV has decided to show the UCLA game at Washington, kickoff time for the Nov. 15 game has been set for 12:30 p.m.