Hail Mary, and in Your Face : When UCLA’s Karl Dorrell Pulls in the Jump Ball, USC Knows That It Is in the Wrong Game

Times Sports Editor

For Karl Dorrell, a star wide receiver at UCLA, Saturday’s football game against USC at the Rose Bowl was a desperate situation. Things were to the point where prayer was the only solution.

So UCLA said a Hail Mary for him.

Dorrell, a senior, is third on the Bruins’ all-time receiving list with 102 catches. This season, he has caught 27 for 314 yards. But going into Saturday’s game, he had caught no touchdown passes this season. Zip. Zilch. Oh for ’86. He had visited the other teams’ end zone only to inspect the paint jobs. Or to retrieve his teammates spikes.

But Saturday, heaven could wait no longer for Karl. The gods of Doug Flutie and Irving Fryar looked down from the clouds--or at least from taverns in Chicago and New England--and smiled on him. On a wing and a prayer, Dorrell got his touchdown pass.


Praise Be. It went like this:

UCLA was leading USC, 24-0. The Bruins had stomped on just about every Trojan on the field and looked as if they were about to storm the USC cheering section. It was getting so bad that the Trojans stopped running Student Body Right because they were having trouble keeping pulling linemen away from the stadium exits.

Time was ticking down in the half, and the Bruins were in a hurry to punt the ball away so they could hurry to the locker room and giggle a lot.

But USC, which had taken a timeout in an attempt to force the Bruins to punt and get the ball back, ended up roughing the UCLA punter, allowing the Bruins to keep the ball. Ted Tollner, USC coach, would say later about his strategy to stop the clock and try to get the ball back for a last-ditch attempt to score before halftime: “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.”

Well, Tollner did. And he was.

Matt Stevens, UCLA quarterback, tried one short pass, completing it for a one-yard gain to Derek Tennell. Then Stevens called “Liz No Huddle Max Rebound,” a play that would originate from USC’s 39-yard line and would end up in the end zone, no time on the clock, the ball in Dorrell’s hands and various Trojans strewn about the field, contemplating suicide.

Stevens--as Flutie had done for Boston College a few years ago and as Tony Eason had done for the Patriots and Fryar last Sunday against the Rams in Anaheim--sent a flock of receivers into the end zone so he could throw the ball up for grabs and pray for it to be tipped to a Bruin for a fluke touchdown. That’s where the Hail Mary label comes from. This kind of play is not exactly betting Secretariat to show in a race against aging fillies.

“It’s a one-in-a-hundred thing,” said Tollner.

And he got agreement from Dorrell himself. “It’s a fluke play,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t work 99% of the time.” Well, there it was, right there in front of the 98,370 people. The 1% solution.


With Dorrell streaking down the left side, Paco Craig down the right and Willie (Flipper) Anderson down the middle, Stevens cranked up and fired.

“The ball is supposed to go to Flipper,” Craig explained afterward. “He is the best jumper of the three of us---he’s got something like a 40-inch vertical jump and is a great basketball player.

“He is supposed to jump up and tip it to me or Karl, and we are supposed to just kind of hang around the outside of the big crowd and hope the ball pops out.”

There are, of course, always some defensive backs in the area during these kinds of plays. They are there to mess up the Hail Mary. Call them Atheists, if you will.

In USC’s case, the rosary breakers drawing beads on the ball were Tim McDonald and Junior Thurman. Their role was best described by McDonald.

“I jumped up for the ball,” he said, “and I was coming down with it when Thurman hit it and knocked it out of my hands, right into Dorrell’s.”


Dorrell was, indeed, hanging around the crowd when the ball popped conveniently into his hands. Craig described what happened next.

“I looked up, and he had the ball,” Craig said. “I was about 12 inches away from him, facemask to facemask. He looked at me and I looked at him, and we both said, kind of at the same time, ‘I can’t believe it.’ ”

Believing also came hard for Tollner.

“When they executed it,” he said, “it was my first real clue that we were in real serious trouble. Before that, I just thought we were in deep trouble.”

Stevens, the man who threw the pass, wasn’t all that thrilled about the play, either. At least not until after it worked.

“Until today, I hated it,” Stevens said. “You can look it up in the record book. I was 0-3 with three interceptions on that play.”

The play made it 31-0 at the half, considerably worse than 24-0, especially considering the psychological blow dished out to USC on a play like that.


Terry Donohue, UCLA’s coach, kept the whole thing in perspective.

“We just got lucky on it,” he said. Nobody was able to confirm if he said that while kneeling, his hands folded together, looking toward the sky . . .