SDSU's Beach Boys Come Up a Beat Short in Cardiac Bowl


But shouldn't everyone have expected such a finish?

Call it the Holiday Bowl or Sea World Holiday Bowl or the Fish Bowl, for that matter.

None of those names are really appropriate.

Call it the Cardiac Bowl.

Folks with weak hearts should sit home and watch it on tape delay. Make sure they know the final score so they won't be surprised.

Eight of these Cardiac Bowls were played before Tuesday night, and seven of them were decided by less than a touchdown. If a Cardiac Bowl does not come down to the final play, it is a rout.

History will record that Rob Houghtlin won this one for Iowa, 39-38, with a fluttering 41-yard field goal as time ran out. It was as pretty as the December landscape around Iowa City, and that's only pretty if gray is your favorite color. But it made it through the uprights.

History will also record that San Diego State, which had blown 28-13 and 35-21 second-half leads, had seemingly won the game on a 21-yard field goal by Kevin Rahill with 47 seconds to play.

Ah, seemingly won. Cardiac Bowls are only seemingly won until the clock says 0:00 and one side or the other is either carrying the ball into the end zone or kicking it through the uprights.

Ironically, no one really expected this game to be like the others.

Farmer John's Team came to San Diego from the Big Ten to play this local aggregation which might have been known as the Beach Boys.

It was actually surprising that the local side was a party to the occasion.

Understand that this football game was put together as a showcase for these Beach Boys. However, these fellows, who are known as the San Diego State Aztecs, had been conspicuously absent from Holiday Bowls 1 through 8.

What happened was that the bowl built for Aztecs always seemed to be filled with Cougars . . . the chaps from Brigham Young University.

BYU so habitually represented the Western Athletic Conference in the Holiday Bowl that its followers took to buying up timeshare condominiums hereabouts for the last half of December. They undoubtedly commuted from those condos to the Freedom Bowl Tuesday night at Anaheim.

The baby blue of BYU was nowhere in sight Tuesday night in Mission Valley, which was awash with the dusty red and black of SDSU followers. Dry cleaners surely did a brisk business the last few weeks trying to get the smell of moth balls out of the sweaters. And some of the color surely faded since the last time the Aztecs excited the populace sufficiently to cause a show of allegiance.

To be fair to Farmer John's team, the city, the parking lot and stadium were also sprinkled quite liberally with gold and black. These would be the colors of the I-Owe-Ay Hawkeyes, whose followers leave the fields fallow and head annually to whatever sun belt their athletes have led them.

Partisans of Iowa--pronounce that I-Owe-Uh in the presence of anyone wearing gold and black-- expect their team to be in a bowl game. This one was the Hawks' sixth straight under Coach Hayden Fry.

What with USC flirting with Mr. Fry, trying to attract him away from green pastures with sunny asphalt, it would not behoove Fry to take a Big Ten team to the Holiday Bowl and lose to San Diego State--especially after losing, 45-28, to UCLA, of all people, in the 1986 Rose Bowl.

This was a nice game for Iowa and its followers, but a very big game for Hayden Fry.

For San Diego State, it was simply a very nice occasion. It need not win to enhance the credibility of its football program, but rather perform in a respectable manner.

SDSU went into the occasion like a pimply-faced kid taking the Homecoming Queen to the prom. It would be a proud occasion as long as it didn't land face first in the canapes.

The Aztecs handled this party like social butterflies. They swaggered into the stadium like it was a yacht they had chartered for a trip to Tahiti.

Didn't anyone tell them that I-Owe-Ay was from the Big Ten? Didn't anyone tell them I-Owe-Ay scored 169 points in its first three games? Didn't anyone tell them I-Owe-Ay probably would have been in the Rose Bowl if it had not lost its starting quarterback through a critical stretch of its season?

After all, SDSU did not exactly swagger through the WAC schedule. What it did was win, and not usually by much. It won eight games, but only one of them--35-5 over Hawaii--by more than seven points.

There was one common opponent, Texas El Paso. I-Owe-Ay beat UTEP, 69-7, and SDSU was an underwhelming 15-10 winner.

Since the Hawkeyes came into the game mere seven-point favorites, I have to figure Hayden Fry established the line. It just wouldn't do to be favored by something reasonable.

Fry complained about playing on grass, which is incongruously an alien substance to the team from a farm state.

Indeed, Fry even said the Aztecs were bigger than they looked, explaining that the black uniforms made them look smaller.

Only one thing was certain as this game unfolded.

San Diego State's football team was better than anyone realized. The coach, Denny Stolz, is a guy I never want to meet in a poker game. He'll turn over low pairs (and win) until everyone has his bankroll in the pot . . . and then roll over a royal flush.

You'll wonder where he found it, just as 59,473 fans wondered where he found what the Aztecs turned over Tuesday night.

Those were the Aztecs matching Iowa rush for rush, sacking the quarterback and completing 44-yard bombs for touchdowns.

For a while, it looked like the Beach Boys really would swagger past Farmer John's Team.

However, the Aztecs should have known about these Cardiac Bowls. Local knowledge should have told them that a field goal scored with 47 seconds remaining is a field goal scored much too soon.

Hayden Fry had time to let Denny Stolz scrape in the pot and still play one more hand.

Houghtlin's field goal was hardly a royal flush, but it was good enough to win.

For the Aztecs, there was only one way to describe it.


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