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The Thompson Family Gets a Present, Too

Some people got out their scissors and tissue and Scotch tape and ribbons, and gift-wrapped their neckties and puppies and vegetable slicers and Barry Manilow greatest hits albums.

That’s not what UCLA did.

UCLA wrapped up another bowl, as well as a pretty good record.

The Bruins’ 20-16 Aloha Bowl win over Florida Friday was its sixth straight success in a postseason football game, tying a national collegiate record. Maybe it wasn’t a bowl full of roses, but to some of UCLA’s players, at least, it was as precious as Waterford crystal.

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Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) from Hawaii.

Every kid deserves a Christmas present, and Danny Thompson got his.

When he left his home in Huntington Beach to spend the holidays with UCLA’s football team on Waikiki Beach, everybody wished him the best. There was his brother Rico, who was an NCAA Division III basketball Academic All-American, and his other brother, Bill, who plays basketball for Biola, and another brother, Rob, a defensive back for Cal State Sacramento, and a couple of other brothers, and his sister.

There also was his father, Richard, who talked to his son on the telephone Christmas morning and said: “Score a touchdown for us today.”

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To which Danny replied: “OK, I will.”

Thinking back on it after the game, a smile creased Danny’s face, because everybody back home must have realized that there wasn’t a chance of a snowball in Hawaii of any such thing happening. Oh, sure, he had been a super high school running back in 1983--the leading ground-gainer in Orange County, even. There was one season when he ran for 1,576 yards and scored 16 touchdowns, all by himself.

But four years later, here he was, and he still didn’t have a college touchdown.

He was a 199-pound, fourth-string tailback, with 233 career rushing yards and three pass receptions to his name.

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Nineteen times did Danny Thompson carry the football for UCLA in 11 games prior to Christmas, and not one pass did he catch.

“No, I think that’s wrong,” he insisted after the Aloha. “I think I caught at least one ball this season.”

Sorry, Danny. Not according to the team’s official season statistics, you didn’t.

Late in the third quarter of a deadlocked Aloha Bowl game, though, came his Christmas present. Flat on his back in the end zone, Thompson looked up, and it fell from the sky.

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It was a flip from quarterback Troy Aikman. Five yards was all the thing traveled, but a Florida kid tipped it, and the football wobbled around where anybody could latch onto it. Nobody did, though. Nobody except Danny Thompson, who had fallen down. He looked up, couldn’t believe his eyes, and snatched a touchdown out of thin air.

It was the touchdown that won the Aloha Bowl, because UCLA never trailed again.

“They’re saving my presents under the tree, and I can’t wait to get back,” Thompson said. “But they’re going to have a hard time topping this.”

The bowl itself, the prize the winning team takes home from the island, is not exactly a pretty one. It looks like something in which you would toss a salad.

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Terry Tumey didn’t care. The senior nose guard, one of the team’s captains, cradled the wooden bowl under his arm after the game, took good care of it.

“What are you going to do with that thing?” someone asked.

“Anything I want,” Tumey said, clutching it even tighter. “When I get home, I might eat out of it.”

An Aloha Bowl isn’t supposed to mean much. It isn’t the Rose Bowl, so it isn’t supposed to be that big a deal. Players aren’t supposed to care.

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Backup quarterback Brendan McCracken cracked his collarbone in the Nov. 7 Oregon State game, but when Aikman went down Friday with an injury, McCracken came in and took a snap from center.

Sophomore flanker Tom Keating threw himself at a Florida punt. He took it in the chest.

Tight end Corwin Anthony made a lunging catch before halftime, went down hard, and wound up on crutches.

Senior Joe Pickert came in for Anthony, wearing a surgical brace on one knee. He caught three passes for 37 yards.

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Senior Mel Farr Jr. limped over to Coach Terry Donahue during the game, with a hamstring that was killing him, and said, “Hey, coach, if you need me, I’ll try a couple of snaps at tight end.” That is exactly what he did.

Junior tackle Jim Wahler played and played on a sprained ankle until he finally fell in a heap. They brought out a stretcher for him.

When the game was over, Wahler peeled his jersey and shoulder pads off his sunburned back, and spiked them to the ground. He strolled over to the stands to hug a friend. Then he headed for the locker room.

“I can’t even stand around and celebrate anymore,” he said, looking at his swollen ankle. “I’ve got to go in there (the locker room) and put this thing up.”

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“You talk about guys laying it on the line for their university,” Donahue marveled.

Gaston Green wanted to play. Oh, how he wanted to play. But a pulled thigh muscle kept the onetime Heisman Trophy hopeful on the sideline, in Bermuda shorts and sandals, for his final UCLA game, and that was hurting him more than the thigh muscle was.

Donahue sought him out, as soon as the game was over. He cuffed him around the neck. He looked him in the eye.

“I know you didn’t get to play today,” the coach told the player. “But without you, we wouldn’t even be here, and don’t you ever forget that!”

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Green smiled kind of a sad smile.

“OK, coach,” he said.

Donahue turned to walk away, then looked back at Green and pointed right at his face.

“Ever!” he said.

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Along Ala Moana Boulevard, as part of his Christmas Eve lounge act at a Waikiki Beach hotel, Don Ho crooned Christmas carols to tourists from the mainland. Just up the street, at the UCLA team’s Christmas party the same night, Rose Drake, the wife of trainer emeritus Ducky Drake, Class of ’27, entertained on piano, while assistant coach Ed Kezirian, who suited up as Santa Claus, passed out gifts to the coaching staff’s children.

“Being away from home at Christmas time is rough,” Donahue said. “Rose’s piano was the nicest thing to happen to us while we were here. We should give her a game ball.”

Sure. Absolutely. It was sort of a second-hand Rose Bowl, after all. Might as well be Rose’s bowl.

The season was over, but at least UCLA could have a last laugh.

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A Donahue ho, ho, ho.

And they shouldn’t forget it.

Ever.


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