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Aikman, Bruins Get the Fall Season Off to a Sizzling Beginning

There’s a summer place, let’s call it the Rose Bowl. Who cares if the thermometer reads 92 degrees at 7 o’clock at night? Who cares if college football is supposed to be played in the fall, in front of brandy-sippers wrapped in blankets? UCLA’s sun-and-fun worshipers came straight from the beach Saturday, because it was time for the Troy-Donahue party to start.

Call Frankie. Call Annette. Call Connie Stevens and Harvey Lembeck and everybody else on the sand. Tell them turf’s up. Tell them to put down that beachball and come watch Troy Aikman toss this football. Tell them to come on out and catch Terry Donahue’s newest UCLA football act. It’s hotter than Elke Sommer in a wild bikini.

All right, so it is too soon to be talking about how bearably hot these Bruins are. One game does not a campaign make. Based on Saturday’s curtain-raising 59-6 slaughter of San Diego State, however, it is safe to say that UCLA does have something to see. Something to take your mind off the heat. Something to make you think of, well, New Year’s Day, and parades, and floats, and Bob Eubanks describing a flatbed full of Kleenex on wheels. And roses.

Don’t forget roses.

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It is autumn in Westwood already, see, because football is in the air. And Troy Aikman put it there.

Aikman is the snuff-dipping, touchdown-flipping Oklahoma transfer who gives UCLA a real chance to beat Nebraska in next Saturday’s real season opener. Those Cornhuskers just might come out here into the heat and get their ears boiled and buttered. Aikman is that good.

The Troy-Donahue combo showed a good mix of passing and running Saturday, the coach making sure that any Nebraska scouts upstairs in the press box went home with a book on UCLA’s perfectly balanced attack. In weeks to come you are going to hear a lot of talk out of UCLA about how the Donahue show is not one-dimensional, about how Eric Ball, for example, gained 122 yards carrying the football against San Diego State.

OK, fine.

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Only, any team with Aikman on it is going to be known and feared for its passing. Because this guy can pass. He is Jay Schroeder without the paycheck. There hasn’t been an arm like this since the one scientists built for Lee Majors. Aikman throws thunderbolts. His name shouldn’t be Troy. It should be Thor.

Don’t think so? Well, you had to attend no more than one half of the opening game to understand that Aikman has not come into this season over-advertised. Zip, 43 yards to Laurence Burkley. Touchdown. Zip, 15 yards to Reggie Moore. Touchdown. Zip, 2 yards to Mark Estwick. Touchdown.

You didn’t have to stay for the second half, because Aikman only took 10 snaps. Donahue took him out with 8:43 left in the third quarter, just so Aikman could go back to the sideline and grease his arm or freeze it with ice or swallow some more spinach or whatever it is he does to make his bicep that strong. His work was done, so he could holster that gun.

Los Angeles is lucky enough to have two authentic Heisman Trophy candidates, both of them quarterbacks, in UCLA’s Aikman and USC’s Rodney Peete. Their actual chances to take this trophy will be forwarded or sent into reverse by the outcomes of the upcoming games against those enemies from the Big Eight, Nebraska and Oklahoma, two schools that have a habit of bringing out the worst in opponents.

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As long as Aikman is around, it is difficult to imagine UCLA being out of any game. Then again, John Elway has not been enough by himself to win either of the last two Super Bowls. Aikman can’t do it alone; no man can. A pitcher needs good catching and good hitting. UCLA needs to be tough enough to win even when Aikman is having an off day.

San Diego State is not an adequate litmus test to tell how well this UCLA season is going to turn out. The Aztecs were down by seven points before Aikman ever touched the ball. Darryl Henley conducted his annual punt-return regatta for a touchdown, 3 1/2 minutes into the contest, doing the exact same thing he did in last season’s San Diego State game. Aikman could have gone to a movie. The seven points held up.

Just to show the Nebraska scouts and the Heisman voters a thing or two, however, Aikman went to work, completed nine passes in a row, checked out with 13 of 17 and called it a night. The San Diego State players were sorry to see him go. Yeah, right. Like a squirrel on the street is sorry to see a Buick go.

To the question, “Why don’t you pick on somebody your own size?” we remind UCLA lovers and haters alike that Nebraska is coming up next. Aikman, having attended Oklahoma, is well aware of all of Nebraska’s weaknesses. They are described annually on a blank sheet of paper.

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Nebraska likes to beat people by scores like 59-6. But that isn’t going to happen to UCLA, not this time. With Aikman around, if UCLA loses this one, it will probably be 59-58.


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