UCLA Goes Farr in Air : When Aikman Drops Back, He Looks for Receiver With Famous Bruin Name

Times Staff Writer

It's not difficult to understand what motivated UCLA's Mike Farr last spring and summer as he recuperated from an unusual leg injury: An opportunity to play with quarterback Troy Aikman.

Or as Farr put it last week, "When they show his highlights on TV, they've got to show somebody catching the ball."

More often than not this season, that somebody has been Farr, a 5-foot 10-inch, 185-pound junior flanker who leads UCLA with 15 receptions as the Bruins prepare to meet the Washington Huskies in their Pacific 10 Conference opener Saturday at Seattle. Each is unbeaten in three nonconference games.

So, more than one-third of Aikman's 44 completions have been to Farr for an average of 14.4 yards. He equaled a career high with 7 receptions for 114 yards in UCLA's 56-3 rout of Cal State Long Beach.

Aikman said simply: "He does a great job of getting open."

For a time last winter, though, it appeared that the only thing open for Farr this fall would be his engagement calendar.

A persistent pain in his left knee, injured against Arizona State in the Bruins' eighth game last season, prompted him to badger UCLA doctors, who had prescribed patience, into taking a closer look.

X-rays revealed a benign bone tumor consisting essentially of fibrous tissue just below the knee. There was a walnut-sized hole in the bone.

Said Dr. Gerald Finerman, the Bruins' physician: "Lots of people are walking around with this type of tumor. But for a football player, you have to realize the risks and treat him accordingly.

"The concern is whether he would be at more risk to a fracture of that area. In a lot of people, you would have simply watched this, and had it not grown over a 6-month period, you probably wouldn't do anything about it."

Finerman said that Farr's original injury was unrelated to the tumor, which he said had probably been in the bone for some time.

UCLA physicians prescribed a procedure in which they would clean out the tumor, repacking the area with bone from Farr's hip. One consultant suggested that such an operation would put Farr on crutches for several months and keep him out of football for a year.

Farr sought a second opinion from Dr. Robert Teitge of Detroit, a former team physician of the Lions, Pistons and Red Wings, who worked previously with Farr's father, Mel, and brother, Mel Jr.

Teitge anticipated a shorter recovery period and was enlisted to perform the operation. Within 2 weeks of his release from the hospital, Farr was walking. Within 3 months, he was running.

"He's filled in very, very nicely on his X-rays, so we've made the determination that he's OK to play at this time," Finerman said.

Farr said his biggest hurdle was mental. Could he cut on that leg?

Daily workouts with Aikman and the other receivers last summer convinced him that he could. He hasn't missed a practice this fall.

His injury healed, Farr has set out to make a name for himself. Although he was the Bruins' No. 3 receiver last season with 24 receptions for 294 yards, he has lived in the shadows of his father and brother, both of whom are former UCLA running backs.

Three weeks ago, as he warmed up before the Nebraska game, he heard the public address announcer say: "At flanker, No. 9, Mel Farr."

"Then, in the game against Long Beach, I caught a pass, and they said: ' Mel Farr on the reception,' " Farr said. "I can't get a break."

With Aikman's help, Farr hopes to find a niche of his own.

"I probably want him to win the Heisman more than he does," Farr said of the senior quarterback. "That would be a thrill, to catch passes from the guy who won the Heisman Trophy. I wish I could get a little bitty Heisman of my own to put on my desk and say, 'I caught the passes from Troy Aikman.' "

Playing with a quarterback like Aikman, he said, is a luxury.

"You know that when you're running a route, the ball is going to be right on the money," Farr said. "You have no excuse but to catch it."

As the Bruins' only returning wide receiver with more than 4 receptions last season, Farr knew Aikman would be looking for him.

"Of course, I felt pressure," he said. "But I was always taught that there was something to gain from a pressure situation. You can be a hero or you can be a zero. I like that kind of pressure.

"When it's third down and 8, or third and 15, eyes are on me, and the ball's probably going to come to me. I look at that as a challenge."

Because of Stanford's tradition as a prolific passing team, Farr considered the Cardinal after a brilliant career as a receiver and defensive back at Brother Rice High School in Birmingham, Mich.

Instead, he chose UCLA, because of the Bruins' television exposure, rivalry with USC and greater potential, he said.

"I wanted to play in the big game," he said. "I wanted to play in the Rose Bowl."

He got all that-- and the chance to play with Aikman, who transferred to UCLA from Oklahoma.

"It's just an unbelievable opportunity," Farr said.

And one that, regardless of his injury, he wasn't about to pass up.

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