Somebody might mention to the otherwise excellent UCLA Bruin marching band that when your football team--ranked No. 1 in the nation--suffers a painful defeat on its home field in the final seconds of a heart-burning, stomach-turning, nationally televised conference game, then just maybe you should pack your instruments back into their cases and quit playing looney tunes, no matter what your marching orders might be.
To the victors belong the songs, so nobody but Washington State’s players should have been making music after Saturday’s 34-30 ambush of UCLA at the Rose Bowl. The last thing the stewin’ Bruins needed to hear as they trudged off the field was their school band playing merrily away in the stands. Man, the very least they could have done was play some blues.
Maybe the musicians merely hoped to drown out the visiting team. At game’s end, see, the conquering Cougars huddled near the end zone and sang: “Fight, fight, fight, for Washington State! Win the victory! We’re going to win the game for the Crimson and Gray! Best in the West, so we’ll all do our best! On, on, on, on! Fight till the end! Honor and glory we must win! So, fight, fight, fight for Washington State, and the victory!”
“Just like John Candy in that movie,” said Washington State’s outstanding (in more ways than one) 290-pound offensive guard, Mike Utley, in the locker room afterward. “Remember? In that movie ‘Volunteers,’ he was Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, Wash., engineering student, and he kept going around singing, ‘Fight, fight, fight for Washington State! Win the victory!’
“He’s my idol, man. I know he’s out there singing it someplace, right now.”
Why not? This was the first time Washington State was able to defeat UCLA on the road in 30 years. The Cougars almost always fight, fight, fight, but almost never win the victory. Why they had to pick this year of all years to win one, the crowd from Westwood will never know, nor ever want to know. This was the year UCLA thought itself not only the Best of the West, but the Best of the Rest.
Two days before Halloween, though, the Cougars crossed their paths like unlucky black cats. The trick was being down by 21 points and coming back to win the game, which was also the treat. UCLA was on top of the national ladder, until the Cougars walked under. Call it the luck of Notre Dame’s Irish, because guess who’s No. 1 now?
Something sure did cause the Bruins to be so unlucky Saturday. Once they got ahead by so much, somebody must have broken a mirror in the locker room at halftime, because little went right thereafter. They fumbled, stumbled, fell asleep defensively and committed unthinkable personal fouls. Carnell Lake might be America’s linebacker supreme, but shame on him for the late hit that gave Washington State a first down at the UCLA 22 with 8 minutes remaining and the Bruins hanging on by their fingernails, 30-27.
Not even Troy Aikman could save them. He nearly did, with an unbelievably exciting 33-yard bullet to Charles Arbuckle 44 seconds from the final gun. All UCLA needed to do from there was to travel across 6 more yards--6 measly, crummy little hashmarks that were all that remained between them and the right to remain king of the hill, top of the heap.
Didn’t happen. Four times Aikman threw unsuccessfully, once on purpose to stop the clock. The last pass was the ugliest of the Heisman Trophy candidate’s 44 flings of the day, a lob directed at David Keating that the 6-foot tall split end could not have caught if his arms were another foot longer.
The game was over, defeat was theirs, and Coach Terry Donahue had no idea on whom or what to blame it. “It’s like the old saying, I guess, that victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan,” Donahue said.
Hometown children were at least partly responsible. Rich Swinton, from Canoga Park, led the winners in rushing, and Tim Stallworth, from Pacoima, led them in receiving. They went to high school together at Montclair Prep, and enjoyed teaming up to knock UCLA off its perch.
“This is huge for me. I’m just about to explode,” Swinton said. “My ex-girlfriend talked to me this week and she said, ‘You guys aren’t going to even think about coming down here and winning? ' Well, she’s my ex- girlfriend, and I got the last laugh.”
It was Stallworth who made moves worthy of his cousin, Pittsburgh Steeler of yesteryear John, on touchdown passes of 15 and 81 yards, and it was Swinton who scored on a run from 6 yards out. These three touchdowns got the Cougars back into the game after UCLA had taken a 27-6 advantage early in the third period, at which point the Bruin band boomed forth with the theme from “The Flintstones.”
Maybe UCLA became complacent, or maybe Washington State became inspired. Whatever. All we know is that an Aikman pass was intercepted with 2:04 to play, the game was over, and suddenly Aikman got the ball back, and the game was not over, and then Aikman’s last-gasp pass was batted down, and that’s all UCLA’s fans could go home with--an ache, man. Victory was there, then gone, then there and gone again.
“We were so nervous,” Swinton said. “To have Aikman in that situation, with that amount of time, on your 6-yard line . . . sheesh! We were over there shaking.”
A minute later, they were over on the other side, singing. They had knocked No. 1 right off the charts.