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Peete’s Well-Timed Illness Has Bruins Seeing Spots

Come on, Rodney, show us a splotch. One splotch. Show us a doctor’s report, preferably notarized. Quick, now, describe the hospital where you supposedly spent the past week, fighting a courageous battle against the dreaded measles.

Convince us, Rodney Peete, that you really were sick, that this wasn’t all just a great little practical joke you and your Trojans pulled off to throw the UCLA Bruins off-balance.

Does a man whose alleged illness threatened to cancel the biggest college football game of the season stagger into the Rose Bowl and cause his team to break out in a rash of touchdowns?

Not that the USC Trojans needed another gimmick. They already had a big one--the Rose Bowl was on the line.

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The last time the Bruins beat the Trojans in a game that meant the Rose Bowl berth for both teams, Rodney Peete wasn’t born.

I hate to bore you with stats, but the Bruins are 0-for-the-last-9 in these big games. Jose Canseco hit better than that in the World Series.

What causes the gutty little Bruins to turn into the gaggy little Bruins in these games?

This time it was Rodney Peete. Mr. Measles. Not that the Trojans needed him.

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“We had Pat O’Hara (backup quarterback) ready to play,” said John Jackson, a USC wide receiver. “We’d have won with Pat or Rodney, it didn’t matter.”

Right.

It’s nice that Jackson would express confidence in Peete’s backup, but in most publications I read, Pat O’Hara was hardly even mentioned in the Heisman Trophy race.

Still, whether it was true or not, the measles bit was a great gimmick. UCLA Coach Terry Donahue had to be steaming when USC Coach Larry Smith said he wouldn’t know until after warmups Saturday if Peete would be able to play.

Shoot, why not wait until after the opening kickoff? Why not make Donahue prepare his team for two Trojan quarterbacks? Better yet, why not say O’Hara’s got athlete’s foot and he might have to give way to freshman Todd Marinovich?

It’s not as if Terry didn’t have enough to worry about. He was so busy preparing for two quarterbacks that he did a Howard Hughes, shutting himself off from the media after Wednesday. That gimmick worked better for Peete than for Donahue.

It was the strangest Big Game Week ever. Rodney Peete had the measles. He was shipped to Long Beach, checked into a hospital under an assumed name.

He made it to practice Thursday, but he arrived in a van and was taken away in a van, as if he were radioactive. Had it been available, USC would have shuttled him about town in the Popemobile.

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If it all seemed weird and theatrical, remember that USC is the school that gave us George Lucas. At least they didn’t have Rodney arrive at the Rose Bowl in a UFO.

Then, to really knock the Bruins off-stride, Peete came out firing like he was blindfolded. Hit his first pass, then threw 4 into the grandstand.

Before the USC fans could start chanting, “We want O’Hara!” Peete got back to Heisman form and threw the Trojans into the lead.

It was 21-16 at halftime and obvious that the Trojans had stumbled on a great training gimmick. Put your starting quarterback in the hospital the week before the big game. Instead of wearing him out in practice, rest him up, keep him away from the pesky press, let him be pampered by a team of nurses.

It was better than a week at Club Med.

Rodney came into the game talking about his “much-needed rest,” and how “my legs have never felt fresher.” Donahue coulda cried.

UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, meanwhile, had to practice all week and barely had the strength to complete 32 passes for 317 yards Saturday.

Meanwhile, Mr. Measles had a very nice 16-for-28 day, for 189 yards, 1 touchdown and maybe 1 Heisman Trophy. The voters love a winner.

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“First of all,” Peete said in his postgame news conference, “I’d like to thank all of you guys for bearing with me this week, allowing me to get my rest.”

A big-time athlete thanking us poor slobs of the press? The man has my Heisman vote, although I don’t have one. Rodney said he felt pretty good, although, “I’d have to be on my deathbed not to play.”

The young man led the Trojan offense with aplomb and efficiency. Early in the fourth quarter, 4th-and-1, he tried to pick up the first down on a quarterback sneak--a very second-guessable call by the Trojans--and was stacked up behind the line of scrimmage.

But he retreated, scooted around right end and dove over for the first down, which the Trojans parlayed into 4 precious minutes of possession. It was one of the great instinctive plays of the season.

If Peete had a problem all day, it was that his voice was hoarse. He was a hoarse Trojan. “On audibles,” Jackson said, “we had to sort of read his lips. Especially me, I’m on the wide side. But I pretty much knew what I was supposed to do, I could pick up the reads myself.”

The lip-reading went well, and the Bruins never did adjust to Peete. They obviously spent the week preparing for Pat O’Hara. When they did put pressure on Peete, it was straight-ahead stuff, and Peete simply dashed outside the pocket, rolled out, studied the field and picked UCLA apart.

The Bruins sacked him twice in the second half, but as USC tackle John Guerrero said, “We’re not Supermen.”

No, just Rose Bowl men, the blotchy Cardinal and Gold, who left the Bruins a familiar shade of blue.

If you’re a UCLA fan, it was enough to make you sick, really sick.


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