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BOWLING FOR RECORDS : Win Would Put Donahue at Head of List With 7 in Row

Times Staff Writer

As UCLA celebrated its victory in the Aloha Bowl last season, Coach Terry Donahue found himself in select company.

Only 4 other schools and 2 other coaches--Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech and Bear Bryant of Alabama--had won bowl games in 6 consecutive seasons, which Donahue and the Bruins accomplished with their 20-16 victory over Florida on Christmas Day 1987.

And now, if UCLA can beat Arkansas Monday in the Cotton Bowl, Donahue will stand alone.

No school has ever won bowl games in 7 consecutive seasons.

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“It’s a tremendous source of pride for the program and for me personally,” Donahue said of the streak, which started with a 24-14 victory over Michigan in the 1983 Rose Bowl and includes 2 other wins in the Rose Bowl as well as victories in the Fiesta, Freedom and Aloha bowls.

How to explain the Bruins’ success in season-ending games?

Donahue can’t really explain it, other than to say: “Generally, we’ve finished the season with a real flourish, and the bowl games, a couple of times, have been spectacular performances. I think it’s because the team has built to a crescendo through the season and just kind of . . . boom , exploded.”

A look back:

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Jan. 1, 1983:

UCLA 24, Michigan 14

Donahue’s first bowl victory was accomplished in the last game of his seventh season in Westwood--on the field the Bruins called home for the first time that season.

“That one was probably the sweetest of all because the first time’s always the best,” Donahue said. “They were all great, and all had special meaning, but the first Rose Bowl victory kind of got me over a career hump. When you win that game, you’ve won a big game.”

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The victory avenged a 33-14 loss to the Wolverines a year earlier in the Bluebonnet Bowl and ended a personal 3-game bowl winless streak for Donahue, whose teams lost to Alabama, 36-6, in the 1976 Liberty Bowl and tied Arkansas, 10-10, in the 1978 Fiesta Bowl.

UCLA quarterback Tom Ramsey completed 18 of 25 passes for 162 yards and was named co-player of the game along with Bruin free safety Don Rogers, who made the play of the game as UCLA, playing Michigan for the third time in 366 days, beat the Wolverines for the second time that season.

Steve Smith, Michigan’s starting quarterback, had turned up-field on an option play in the second quarter when he was met by Rogers, whose jarring tackle knocked Smith out of the game with a separated right shoulder.

“He just killed the guy--tore up his shoulder,” Donahue said. “That was the game.”

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Jan. 2, 1984

UCLA 45, Illinois 9

Donahue was more than a little perturbed to find several players, including quarterback Rick Neuheisel, missing from the Bruins’ pregame meal on the morning of the 1984 Rose Bowl. Angrily, he told a trainer to call their rooms and roust them out of bed.

Donahue hadn’t been told that they had been up most of the night, victims of food poisoning.

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“I guess nobody wanted to wake me,” he said.

Neuheisel, who awoke in a cold sweat at 4 a.m., did not ride with his teammates to the game. He was driven over separately in a car that followed the team bus.

“He was throwing up and we didn’t want the other players to see him and hear him,” Donahue said.

By the end of the day, though, Neuheisel was fine and it was the Illini faithful that felt sick.

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Neuheisel, a walk-on who had been benched in the midst of the Bruins’ 0-3-1 start that season, completed 22 of 31 passes for 298 yards and equaled a Rose Bowl record by throwing 4 touchdown passes as the Bruins flattened the fourth-ranked Illini.

“We were on all cylinders that day,” Donahue said. “It was almost a perfect game.”

Jan. 1, 1985

UCLA 39, Miami 37

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A 22-yard field goal by All-American kicker John Lee with 51 seconds left provided the game-winning points for the Bruins in a wild Fiesta Bowl shoot-out with Bernie Kosar and the Hurricanes.

The victory wasn’t secure, though, until Kosar, who completed 31 of 44 passes for 294 yards and 2 touchdowns, was hit by nose guard Terry Tumey and fumbled on the Hurricanes’ last possession. UCLA’s Eric Smith fell on the ball and the Bruins’ streak was secure.

What Donahue remembers most about the game, though, was an earlier hit on Kosar by defensive tackle Mark Walen, who blind-sided Kosar at Miami’s 1-yard line in the second quarter, pinning the Hurricanes against their goal and setting up a safety 3 plays later that cut the Bruins’ deficit to 21-16.

“It was a great hit,” Donahue said, “and I remember it really kind of ignited our team on the sideline.”

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UCLA overcame deficits of 21-7, 24-22 and 37-36 as quarterback Steve Bono completed 18 of 27 passes for 243 yards and 2 touchdowns and freshman tailback Gaston Green, the game’s outstanding offensive player, ran for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns and caught 5 passes for 47 yards.

“They had some really good guys,” Donahue said of the Hurricanes, noting that Miami’s backup quarterback was Vinny Testaverde. “They had real firepower--a great offensive team. We felt like we had to score a lot of points to win, and we played with that kind of an approach.”

Jan. 1, 1986

UCLA 45, Iowa 28

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UCLA’s third Rose Bowl victory in 4 years was another rout of a supposedly superior opponent.

Iowa was the nation’s third-ranked team, led by quarterback Chuck Long, runner-up to Auburn’s Bo Jackson in voting for the Heisman Trophy, and UCLA played without its starting quarterback, David Norrie, who missed the game with a pulled thigh muscle.

“They were huge--I mean really a big team,” Donahue said of the Hawkeyes, “but they didn’t have the speed.”

Certainly, the Big Ten champions rarely caught up to freshman tailback Eric Ball, who replaced injured starter Gaston Green in the second quarter and ran for 227 yards and 4 touchdowns.

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“We put a play in for that game that Iowa was susceptible to and Eric Ball ran wild,” Donahue said.

Norrie’s replacement, Matt Stevens, passed for 189 yards and 1 touchdown and ran for another touchdown as the Bruins, who made it to the Rose Bowl only after Arizona had upset Arizona State a few hours after UCLA had lost to USC, piled up 488 total yards.

“It was another game like the Illinois game (in 1984), where we clicked on all cylinders,” Donahue said. “In those 2 Rose bowls, we had magical afternoons where we did almost nothing wrong and the other team seemed to do everything wrong. We were magic.”

Dec. 30, 1986

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UCLA 31, Brigham Young 10

Gaston Green placed his personal stamp on the third Freedom Bowl, rushing for 266 yards in 33 carries and accounting for all 4 of UCLA’s touchdowns.

Donahue’s lingering memory of the game, however, is of Eric Rogers, an unsung senior offensive tackle, neutralizing BYU defensive tackle Jason Buck, winner of the Outland Trophy that season as the nation’s outstanding lineman.

“He played just a wonderful game,” Donahue said of Rogers, an overachieving fifth-year senior. “That was probably the highlight of the game, watching Eric Rogers battle the Outland Trophy winner. It wouldn’t be fair to say he outplayed him, but he held his own.”

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So did the Bruins’ other linemen. UCLA ran for 423 yards and Green scored on runs of 3, 1 and 79 yards.

Green passed for a fourth touchdown, hooking up with Karl Dorrell on a 13-yard play with 6 minutes remaining that left bitter memories for Patti Edwards, wife of BYU Coach LaVell Edwards.

In the interview room afterward, Patti Edwards asked Donahue: “Do you really think it was kosher, running that halfback thing, with the score the way it was?”

“Well, Patti,” began Donahue, who explained that the play had been called by his offensive coordinator, Homer Smith.

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Said Edwards, as she left the interview room: “I made my point.”

Dec. 25, 1987

UCLA 20, Florida 16

For most anybody else, an all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii for the holidays would be a most-appreciated Christmas gift.

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But for a UCLA team still smarting from a 17-13 season-ending loss to USC in which it had squandered a 13-0 halftime lead and blown an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl, the Aloha was definitely not the bowl of choice.

Still, UCLA won on a day when Troy Aikman was intercepted twice and the Bruins mustered only 221 yards and 15 first downs while giving up 373 and 24.

David Keating made the key play, blocking a punt that was chased down by Randy Beverly and returned 17 yards, giving the Bruins a first down at Florida’s 17-yard line late in the third quarter.

Danny Thompson provided the decisive touchdown 5 plays later, catching a 5-yard pass from Aikman while lying flat on his back in the end zone. A 13-yard, third-down pass from Aikman to third-string tight end Joe Pickert--who played with a dislocated shoulder and a banged-up knee in the absence of UCLA’s top 2 tight ends--had set up the score, which gave UCLA a 17-10 lead.

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“Last year was the toughest of all,” Donahue said. “It was a significant victory because it was a hard game to get into. When we played Illinois and Iowa, we were motivated. Our motors were running. When we played Florida, we weren’t motivated the same way.”

When it was over, though, their bowl streak had reached 6 games. And, even if a crowd of only 24,839 had witnessed it, Donahue wasn’t about to diminish its significance.

“Winning 6 straight bowl games is not an easy thing to do,” he said.

And winning 7 straight, apparently, is even more difficult.

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It has never been done.


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