Someday, when a hint of gray is creeping in around his temples and his knees creak a bit when he walks, Brian Allen will hoist his grandson onto his lap and tell him about the day Grandpa Brian was a phantom hero in the UCLA-USC football game, back on Nov. 23, 1991.
He probably won’t have any highlight films to show, because what he did happened so fast that few cameras were likely to catch it. And clippings from the 24-21 UCLA victory that day probably will dwell on heroes such as Tommy Maddox, Kevin Williams, Maury Toy and Arnold Ale.
If Allen is an especially good story-teller, he can say that there were 84,623 in the Coliseum that day, and maybe a dozen at the most had any idea that he, a sophomore reserve tight end from Newhall Hart, probably made the play that saved the day for the Bruins.
And if Allen’s grandson thinks that the story is merely the ramblings of an aging jock, or an embellishment of fact, he will be wrong.
On Saturday at the Coliseum, Brian Allen was the phantom man of the moment on the play that left everybody--other players on both teams, both coaches, fans from both teams and hundreds of thousands of TV viewers--wrinkling their brows and scratching their heads in bewilderment.
The play was a touchdown that gave the Bruins a 17-0 lead late in the second quarter, and as confusing things go, this one ranks right up there with Pentagon doublespeak and any day on the stock market.
On third down from the one-foot line, quarterback Maddox handed the ball to fullback Toy, who took a crack at the goal line by running over left guard. He was hit first by tackle Terry McDaniels. There was a pileup. The ball popped loose and squirted into the end zone. Three or four Trojans jumped on the loose ball. Allen reached into the tangle of Trojans and scooped the ball away from them, and the officials started to have a bunch of meetings. Also, somewhere in there, the whistle blew, but when it did, and what had transpired before it did and after it did, probably will be the topic of heated discussion in Westwood and at USC for years to come, especially in a game where the margin of victory was three points.
It seemed to take as long as five minutes--but probably was closer to two or three--before referee Bill Richardson signaled that the officials had ruled touchdown. And it was at least a half-hour later that the press box officially was notified that the touchdown had been scored by Allen, not Toy. It was also well after the game, after many of those involved had been questioned, that a picture, albeit a murky one, began to emerge of what had actually happened.
A statement from the referee, Richardson, was a good starting point: “As the referee, I had the clearest look at the loose ball. The runner’s progress clearly was not stopped. The ball came loose inside the one-yard line and disappeared over the goal line. We unpiled them, thinking that the ball was under the pile. It was in the hands of a UCLA player who was standing in the end zone.”
Some USC players agreed with this version as far as Toy’s progress was concerned, but had varying versions of what happened after that.
Said McDaniels: “I had him down shy of the goal. He never crossed it. But I never even saw him fumble. “
Said Matt Willig, nose guard: “He was tackled short of the goal line, the whistle blew it dead, then he let go of the ball, but the officials seemed to have no inkling that he had fumbled. It was like they didn’t see that part of the play at all.”
Matt Gee, USC linebacker: “He never even got a good handle on it. It was a bad handoff, and the ball rolled into the end zone. And then Jason Oliver, one of our defensive backs, had the ball when we all were jumping on it, but the referees didn’t seem to see all that happening. Then the whistle blew somewhere in there, and the UCLA guy took the ball away after that.”
Toy, of course, saw it much differently: “We didn’t have very far to go. The ball was on about the one-inch line. I remember looking down and seeing my head and torso over the line. Then, with all the tugging and pushing going on, I made the mistake of reaching out with the ball away from my body to stretch it over the goal line, and it was there that it got knocked loose.”
Finally, Allen’s version: “Maury ran up the middle. He got in. I’m sure he got in. Then, on the way down, he fumbled it, a whole bunch of Trojans jumped on it. I didn’t think that much of that because I was sure he had already scored, but when I saw all the Trojans go after it, I just reached into the pile and pulled it out. They were all around it, but nobody had a good grip on it, so I just pulled it away and out of the pile and stood there with it. I only did it because I wanted to be sure.”
So there it was. Because Brian Allen “wanted to be sure,” UCLA won the most important football game of its now highly successful football season. The likelihood is--and Richardson’s statement backs this--that had Allen simply let the USC players have the ball, the officials would have come out of their final meeting ruling that USC had a touchback and possession on the 20-yard line.
In this case, lacking any better evidence, the officials ruled for what they saw last: Brian Allen, standing in the end zone with the ball. Everything else had been a jumble--whether Toy crossed the plane of the goal, when the whistle blew, whether USC players had held the ball long enough for a fumble recovery. So, apparently, it all came down to Allen.
Of such moments are heroes made in USC-UCLA games.