It was a moment Bob Griese will always remember, an instant of such clarity that 34 years haven’t dimmed the sights, sounds and emotions of that day.
Lining up against USC in the 1967 Rose Bowl, Griese was determined that he and his Purdue teammates would uphold the honor of the Big Ten in their first trip to Pasadena. The runner-up for the Heisman Trophy and an All-American at quarterback, Griese had dreamed of this as a child in Indiana. The moment remains paramount in a career of great memories, among them two Super Bowl championships with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
“I remember that first play,” Griese said. “The running back and I ran into each other.”
His day got better after that. Much better--even though little had been expected from this matchup.
The Boilermakers had finished second to Michigan State in conference play and were in the Rose Bowl game only because of the no-repeat rule. And because of an arcane Big Ten rule, they were allowed to bring only 44 players to California, limiting their practice options. The Trojans were a controversial choice to represent the Pacific 8 Conference because in their last two games, they had lost to UCLA and were routed by Notre Dame, 51-0.
Yet, the teams produced a close and dramatic game won by Purdue, 14-13, when Boilermaker defensive back George Catavolos intercepted a two-point conversion pass by Trojan quarterback Troy Winslow with 2:28 to play.
“I almost felt like Moses leading all our people to the promised land,” said Griese, now a football analyst for ABC. “Just getting there was a huge feat. If you grow up in the Midwest, you always look to the Big Ten. Winning the national championship is never mentioned; winning the Big Ten championship and going to the Rose Bowl are the consummate goals. It was almost too real to be true.”
A Times headline billed it as “Trojans vs. Griese in Rose Bowl” because of Griese’s prowess. He had completed 338 of 591 passes over three seasons for 4,263 yards and 28 touchdowns, and he was remarkably poised under pressure.
“I’m sure I won’t be giving away any secrets when I tell you we plan to pass against Southern California,” Purdue Coach Jack Mollenkopf wrote in Jan. 2, 1967 editions of The Times. “We started passing the ball in the lobby of our hotel, while we were waiting to check in. That’s why we’re here. Because we’ve got Bob Griese and the forward pass.”
USC Coach John McKay was equally adamant about keeping the ball away from Griese.
“Griese has more tricks than a magician, but he can’t pull any of them if he doesn’t have that old pigskin,” McKay wrote.
He devised an effective defense. Winslow actually had better statistics, completing 12 of 17 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown, compared to Griese’s 10 for 18 for 139 yards.
“I don’t think we played as well as we could,” Griese said. “It was the first time ever for Purdue in the Rose Bowl. You didn’t have anybody to call up and say, ‘Hey, what is this like?’
“I don’t think we were loose enough. It’s like the [three] Super Bowls I played in. The first time, I was nervous, but the second time, I was looser.”
Purdue opened the scoring in the second quarter, culminating a drive that began on its own 43. Pressured by the Trojans’ pass rush, Griese engineered an impressive march that ended with 13 consecutive running plays. Perry Williams finally broke through the Trojans’ line for the touchdown on the Boilermakers’ third try, with 12:43 left in the quarter, and Griese converted the extra point.
USC tied it with 1:26 left in the second quarter, when Don McCall--who had a game-high 92 yards rushing--took the ball in from the one-foot line.
USC squandered a chance to take the lead with eight seconds left in the first half when a field-goal try by Tim Rossovich from the 42-yard line went under the crossbar. That proved crucial when Purdue went ahead, 14-7, with 1:57 left in the third quarter, on a two-yard dive by Williams over left tackle. Griese again converted the extra point. “I’m probably more remembered for kicking the extra points than being a quarterback in that game,” he joked.
The Trojans had plenty of time to come back, and they nearly did. The Boilermakers blocked a 28-yard field-goal attempt by Rossovich early in the fourth quarter, but Winslow and Rod Sherman combined on a 19-yard touchdown pass with 2:28 to play, capping a 63-yard drive. McKay, aware he had no timeouts left if the Trojans regained the ball, decided to go for the victory.
“We always go for the win,” he said. “There were some 58 million people [watching on TV] and they didn’t want us to play for a tie.”
His gamble failed. Defensive back John Charles, later voted the player of the game, covered Sherman. Defensive end George Olion contained Winslow and prevented him from rolling wide. Catavolos, playing between Winslow and receiver Jim Lawrence, stepped in front of Lawrence and intercepted the pass. USC later got the ball back but couldn’t mount a comeback in the final 30 seconds.
“You gotta go for it in a situation like that,” Mollenkopf said. “Johnny [McKay] had to. That’s the way I would have done it.”
Said Griese, “It was special. It was the highlight of my college career.”
Griese, assigned to the Orange Bowl telecast, won’t be in Pasadena Monday. But he got a chance to relive his Rose Bowl experience when his son Brian quarterbacked Michigan to the Rose Bowl against Washington State in 1998.
“I was trying to help him prepare,” Griese said. “I said, ‘Brian, when I went to the Rose Bowl, it was a little different.’ [Michigan] went undefeated and [was] No. 1 and there was a national championship on the line, and I was trying to get some pressure off him.
“I went out there five or six days early and we went to dinner and I told him, ‘You almost didn’t come back, and not only did you get to the Rose Bowl, you’ve won the Big Ten championship and had a great year. No matter how you play, you’re already a winner.’
“He said, ‘Dad, we’re going to win and we’re going to have fun.’ And they did.”
Naturally, Griese is biased toward the Boilermakers over the Washington Huskies.
“With all due respect to my good friend Rick Neuheisel, I think Purdue is going to win and I think it’s going to be a high-scoring game,” he said. “Usually, when you have a lot of time to plan and scheme like this, the offenses come up with some very effective things.
“The game we played was low-scoring, but the offenses back then, you’d run the ball a lot. You didn’t spread it out like they do now. I’d love to be in an offense where you throw a lot. Throw on all three downs? That’s fine.”