Jim Murray, the late Times sports columnist, wrote this column, “A Close Second,” on the 1963 Rose Bowl game, a 42-37 victory by USC over Wisconsin. The game was Coach John McKay’s Rose Bowl debut and the victory clinched the 1962 national championship for the 11-0 Trojans. As part of The Times’ 125th anniversary celebration, we will on occasion reprint Murray columns off major events.
In the longest, wildest and woolliest Rose Bowl game in history, the USC Trojans beat Ronald VanderKelen at Pasadena Tuesday.
The Trojans took the field with three teams and they needed all of them. They may be No. 1, as their rooting section constantly reminded the crowd of 96,698, but if so, VanderKelen is No. 2. In a rematch, I wouldn’t make him worse than even money.
The game lasted only slightly less long than the War of 1812. It started in broad daylight but it ended up under conditions so dark a man would bump into an elephant. The official timer needed a calendar. If the game had lasted one more quarter, they would have run into next year’s Rose Parade traffic.
The football was in the air so much, some of the officials were inclined to call a double-dribble by the fourth quarter. The Badgers scored more points than the Lakers in the last few minutes.
There were so many points scored, the Dow Jones ticker was running behind at the 3 o’clock close.
The game was like Russian roulette with all barrels loaded or a tennis game in which neither side could hold its serve. I have seen drunks put up a better defense falling off a stool.
Stay Away From VanderKelen
There were 79 points scored, 69 passes attempted. Anybody caught carrying the ball was a sissy. USC won, but they were like the kid who comes home with a nose bleeding, his ear torn, his clothes ripped and both eyes black and he says, “But you ought to see the other fellow.”
I know some schools that shouldn’t schedule Ron VanderKelen. He completed more passes than a sailor on leave in Tahiti. USC’s pass defense was so poor, they were lucky he didn’t score between halves from the dressing room.
No one is quite sure what happened in the fourth quarter because the Rose Bowl’s idea of lighting is two guys holding a cigar lighter at either end of the field. But whenever VanderKelen got on target, the officials got cramps from throwing their hands up in the air.
Somewhere down there in the darkness, Ron VanderKelen scored 23 points.
USC had a 42-14 lead at the start of the final quarter before they discovered the hole in their pocket. They ran out of their earnings quicker than a guy who starts letting his wife sign.
They ended the game with guards at tackle, a fraternity brother at center and the best game of blind man’s bluff in the defensive backfield you ever saw. Every time they looked up, [Wisconsin
receiver] Pat Richter was pinning the tail on
Toulouse-Lautrec could have put a better rush on the passer. I won’t say VanderKelen had plenty of time back there but have you ever heard of a guy reading the Kinsey Report while waiting to throw a touchdown pass?
Trojans Played It Conservative
USC threw 20 passes of its own but in this game, that was playing it close to the vest. A single-wing coach would have called the cops on both of them. Wisconsin didn’t intercept any passes. USC did, three, but it’s hard to find fault with the Badgers for that since they didn’t get half as many chances.
The officials had a lively day. They gained more yards on the ground than both teams put together. It was hard to tell whether the game was dirty but their handkerchiefs sure were.
Wisconsin now becomes officially the William Jennings Bryan of the Rose Bowl. They keep this up and even Floyd Patterson will beat them.
Coach John McKay won his first Rose Bowl game but the press acted more as if he had just stolen his grandmother’s crutches.
“We scored 42 points, didn’t we?” he demanded.
It was a good question. If VanderKelen had gone back to the hotel after the third quarter, people would be demanding his team play the Green Bay Packers.
A Sharp Eye Needed
The game had all the finesse of a Mack Sennett comedy. If anybody made a tackle in the last half, I missed it. Wisconsin made 419 yards passing but they could have gone faster on the ground by tunneling with a shovel.
They have now given up 86 points in their last two trips to the Rose Bowl, which should qualify them as a tax deductible charity, since that’s almost as many as the rest of the Big Ten has given in the other dozen years.
One more whomping and the Big Ten won’t even let them watch the Rose Bowl on TV.
Press box eyebrows were raised when McKay’s quarterbacks were putting the ball in the air with a 35-14 lead, but John apparently had wet a finger in the wind and knew a blow was coming. This put him one up on his safety men, who got so confused they just began tackling everybody when the ball was snapped. Wisconsin’s pass patterns were so dizzying, even the head linesman was doing head fakes.
It was so dark before the final gun went off that the USC center, Larry Sagouspe, couldn’t see the ballcarrier on one punt situation. So he just threw the ball back toward Arizona. It cost USC two points and the Tournament of Roses one football.
Miscarriage of Justice
The Trojans were a better football team than Wisconsin. The problem was whether they were better than VanderKelen. It was a gross miscarriage of justice that Ronald should have fallen on his sword finally.
The late Red Sanders, who was fond of Bible-spouting, used to paraphrase the good book by saying, “He who lives by the pass, dies
It was, alas, for VanderKelen, true. He was on his way to what would have been Wisconsin’s fifth touchdown when he completed one pass too many. Willie Brown of USC caught it.
Four coronaries later, the game came to a merciful halt. With three squads of the best football players you can find, a 28-7 lead, later a 42-14 lead, the USC Trojans finally heard the bell ring.
No one went up to McKay to ask, “When did you know you had it won, Coach?” He still isn’t sure.
At least there’s one good thing: The University of VanderKelen can’t come to the Rose Bowl two years in a row.