Bradley's brain cramp set the stage for OU's nightmarish evening
Posted: Wednesday January 5, 2005 2:30AM; Updated: Wednesday January 5, 2005 5:13AM
By John Donovan, SI.com
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mark Bradley had a brain cramp of mythic proportions. A split-second decision that was positively dizzying in its daffiness.
On Tuesday night, in the first quarter of the national championship game at the Orange Bowl, Bradley didn't suffer a mere momentary lapse of judgment. He suffered a lapse of sanity.
"I don't know really what I was thinking," Bradley said. "It was a bonehead play."
Southern California won its second straight national title on Tuesday -- this one, the Trojans will keep for themselves, thank you very much -- but it wasn't without a completely unnecessary helping hand from the Sooners. Bradley, a senior wide receiver and punt returner, made the first unconscionable decision that led to a USC touchdown.
The Sooners followed that with three more first-half turnovers that, in effect, turned this highly anticipated and supposedly close matchup between the top two teams in the BCS rankings into a lopsided laugher.
Though, of course, Bradley wasn't laughing after the 55-19 thumping.
His coach, Bob Stoops, definitely didn't see the humor.
"I have no idea why Mark would have done that," Stoops said. "How do you explain that? It's as bad a play as there is."
With the score tied at 7 and the Trojans stalled near midfield late in the first quarter, USC punter Tom Malone let loose with an awful punt that -- and this should have been a harbinger -- took a healthy pro-Trojans bounce. And then another. And then rolled inside the 10.
That's when the Trojans' invisible hero of the night, backup wideout and cornerback John Walker, closed in on the bouncing punt, looking like he was ready to down it. But Walker kept letting it bounce. In fact, it almost bounced back and hit him.
"I was yelling at [Bradley] 'Touch it. Touch it. Go on and touch it,'" Walker said on the field after the game. "I don't know if he heard me, but ... I guess he kind of froze."
Bradley did worse than freeze. Against every common-sense bone in his body, against everything he had been taught as a punt returner, against everything that is good and right to the Sooner Nation, Bradley touched the ball.
What in the world was he thinking?
"I have no idea," he said.
Special teamer Collin Ashton punched the ball out of Bradley's arms, special teamer Josh Pinkard recovered at the OU 6 and, on the next play, running back LenDale White burst over the right side of the line for a touchdown.
By itself, Bradley's blunder would probably have lived on for centuries -- not to mention infamy -- in Oklahoma football lore. Sooners fans don't forget things like that.
But the mess-up was just the start of a series of unfortunate events. And by that, we mean a lot of mess-ups.
On Oklahoma's next possession, quarterback Jason White, the 2003 Heisman Trophy winner, made one of his poorest decisions of the night, forcing a pass into quadruple-coverage -- honestly, it looked like an SC pep squad meeting back there -- that was picked off by Jason Leach. Seven plays later, Heisman-winning quarterback Matt Leinart found freshman wideout Dwayne Jarrett with a 54-yard touchdown pass.
The next time OU had the ball, Bradley slipped on a route, White's pass was just a little high and Eric Wright intercepted. It took USC five plays this time before Leinart gave Steve Smith a 5-yard TD pass.
And then, after OU managed to knock through a field goal, White and running back Kejuan Jones flubbed a handoff. The Trojans recovered and kicked a field goal.
By the time the first half mercifully ended, the Trojans had scored 24 points off four OU turnovers and led 38-10.
And it all started with Bradley's boner.
"Mark Bradley is known to be a pretty heady player," his friend, teammate Mark Clayton said. "When I saw that, I was like 'I can't believe it.'"
Neither could anyone else.