Chicken pox, whooping cough, measles, mumps,
Fumigate, inoculate, Bruin chumps!
This is L.A., baby, and you get drama any way you can. How's this for a treatment: Star black quarterback is in a Heisman duel with a big, blond rival; crosstown schools are preparing to fight for the Pac-10 crown, a Rose Bowl berth and, for one of the teams, a chance to stay in the fight for the national championship; suddenly one of the quarterbacks, the scrambling, electrifying kid with the Tootsie Pop in his mouth and the smile on his face, comes down with a case of the measles and nobody knows if he will be able to play in the big game; he's feverish, he's weak, he may have to crawl onto the field like Paul Newman going after George Kennedy in Cool Hand Luke, for God's sake. It's fabulous. It's a TV movie already. Get Eddie Murphy for one guy and Sean Penn for the other, and we've got a big-screen feature.
Wait a minute. Did you say measles? That's when you get spots and your mom brings you toast while you lie in bed watching cartoons, right? That's a problem. Yes, it is. The writer has to make it pneumonia, at least.
Sorry, Hollywood, but it was definitely measles that USC quarterback Rodney Peete came down with before facing UCLA and its flame-throwing leader, Troy Aikman, last Saturday. What's more, when Peete ran onto the field at the Rose Bowl—without a hint of a stagger or limp—and led the undefeated Trojans to a rock-solid 31-22 win over the Bruins, before a near-capacity crowd of 100,741 fans, he exuded all the joy of a kid who had just been allowed out of the house after whipping a juvenile ailment.
"Thank you for bearing with me," said Peete to the press after the game. What he meant was that he was awfully sorry that he had caught this silly disease and made everybody needlessly speculate on whether he would play—even though he had said all along that he would have to be on his deathbed to miss this game. Not that measles is anything to sneeze at, understand. It's highly contagious and no fun at all for a week or so, what with the rash, fever and hacking cough. And, if you're an adult, the symptoms can be far more severe.
No wonder it wasn't clear until game time that Peete would be well enough to run and throw. He hadn't practiced until Friday, and his understudy, redshirt sophomore Pat O'Hara, was ready to start. But for a while you would have thought the 40 or so diagnosed cases of measles at USC were the second coming of The Masque of the Red Death.
Indeed, at midweek, hundreds of Southern Cal students lined up by the statue of Tommy Trojan (who was neatly wrapped in duct tape to prevent UCLA sabotage) for free inoculations. The football team got its shots on Tuesday night. The Los Angeles Times
reported that Dr. Lawrence Ross, a specialist in infectious diseases at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, had said that the Bruin players, as well as the 100,000 fans expected for the game, would be at risk and recommended that the game be postponed. Right, doc.
Despite all the hoopla, the UCLA players believed Peete would play, and they didn't care a whit if he endangered their health. What if he breathed on them in a pileup? "It's just part of the game," said Bruins outside linebacker Carnell Lake with pure football logic. Said cornerback Darryl Henley, "Even if he had leprosy, I'd try to tear his head off."
You may recall that last year Peete threw two touchdown passes to rally USC to a 17-13 win over UCLA and put the Trojans in the Rose Bowl against Michigan State (a team they had lost to in that season's opener, and would lose to again on New Year's Day). Remember, too, that the Bruins always want to show that they are just as serious a football power as their neighbor up the Santa Monica Freeway. However, since 1967 USC and UCLA have met 16 times with a Rose Bowl bid at stake for one or both schools. Southern Cal has won 13 of those games.
This record haunts the Bruins' Terry Donahue. Despite the fact that he's the winningest coach in UCLA history (107-38-7) and his six straight bowl-game victories tie him with Bear Bryant and Bobby Dodd for the most consecutive years with a postseason win, Donahue knows that he toils in the shadow of Tailback U. As if to make the point that history was certain to repeat itself, O.J. Simpson, whose 64-yard touchdown gallop beat the Bruins 21 years ago, watched Saturday's game from the USC sideline.