It all came down to the mile relay, with five points going to the victor and zilch for second' place. The only way UCLA could lose was by accident. Say if one of its sub-46-second quarter-milers vanished into the San Andreas Fault. "Well, it's not impossible for us to win," sighed USC Coach Vern Wolfe, whose team was down by two points going into the final event at the Los Angeles Coliseum last weekend. But then Wolfe managed a grin. "Let's say it this way: the percentages are not with us." Against the Bruins' quarter-milers, the best percentage is hoping they'll drop the baton. You may beat their hands but never their feet.
And so it was little wonder that Jim Bush, the UCLA coach, was supremely confident. That is, until his troops gathered at the starting line, slapped palms and discovered that none of them had a baton. "Oh, no!" said Bush rushing off to the high-jump pit where the only survivors were Rick Fletcher and Dwight Stones, both of UCLA. As they jumped for personal honors, a UCLA team manager watched, idly tapping the missing baton against his right leg. "Hey!" Bush yelled. "Get that baton over to the starting line. And run!"
On the track, UCLA's John Smith, the world-record holder in the 440, stepped out of his warmup uniform, tossed it aside and began walking in tight circles. Expressionless, he seemed unaware of the 17,500 screaming fans. His long bout with mononucleosis and hepatitis over at last, Smith had already won the 440 in a meet-record 45.3 at less than full bore. Now, as he paced, he passed Edesel Garrison, the USC quarter-miler who was at once a friend and a rival. Both would run the anchor leg and earlier in the week Garrison had said that if he had the smallest of leads when they set off, USC would win.
"Yeah, well how small did he say?" Smith snapped.
"I heard an eyelash," said Reggie Echols, a UCLA sprinter.
"An eyelash?" Smith snorted. "Well, the only way he's gonna see my eyelashes is if I turn and look back."
As Smith passed, Garrison tossed his warmup uniform into the air. Smith gave him a tiny smile and they ritualistically slapped palms.
Then they were off, and for two laps USC kept it close. But suddenly—in the flicker of an eyelash—USC was dead, for Willie Deckard lost more than two seconds trying to pass the baton to Leon Brown and UCLA freshman Benny Brown hot-footed off to a 20-yard lead.
"You gotta get him, Eddie," a teammate screamed at Garrison as he waited—and waited—for the baton. Garrison looked at him as though he were crazy. To win he didn't need encouragement. He needed a .38.
Smith got the baton and smoked in 45.3; Garrison finally got his stick and jogged home in 51.2. And UCLA, by winning the relay in a meet-record 3:06.2, got the five points and the overall victory, 76-69.