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"Our offensive team's been winning for us all year," he said, "and in the last game of the year our defense rose up and did it."
Just a few days earlier he had been praising McKay and shaking his head in wonder at having a team compete for a Rose Bowl bid for the second straight year. Now he was being asked what he planned to do to celebrate his biggest Bruin victory. "I'm going to find my wife," he said, "and go home and open a bottle of 1971 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley."
For USC the frustrations were numerous. The Trojans set a record of sorts, too, losing a fourth straight league game for the first time since they entered the Pacific Coast Conference back in 1922. It was only the second time the Trojan seniors had lost a game in the Coliseum.
Bell, the nation's leading rusher, who had been averaging 173.9 yards a game, needed only 143 yards to break Ed Marinaro's NCAA single-season rushing record. He got 137 to finish with 1,875 yards, six short of the mark. But Bell is just a junior and will be back next year along with Fullback Tatupu, Wide Receiver Randy Simmrin, Defensive Tackle Gary Jeter and Offensive Tackle Marvin Powell to play for new Coach John Robinson. And there is still the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Dec. 22 against either Texas A&M or Arkansas. That will be McKay's collegiate swan song.
Unfortunately for McKay, whose USC teams won four national championships in his 16-year reign and went to the Rose Bowl eight times, winning five, his departure from the university to coach the new pro franchise in Tampa was horribly botched. After the announcement that he was going to Tampa, USC went from a 7-0 record to 7-4 and a San Jose State psychologist told the L.A. Times that the Trojan players were losing games because they had lost their father image.
Stopping UCLA's Rose Bowl bid might have eased some of the disappointment, but it did not happen and McKay was gracious in defeat. He hugged Vermeil and talked of his USC days as "the happiest of my life. I'm sorry it ended on a note of defeat, but in between my first defeat and my last one there were a lot of victories. As I told the kids, there was an article in the paper that the lack of a father image got 'em down. I told 'em I'd be very proud to be the father of any of 'em. They played extremely well for me, as have all the other people. They have developed John McKay and put him where he is and I'm most appreciative of that."
But, finally, McKay could not resist taking the cigar out of his mouth and putting his tongue in his cheek.
"I'm going into the sunset and taking the seniors with me," he said.
Although Arizona State has been beating a lot of opponents for years (67 wins in its last 76 games), its schedule has led to more than a few remarks concerning whether State really belongs among the big boys. Come Dec. 26, an answer will be forthcoming when ASU (11-0) plays powerful Nebraska (10-1) in its hometown Fiesta Bowl at Tempe. State's participation (this is its fifth bowl in six years) was made possible by a 24-21 defeat of Arizona, which gave the Sun Devils the championship of the Western Athletic Conference.
Eighth-ranked State was led by sophomore Quarterback Dennis Sproul, who threw to John Jefferson for two touchdowns and in the fourth quarter went over himself for the winning score. In the wake of State's unbeaten season, rumors are circulating anew that Frank Kush, who has been coaching at the school for 18 years, may be leaving.