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Butterfingers, yes, but wine and roses, too
Joe Jares
December 08, 1975
UCLA won a Rose Bowl trip and Coach Dick Vermeil a taste of vintage red via a game with USC that nearly slipped from the Bruins' shaky paws
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December 08, 1975

Butterfingers, Yes, But Wine And Roses, Too

UCLA won a Rose Bowl trip and Coach Dick Vermeil a taste of vintage red via a game with USC that nearly slipped from the Bruins' shaky paws

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The week of the UCLA-USC football game is a time for pranks, which is probably a healthy thing because otherwise the crosstown hatred would make the Los Angeles atmosphere more poisonous than it is, with malice coating the cars and tennis courts like ashes from the recent Tujunga fire. There was the time some USC culprits released a squad of cardinal-and-gold-painted mice in the crowded UCLA library. And once some Bruins kidnapped the late George Tire-biter, USC's mongrel mascot, and shaved " UCLA" into his fur. Another time USC students hijacked a UCLA delivery truck the day before the big game and substituted copies of a parody Daily Bruin for the originals. That same year UCLA students hired a helicopter and tried to dump manure on USC's Trojan warrior statue—and missed by several blocks.

But the week leading up to last Friday night's 45th renewal of the rivalry was relatively quiet, the only prank of note being USC's attempt to cut attendance at a Bruin pep rally by distributing a phony postponement notice on UCLA stationery. Perhaps sophomoric spirits were dampened by the fact that the game was to be the last in the Coliseum for USC's John McKay, as a college coach. Perhaps UCLA schemers were too busy worrying about their team going to the Rose Bowl—if UCLA lost or tied, Cal would get the bid. Ah, but tradition held up after all. Some sly devil waited until the game itself and, apparently, managed to spread something resembling Vaseline on the football just about every time UCLA had possession.

In a ghastly giveaway show before 80,927 people in the stands and a national television audience, UCLA fumbled 11 times, tying the conference record for butterfingers, one game, and lost eight of those fumbles, breaking the conference record in that category. The errors almost overshadowed the other statistics, specifically that UCLA, led by its fine option quarterback, John Sciarra, managed to hang on to the football long enough to gain 414 yards against one of the nation's toughest defenses and win the game 25-22.

"That's the hard way," said UCLA's second-year coach, Dick Vermeil.

"If we fumbled the ball 11 times and still won," said Sciarra, "we must be the best team."

And as the best team, UCLA will represent the Pacific Eight in the 62nd Rose Bowl on New Year's Day against Ohio State. Since UCLA lost to Ohio State 41-20 earlier this season, lost to Washington, was tied by Air Force and nearly gave the game away to USC, it seems likely that Woody Hayes' undefeated Buckeyes will be better than two-touchdown favorites. Even if the Rose Bowl officials allow guaranteed nonskid stickum on the football.

(The Cal Bears, who matched UCLA's 6-1 league record but were beaten by the Bruins rather convincingly, will sit home over the holidays twiddling their thumbs. They will not be consoled by the fact that they ended up as perhaps the most symmetrical offensive power in NCAA annals, with 2,522 yards gained rushing, 2,522 gained passing.)

Let us now follow the bouncing ball in more detail:

The Bruins started slowly, fumbling only once in the first quarter. USC led 7-0 after taking the kickoff and marching 71 yards. On UCLA's fifth play from scrimmage Halfback Wendell Tyler fumbled. USC recovered, went nowhere and missed a 35-yard field-goal attempt.

The offenses then functioned smoothly for a while. UCLA, which had not been stopped by anybody all season, scored three touchdowns on drives of 80 yards or more, Tyler sprinting 57 yards for the second. USC added its second TD via the running and passing of Quarterback Vince Evans.

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