John Robinson and John Madden, head coaches respectively of the USC Trojans and Oakland Raiders, have been buddies since the fifth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Daly City, near San Francisco. Robinson was best man at Madden's wedding and was a Raiders assistant in 1975 before landing the USC job. Last winter the two old pals fantasized about leading their teams to victories in Pasadena's giant, 55-year-old stadium—USC in the Rose Bowl game Jan. 1, Oakland in the Super Bowl eight days later.
Madden gets his chance this Sunday against Minnesota, but we can already chalk one up for fantasies and Our Lady's alumni association. Robinson's Trojans defeated Michigan 14-6, thus finishing the season with an 11-1 record and, no doubt, the No. 2 ranking behind Pittsburgh in every poll. Except one. The Trojans took an informal and, naturally, impartial count of their own in the locker room and unanimously voted themselves the national title.
Michigan did not argue, because USC's win was indeed impressive, not the least because it came without All-America Tailback Ricky Bell, who was stunned on his fourth carry of the game and woozily left the field, never to return. He was replaced by Charles White. who rushed for 122 yards, only 33 less than the entire Michigan backfield. It was impressive, too, because Fullback Mosi Tatupu and the offensive line blocked well, because Quarterback Vince Evans threw 27- and 30-yard strikes in clutch situations and because the defense held Michigan to 217 yards and 33 points below its average.
The Wolverines arrived in Pasadena leading the nation in total offense, rushing offense and scoring. But they left exposed as just another tough, solid, upstanding Big Ten football team without a passing attack. "A one-dimension offense," said USC alumnus O. J. Simpson. "They came in with the No. 1 offense in the nation and scored six points."
Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler had patiently and politely argued that his team could too pass. He had pointed out that Wingback Jim Smith was one of the most dangerous receivers around, that Quarterback Rick Leach was a fine athlete, that, yes, Michigan averaged only nine passes a game but those precious few aerials often went for scores or big gains. All true. The trouble was that those big gainers—and indeed most of the offensive glitter—usually came when the Wolverines had comfy leads against the likes of Navy, Wake Forest and Northwestern and sophomore Leach was under little pressure. Smith had caught 24 passes during the season, but Split End Curt Stephenson had caught only one.
One day last week USC Defensive Backfield Coach Bob Toledo came out of the film room excitedly claiming he had "spotted their tendency. Now we know when they're going to pass."
"How?" asked a gullible cohort.
"Every time they are going to pass," said Toledo, " Smith does a cartwheel when they break the huddle."
There might not have been much passing or cartwheeling by either side if it had rained as it did the two preceding days, but the rain stopped and the Rose Bowl, nestled down in the Arroyo Seco, was its usual beautiful self for 106,182 in-person spectators and a national TV audience. Even though Pitt had clinched No. 1 earlier in the day, taking an edge off the USC-Michigan game, it still figured to be an entertaining battle between two schools steeped in football tradition and sporting two of the rousingest college fight songs. Fight On! ( USC) and The Victors ( Michigan).
Nobody appreciated all the hoopla more than Robinson, who, when asked why he had returned to USC (where he had been an assistant under John McKay), said, "I really missed the Trojan horse. The horse, the band and all those song girls...."