And he consoled himself with McDonald. "You won't believe this kid," he said. "I've never seen a young man so into a game. He's fascinated by it. I worry sometimes that we're trying to give him too much to do, that we'll blow up with our own weapons. But I don't worry about him handling himself. Even against this club. And, hey, they ain't exactly rubes, you know. Nobody plays a more sophisticated defense than Alabama. It's going to be something to see."
A couple of hours earlier McDonald was with the USC team watching Hooper, a Burt Reynolds movie that featured a spectacular bar fight in which Pittsburgh Steeler Quarterback Terry Bradshaw played a hard-nosed heavy. McDonald said he identified with Bradshaw, being a quarterback and all, but found Bradshaw especially inspirational during the fight scene because when he got whacked in the mush by 1) Reynolds, and 2) a chair, he hardly blinked. "He just spat out a few teeth and kept coming," McDonald said. "Then Reynolds said, 'Uh, oh, I think we're in trouble.' It was great. I thought to myself, 'Well, that's what you have to do against Alabama. Spit 'em out and keep coming.' "
None of his teeth had to be sacrificed, but McDonald rose to such an occasion in the fourth quarter the next day, just when it seemed Alabama might be able to get in the final lick and turn a deserved defeat into victory. McDonald had been cool and workmanlike in the first half as the Trojans established a superiority at the line of scrimmage. Relying most of the time on the brilliant running of White, he drove his team to the threshold of the Alabama goal in the first period, only to fail when White fumbled at the two. But moments later White himself atoned for the error with a marvelous, hurdling 40-yard run to score on the old USC student-body-right power sweep. A painstaking 23-play, 8½-minute drive culminated in a 40-yard second-quarter field goal by Frank Jordan to push the advantage to 10-0 at halftime.
Then came Alabama, storming back. The Trojans were caught reaching on a counter play, and Halfback Major Ogilvie cut back free and into a corridor up the middle and ran 41 yards to a touchdown.
There followed a hairy exchange of interceptions as the two giants slugged into the fourth quarter at 10-7 with the tension mounting. Then a short Alabama punt, one of many that day, gave USC possession at the Alabama 39.
Defensively, Alabama had been giving McDonald much to look at but little to see, disguising the whereabouts and intentions of its free safety and roverback so that no one could be sure whether the Tide was setting up to stop the run or the pass. McDonald countered by coming to the line of scrimmage with two plays called—a pass and a run—and then audibilizing his final selection. Now, from the 39, White ran for six off the right side, where Tight End James Hunter had blocked prodigiously all day. McDonald got eight more on a scramble ("I'm faster than they think," he said later) and a first down at the 25. Fullback Lynn Cain got three, and a pass interference gave USC a first down at the 22. White ran for three and Cain for six. Then White, who proclaimed himself a Heisman candidate as a freshman but now in his junior year says he is running "more intelligently and aggressively" thanks to Robinson, hurdled an immense tangle of blockers and defenders, miraculously came down on his feet and got seven more to the Alabama six.
Robinson himself sent in the next play. Hackett and McDonald joked later that it was the kind you call and then slap your forehead in disbelief. But it was nevertheless typical of USC's attack. The Trojans not only used a bewildering assortment of splits and sets, but did so with interchangeable components so that what appeared to be a passing formation would be manned by blockers geared to the run. Robinson's brainstorm had Flanker Kevin Williams, a 155-pound sophomore, lining up at tailback (Hackett told him to "scrunch over so they don't get a good look at you") and then, on the snap, sprinting outside before angling back across and under the Alabama coverage on the right side. He was all alone at the four when McDonald hit him with the pass that proved to be the decisive touchdown and sweet retribution for last year when the Tide snapped then No. 1 USC's winning streak at 15.
"Brilliant, brilliant!" Robinson said to McDonald coming off the field with the score 17-7, bear-hugging his quarterback. "You were phenomenal today."
On September 11 Bryant had been honored with a surprise 65th birthday party in Birmingham, where he was eulogized by a starry cast of former players (Joe Namath, et al.) and opposing coaches (Frank Broyles, Darrell Royal). He grinned through it and said, "This is what I thought my funeral would be like." That being the case, it could be speculated that what he saw on Legion Field would sure as heck bring it on, the Bear being the perfectionist that he is.
Alabama fumbled the ball away twice, missed tackling and blocking assignments glaringly, tipped balls into the hands of USC receivers and ran into themselves in the backfield. Quarterback Jeff Rutledge was intercepted four times. Alabama had a puny 30-yard punting average and was smothered on kick returns by the insatiable USC defense.