First voice: "Tight right, Ray. Iso weak. It's going to be second, no, third-and-seven at the hashmark. Charles [White] is back in the game. We need a spread set. It's a ripper...that's right. Nickel thunder. Left formation. They're making a shift to spread.... Draw. He got 'em."
Second voice: "The Tiger is going inside the tackle."
Third voice: "They're giving us a total new look. We need help."
Should that make little sense to you, welcome to Mission Control of this year's Rose Bowl, the press-box booth of the Ohio State assistant coaches. For it was exactly this kind of technical jargon pouring forth from that perch high above the playing field—where formations, blocking assignments and defensive adjustments can be seen, as opposed to down on the sideline, where the principal view is of randomly colliding bodies—that was in turn translated by the players into one of the most exciting college football games in memory.
Ultimately, Southern California, a.k.a. The University of Charles White, prevailed 17-16 over the AP's No. 1-ranked Ohio State, a.k.a. Arthur Schlichter U. It was a score that would not earn the Trojans the national championship, or even a piece of it, but it was indicative of the closeness and quality of play in the season's best bowl matchup. What shone through so clearly on a gorgeous 74° New Year's Day in Pasadena was a bunch of college guys having a helluva time playing a game that was always supposed to be fun. The Arizona State and New Mexico troubles make us think of sleaze; this football game made everyone who witnessed it think of the joy of college days, that exuberant way station between youth and adulthood. The day before the game the Trojan band marched onto the football practice field playing Fight On, coeds danced with the players, old grad O. J. Simpson dropped by for a few words of inspiration. Everyone went nuts. Everyone had fun.
And when the game had ended, winning Coach John Robinson struck the perfect note, saying, "It seems to me that before anybody starts to overanalyze what happened, we all ought to sit down and say that was one of the great football games. Sure, there were mistakes, the coaches made mistakes, but, dammit, it was a great football game."
Indeed, seldom do two coaches get to employ their favorite words so often during one game. Robinson's is "wow"; Ohio State's Earle Bruce leans toward "golly." And rarely do the nation's two best football teams get so much time to study each other and lay their plans. It had been six weeks since the undefeated Buckeyes beat Michigan 18-15 in their regular-season finale, five weeks since USC defeated UCLA 49-14 in its season ender. Now it was time to put all the game films and printouts away and play ball.
Second quarter, Ohio State Defensive Backfield Coach Pete Carroll on the horn to the held: "Iso! [White following the fullback who's trying to isolate and block a linebacker].... In Tiger they're doubling the noseguard. The ball cuts behind the double team: that's all it is. It's simple.... The tackle can't make the play, that's all."
OSU Outside Linebacker Coach Bob Tucker on another line: "Why should we be in tighter with two tight [USC's two-tight-end formation]. We gotta be in State [an OSU defense]. With two tights, why should we be in Tiger [a defensive adjustment] if your tackle can't get White?"
Carroll: "Let's go to State next time, O.K.? The Tiger's not helping us though because...."