Nowadays Nelson seems to be more reliable than a savings bond. But that hasn't always been so. Take last year, when he first won his job. Washington had not missed a PAT in three years and had a string of 111 going for it. But Nelson promptly blew his first point-after attempt and then went on to cast further doubt on his accuracy by missing two 24-yard field-goal attempts. Washington fans reacted to that about the same way they did to some of Pelluer's passing on Saturday. "I could see their point," says Nelson. "I think they felt I should have been a little more productive." The brainy Nelson, who has a 3.5 average in business administration, boots about 165 balls a week in practice. "But I kick 10 times that many in my mind," he says. "I see it on the tee, I hit it clean, it goes high and straight and end over end. I never miss in my mind."
Nelson has become so good that he intimidates Husky opponents. Washington State knew that anytime the ball got around its 30, Nelson might trot onto the field and do the Cougars in.
Washington State's chances were also hurt by several injuries suffered in the game after a generally injury-free year. Most notable among the victims was Clete Casper, the Cougars' starting quarterback, who pulled a hamstring in his left leg after making a pitchout in the second quarter. There were faint hopes he might come back, but they vanished when his leg gave way as he walked into the locker room at halftime. Another serious loss was Running Back Tim Harris, who reinjured a tender right knee. Before leaving the game in the third quarter, he had gotten 64 yards to become the most prolific rusher in Washington State history, with 2,130.
The coffin nails were hammered in for the Coogs when it was announced with 10:30 left in the game that USC had beaten UCLA 22-21, assuring roses for the Huskies if they mushed on to victory. The crowd went bonkers, and the scoreboard urged people to get out their sun-tan lotion. Said Pelluer, who didn't hear the announcement, "I thought maybe we'd done something great that I hadn't noticed."
As Walden dressed for the five-hour bus ride back across the state to Pullman, he discovered that the Cougars hadn't gone entirely unnoticed. Confirmation came through that they had been invited to the Holiday Bowl, where they will face BYU (see page 93) on Dec. 18. That will be the Cougars' first bowl appearance of any kind in 51 years, but Walden doesn't intend to sit back and admire this 8-2-1 season as a delightful aberration in Cougar football.
He said, "I don't want to be a one-song, sold-a-million-records, whatever-happened-to Johnnie Ray." He won't be, just as soon as he figures out how to beat the Huskies.