A NEW OLD RIVALRY
In the 10 years since John Robinson left Southern Cal, college football has changed so much that he shouldn't even be able to recognize it. For one thing, his "student body right," which earned two of his tailbacks ( Charles White and Marcus Allen) Heisman Trophies and one of his teams the national championship, has been retired to the nearby La Brea tar pits, where it's now the official game plan of woolly mammoths.
But Robinson is nothing if not adaptable. Coming back to Troy this year after nine seasons in the NFL, he has come up with a passing game that may be more sophisticated than any he ever had with the Los Angeles Rams. In allowing Rob Johnson to throw for more than 3,000 yards this fall—hundreds more than White or Allen ever gained rushing in a season—Robinson showed he's willing to do whatever it takes to resurrect a shaky USC program. He has evolved into a higher form of football mammal—Air Robinson.
Further, he has learned not to take for granted the casual dominance his teams once enjoyed over UCLA. A USC whipping bear in Robinson's time, the cross-town Bruins were 5-4-1 against the Trojans during his absence. UCLA is now 1-0 since Robinson's reappearance. "Things have changed," said Bruin coach Terry Donahue after his team held on for a 27-21 victory at the Coliseum to win a trip to the Rose Bowl. "The college football game is different than it was 20, even 10 years ago."
The game is certainly different in Los Angeles. Before Saturday, UCLA was 0-10 against the Trojans when the Rose Bowl was at stake for both teams. Bruin senior Vaughn Parker remembers some older teammates' crying over a 10-10 tie with USC during his freshman season. "We were 3-7," says Parker, "and I'm thinking, Great, a tie. But big, crusty guys crying tears!" The Bruins have lost just one Crying Game since.
The 8-3 Bruins have definitely been the dominant team in town this year. The passing combination of Wayne Cook to J.J. Stokes (1,005 yards) has been nearly as effective as USC's Johnson-to- Johnnie Morton battery (1,365 yards). Plus UCLA has a running game and a defense. USC (7-5), retool as Robinson might, hasn't always had both this season.
Like every other USC- UCLA game in the last four seasons, this one was decided by less than a touchdown. Like last year's game, when a walk-on transfer quarterback named John Barnes led the Bruins to victory, this one was led by an unlikely hero, running back Ricky Davis, an eager but slow athlete who was number four on the depth chart only weeks ago. Davis rushed for 153 yards. And like last year's game, when USC missed a two-point conversion, this one, too, was decided by failure in the final seconds.
Johnson had passed the Trojans down-field, putting them on the UCLA two with 56 seconds left and USC trailing by six. But Johnson, whose TD-to-interception ratio of 24 to 4 had been one of college football's most impressive statistics this year, mysteriously threw into triple coverage and was intercepted by Bruin free safety Marvin Goodwin, and that was that. "The script was there," said Robinson, "but we screwed it up."
Still, he was not disconsolate. The sport may have changed, but at least this rivalry remains exciting. You almost believed Robinson when he said, "I was glad I was there."
HOW WELL HE SERVED