TEMPE, Ariz. — Steve Bono's mother, Cornelia, moved from Norristown, Pa., to Southern California last fall so she could watch her son play quarterback for UCLA.
It seemed like a good thing to do. However, she wasn't prepared for what the Los Angeles media had to say about Steve.
Writers said Steve was an inconsistent passer and wasn't able to generate touchdowns, but he did a good job of getting the Bruins into field-goal range. He was not much more than the advance man for placekicker John Lee.
The criticism hurt so much she stopped reading papers.
Cornelia Bono can read them today and smile. Son Steve was nothing short of brilliant Tuesday, leading UCLA to a stirring 39-37 victory over the University of Miami in Tuesday's Fiesta Bowl.
The game was as much a victory for Bono as for UCLA. The often-injured Bono has waited five years for a moment like this. He set a school record by passing for 399 yards in a 37-35 loss to BYU during the 1983 season, but otherwise his career prior to this season was mostly filled with low points. The starting quarterback job that was supposed to be his kept evading him.
And even this season, when he became the starter, there was more bad luck. Bono missed three games with a sprained ankle. And when he was playing, there was often criticism.
That's all history today as Bono nearly out-Kosared the real Bernie Kosar. And, with poise and savvy, Bono went a long way to getting his name scribbled on NFL scouting sheets alongside Kosar and BYU's Robbie Bosco.
Did he finally make a name for himself?
"I'll let you know what happens on April 30," Bono said, referring to the date of the NFL draft. "I feel like I am of their caliber (Kosar and Bosco). I wanted to come out and play the best game of my career and come out a winner."
It was Bono's guidance that engineered the Bruins' highest-scoring game this season. Scratch one rap against Bono--he can score.
"I kept saying to the guys in the huddle, 'Every time we get the ball we have to score.' " Bono said. "We knew we had to generate a lot of offense and score a lot of points to beat Miami and keep the keep the ball away from Kosar."
Bono teamed with another Bruin--split end Mike Sherrard-- who's game Tuesday was, in part, a redemption for a less-than satisfying season. Although Sherrard is UCLA's leading receiver, he hasn't reached what he had hoped for this season. His five receptions for 94 yards and one touchdown helped him get over it, too.
It was a clutch reception by Sherrard that set up the game-winning field goal with 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter. UCLA was on Miami's 28-yard-line on second and nine with less than two minutes left to play. Bono dropped back, pumped once, and hit Sherrard on a sideline pass that was barely in bounds.
"It was a Corner Blaze, with the safety and cornerback blitzing," Sherrard said. "I was supposed to run a short route, but Steve gave me the pump, so I kept going.
"I knew the ball was heading out of bounds so I just dragged one foot in."
Sherrard had been a questionable starter, but he played despite a sore right hand. He cracked a bone in the hand while playing basketball during the week of the USC game.
Bono played what he called the best game of his life after one of the worst nights he could remember.
"I went to bed at 10:30 last night," he said. "I woke up in a complete sweat at 6:30 this morning. I was so nervous. I'm flying back home (to Norristown), and I won't get in until about 10 a.m., Eastern time. I won't get much sleep."
They'll be celebrating in Norristown, not sleeping. They love Bono in Norristown. Cornelia Bono was transferred from her supermarket checking job in Norristown because too many fans were asking about Steve and clogging the checkout lines. His hometown well-wishers had flown in for the game and were beaming proudly at Bono after the game. "If the Eagles don't draft him, they're crazy," they told a reporter. Cornelia Bono was right there, insisting her son put on a shirt as he stood outside the UCLA locker room to be interviewed. "He could catch a chill," she said.
During the season, Mrs. Bono served as a nanny to a Brentwood family, getting Saturdays off to watch Steve play. She didn't miss a home game.
"It was harder for me to listen to and read the criticism of Steve than it was for him," she said. "He has taken a lot of knocks, and I think he handles it well. He has really progressed in that department."
Bono has also progressed in the playing department, too. As a fifth-year senior, this is only Bono's first season as a starter. As he noted, "Bernie Kosar is only a sophomore and already he has a year's experience over me."
Bono has been waylaid more by circumstances than lack of ability. He sat on the bench behind Tom Ramsey. Then he lost the starting job to Rick Neuheisel last season after tendinitis hampered him in fall drills. Then, when Neuheisel failed to move the Bruin offense to Coach Terry Donahue's satisfaction, Bono got his chance. His first start came against BYU, and his performance earned him the starting job. He though he had arrived.
As it turned out, he was just leaving. Bono separated his shoulder in the next game against Stanford and didn't play the rest of the regular season.
For a time it seemed to Bono that bad luck would not go away. But it did Tuesday. As he stood after the game, bone weary and explaining, for the seventh time, his pass to Sherrard, Bono managed a weak smile at the irony of his career.
"This win, in this game, makes it all worthwhile," Bono said. "All the criticism and all the talk means nothing, compared to this. This is the greatest feeling I've known."