Lest anyone say that UCLA backed into the Rose Bowl when Arizona upset Arizona State Saturday night, UCLA Coach Terry Donahue would like to make the following points:
--UCLA finished with the best conference record at 6-2.
--Because of the way the conference determines its champion, by the number of losses instead of the number of victories, UCLA is co-champion with Arizona State and Arizona. But UCLA clearly deserves to be the Rose Bowl representative because it beat each of those teams in head-to-head competition.
--Why didn't anyone say that USC backed into the Rose Bowl last season when the Trojans finished with a record of 7-1 and tied for the title with Washington at 6-1? Somewhere along the line, USC got assists from both Stanford and Oregon to eliminate UCLA.
"I don't buy the notion that we backed in just because one game was played in the evening and the other one was played in the afternoon," Donahue said. "You play all the games until it's done and when the smoke settles you see where you're at.
"I feel like the commander who lost the battle but won the war."
The Bruins are at 8-2-1 overall and on their way to their fourth straight New Year's Day bowl game. This will be the third time in four years that the Bruins will be the Pac-10 representative in the Rose Bowl game.
"The UCLA people who were calling me all night and all day are thrilled to death," Donahue said.
Saturday was a very wild day, emotionally, for the Bruins, losing a game that they could have won to their archrivals in the afternoon and suffering with that for several hours before learning that they were, after all, on their way to the Rose Bowl.
"Real wild," Donahue said. "I didn't listen to the (Arizona) game on the radio. I was just at home, with friends and family. Bob Fischer (former athletic director) called me to tell me. . . . I tried to call a couple of the players last night. I don't know where they were, but they sure weren't in bed early."
John Lee, the UCLA kicker who set the NCAA record for most field goals in a career, was having dinner at the Charthouse in Westwood when he heard about the upset.
At first, he thought it was a rumor. So he checked with a sure authority on sports information--the bartender.
"When the bartender said it was true, I knew it had to be," Lee said. "But I didn't know right away how they did it."
Ironically, the guy who put Lee's team in the Rose Bowl with fourth-quarter field goals of 57 yards and 32 yards was Max Zendejas, the Arizona kicker who has been in a four-year race with Lee for every possible record--including that NCAA career record that Lee broke Saturday. The record had belonged to Luis Zendejas, Max's brother.
"It's unbelievable the way that worked out, isn't it?" Lee said. "I knew my buddy Max would come through for us."
Just a thought: Donahue has been criticized for calling upon Lee to kick the field goal early in the second quarter of the game against USC Saturday when the Bruins had a fourth-and-less-than-a-yard at the USC five. If he hadn't, Donahue would be hearing from all the Lee fans about depriving him of the NCAA record. Earlier this season, at Stanford, Donahue took a Lee field goal off the board after a penalty. He did the same thing in Lee's freshman year.
Senior defensive tackle Mark Walen, who injured his shoulder, and senior inside linebacker Tommy Taylor, who pulled a muscle in his leg, had to come out of the game against USC, but Donahue said that they would probably be back for the Rose Bowl game.
He also said that linebacker Tony Phillips, who has missed most of the season with a knee injury, might try to come back, and that safety Craig Rutledge had a long-shot chance at being back.