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Scott Ostler

USC's Hawaiian Vacation Lasts One Day Too Long

December 29, 1985|Scott Ostler

HONOLULU — Along the road leading to Aloha Stadium before Saturday's Aloha Bowl game, there were several hand-lettered signs.

"NO SWAP MEET," the signs said.

Usually Saturday is swap-meet day in the big stadium next to Pearl Harbor. Pity the poor fool who missed the signs and wound up inside the stadium, expecting some exciting action and getting a football game instead. This game was no Honolulu lulu.

The first half was merely boring, with USC coming from behind to earn a 3-3 tie with Alabama at halftime.

The second half deteriorated into a 'Bama rout, sending the fans out early to see if they could find something better to do in Hawaii than watch a mismatch between two teams from somewhere in mainland America.

There are a few theories to explain why the Trojans were humbled, 24-3.

Those who hold to the Disneyland Theory maintain that the Trojans lost because they didn't have the advantage they usually enjoy in the Rose Bowl. Big Ten teams come to L.A. for the Rose Bowl and burn themselves out at Disneyland and Malibu, party themselves to a pulp and serve themselves up as limp human sacrifices to USC on New Year's Day.

Leading up to this game, however, both teams had fun. Neither coach, USC's Ted Tollner nor Alabama's Ray Perkins, are what you would call loosey-goosey types, but both coaches turned their players loose in Waikiki the week before the game.

Trojans and Crimson Tiders alike were seen on surfboards and mopeds, in the bars (the drinking age is 18 here) and on the beaches, meeting and mingling with natives in bikinis. Thus, USC had no edge.

Another theory, more popular, is that it didn't matter who did what the week before the game, because Alabama had a lot better team. Alabama linebacker Cornelius (Biscuit) Bennett, for instance, could have surfed the Banzai Pipeline and climbed Diamond Head and still had enough energy left to stuff the Trojan ballcarriers with embarrassing ease. Biscuit led a hungry, impressive unit Saturday.

The 'Bama defense simply dominated.

"They just fly to the ball," Trojan offensive tackle James FitzPatrick said. "Most teams that have such great athletes tend to be less disciplined. Not those guys.

"We wanted to go out in the first half and try to slow 'em up with draws and screens, try to get 'em guessing. In the second half, we wanted to get our pitch and power going, our bread and butter."

The Trojan offense in the second half was more like bread and water--bland, and lacking in the essential nutrients. The first five Trojan plays of the half were tailback Ryan Knight runs into swarms of Tide tacklers, good for 0, 1, minus 2, 2, and 0 yards.

Part of the reason the Trojans reverted to 19th Century football was that all their receivers were injured, and the replacements were very inexperienced. Part of the reason was that USC is a power-running team. Part of the reason was that USC simply blew it.

This was no time to go ultra conservative. You're playing a for-fun game, nothing to lose, no title at stake, a national TV audience. Why not go out in something resembling a blaze of glory?

Instead, the Trojans reverted to an offense that had all the glamour and excitement of coal mining, and they got the shaft.

"They (Alabama) started to play a quicker defense in the second half, they started to fire off the line and stuff us," USC center Tom Cox said. "In the first half we mixed in screens and draws, slowed 'em down a lot. We wanted to come out (in the second half) with our regular stuff, our power stuff, but they seemed to be ready for that."

Ready? Whew.

"In the second half they took it to us," said Rodney Peete, USC's freshman quarterback, who went down in the fourth quarter with a snapped left Achilles' tendon.

This didn't hurt the USC football team so much, since the Trojans were down, 24-3, at the time, and Rodney will be back next season. But the injury hurt the USC baseball team, which lost its starting center fielder.

With Peete out of the game, third-string quarterback Kevin McLean came in, with permission from Tollner to open up the offense, and looked nifty until he threw an interception.

Still, in the end, the result looked a lot like the first bowl meeting between these teams, the 1946 Rose Bowl. Alabama won that one, 34-14, and held the Trojans to six yards rushing.

As legend has it, that game was such a crashing bore that the Rose Bowl folks decided they needed a more exciting attraction for their stadium, and thus was born the Rose Bowl Swap Meet.

Saturday, in the land of Aloha, where was the swap meet when you really needed it?

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