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Watters and Arizona Get Thumbed Out of Close Encounter With Bruins

September 27, 1987|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

Late one night last month, Bobby Watters was rushed to a hospital, complaining that he couldn't get a contact lens out of his left eye.

Once there, the Arizona quarterback was a little embarrassed but relieved to discover that his problem was minor.

He had two lenses in his right eye.

Watters was complaining about his sight again Saturday evening, and when he returns to the hospital this morning, the news might not be so reassuring.

Watters injured his right thumb in the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' 34-24 loss to UCLA Saturday at the Rose Bowl, slamming it down on the helmet of Bruin linebacker Doug Kline as he followed through on a pass that was intercepted by Eric Turner.

The play seemed to knock the wind out of Arizona, which was unable to move the ball behind backup quarterback Ronald Veal after UCLA converted the interception into a touchdown that put the Bruins ahead, 31-24, with 8:30 left.

And it may have ended the season for Watters, a transfer from SMU who helped the Wildcats build a 17-7 halftime lead, then put them back ahead, 24-17, after UCLA scored on its first two possessions of the second half.

Watters spent the last half of the fourth quarter sitting by himself on the bench, his thumb wrapped in a bag of ice.

"It's hurting so bad now, I can't even see straight," he said later in a corner of the Arizona locker room, wincing as he struggled to button his shirt and pull on a pair of pants.

Watters, who will have his thumb X-rayed this morning, said he never saw who hit him.

Kline, rushing from his inside linebacker position, was in Watters' face as he released the ball.

"He was right in front of me," Watters said, "but I didn't see him. On the follow-through, I just hit (the thumb) on his helmet and immediate pain.

"At first, I thought I just jammed it or something, but it's been hurting too badly since I sat down and iced it. I don't know what to expect."

Watters said he was throwing to split end Jeff Fairholm.

He said he didn't see Turner make the interception but knew that he was through for the day.

"My thumb was immobile," he said. "There was no way I could handle the ball at that point."

On the sideline, Coach Dick Tomey's reaction was pragmatic.

"I'm not demeaning anyone," Tomey said, "but my reaction when somebody gets hurt is, 'Who's the next guy?' "

In this case, it was a highly regarded but unproven 18-year-old freshman from Fernandina, Fla.

Did Tomey believe in that situation, with UCLA having just gone ahead and a crowd of 55,823 screaming its approval, Veal could move the team?

"Sure," said Tomey, who has no other quarterbacks on scholarship because backup Craig Bergman quit the team two weeks ago. "He did last week. I think he can."

But he didn't.

On his first series, Veal threw incompletions on second-and-nine and third-and-nine, forcing Arizona to punt.

On his second series, after UCLA's Alfredo Velasco kicked a 44-yard field goal to give the Bruins a 34-24 lead, Veal completed 1 of 2 passes for minus 5 yards, and Arizona again failed to get a first down.

UCLA ran out the clock.

"A little bit of pressure got to me," Veal said.

Said Tomey: "He's just young and he needs a lot of work."

He may get it now, although the extent of Watters' injury is not known.

"I don't know what to feel right now," said Watters, who was part of the SMU dispersal after throwing for 2,041 yards last season. "It hurts to lose the ballgame and my hand's killing me. I would say I'm looking forward to next week, but I don't know right now."

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