As Michigan State quarterback Bobby McAllister fell out of bounds, into the heart of the USC players on the sideline, he heard one of the Trojans marveling at the pass just completed.
McAllister said: "I don't usually listen to talk, but this time I heard somebody say, 'I don't believe it.' And I said, 'Believe it or not!' "
It was unbelievable.
With Michigan State and USC tied, 17-17, in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl game New Year's Day, McAllister found himself facing a third-and-eight from his 30. The play called for him to pass across the field, to his left. But that receiver, the fullback, would never get the first down; he could have caught the ball, but there was a Trojan right behind him.
McAllister saw split end Andre Rison coming back, toward him, so he waved him long, knowing that Rison could outrun the man on him. Rison says he saw that little wave, turned and ran as fast as he could up the right sideline.
By then, time was running out on McAllister. He was scrambling and under heavy pressure. The Trojans were chasing him out of bounds.
Just as he was about to be hit. just as he was about to be driven out of bounds, McAllister jumped up and flung the ball over a defender--threw it well enough, too, to travel 36 yards to Rison, who caught the ball and held on as he was hit by Trojan defensive back Cleveland Colter.
That kept alive the drive that would lead to the winning field goal. Michigan State Coach George Perles said: "That was a broken play. He was supposed throw to his left, but that receiver was covered. He started scrambling and ended up throwing what looked like a jump pass. That's the way (offensive coordinator) Morris Watts coaches him to chase the ball when he's throwing on the run like that. If you get in the air, you can turn your shoulders the way you want to throw.
"That play worked strictly on the athletic ability of McAllister and Rison."
USC Coach Larry Smith also saw it that way.
"We had that play stopped," Smith said. "We had it covered. But that's football. The play is never over until the ball is blown dead. He just made a great play. He's that kind of quarterback."
Rison said: "I know the kind of quarterback he is. He has a lot of athletic ability--running, jumping, throwing--he can even play basketball. He's similar to Rodney Peete in his ability.
"He's the kind of quarterback who is never out of the play. He's never contained. When it might look to everyone else like he's out of the play, I'm still looking for the ball."
Actually, the ball was all that Rison saw after the wave. "I was busy running," Rison said. "I didn't see him throw the ball. When I turned, the ball was coming."
McAllister tried to say that he never practiced a jump pass like that, but Rison corrected him and McAllister conceded that, maybe, he had tried it a couple of times. Rison recalls a similar pass the first time these teams met this season.
McAllister and Rison had connected on a 55-yard pass play just before the first half ended that was similar to a 44-yard pass that McAllister threw to Rison when the Spartans beat the Trojans in the season opener.
The 55-yard pass play in the Rose Bowl game led directly to Lorenzo White's second touchdown and gave the Spartans their 14-3 halftime lead.
McAllister said his long pass to Rison in the earlier game was similar but not quite the same.
"This time, it was a choice," McAllister said. "He could take it to the outside or he could try to beat the guy on the post. He beat the guy on the post."
Rison said: "On the series before I went to the sideline and told the coaches that every time we used two tight ends, they were playing me man-to-man, and when we didn't have two tight ends, I was double-covered. I knew I could beat the guy one-on-one, so I suggested that play.