It was the night before the 1985 Rose Bowl game, and Tim Green couldn't sleep. He couldn't eat. He was nervous and sick. Nervous sick, he called it.
It was a terrifying feeling, that so many people were interested in this game, and that he had to play. Had to carry the ball every count. Had to win. People at USC hate to lose.
In the USC locker room before the game, he kept thinking about those last two games of the season, losses to UCLA and Notre Dame. And now it was Ohio State, a team stacked with Keith Byars, Tom Zack, Cris Carter, Chris Spielman, Mike Tomczak. The Buckeyes were favored to win.
And Green was a little shaken. He had never been favored to win. He simply did. And now there were 102,594 people out there in the Rose Bowl waiting for the show to start. These are the things pregame thoughts are made of.
Then before he put on his helmet and ran out on the field, Tim Green had a talk with himself. He told himself that this was his last college football game. He asked himself what he wanted to do with it: "Do I want to win, or be a sniveling little brat worried about all this stuff?" And that's when he decided to do it.
Warming up before the game, Green felt good. He was on, and confident, and ready to play. In fact, he never felt more ready to play than he did that day.
Then Tim Green, starting quarterback for USC, went out and played the game of his life, a 20-17 victory over Ohio State.
"Our defense was just too tough," said Green, who shared most valuable player honors with Jack Del Rio. "I got a couple of quick scores in the first half on a couple of touchdown passes, and our momentum, well, we wanted that game. There was no question.
"As close as the score was, it was no indication of how we played that day. We really kicked their butts."
Green completed 13 of 24 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns.
"I finally proved that by going out and winning the Rose Bowl, I went out a winner," Green said. "Getting to play those games at USC, I proved to myself that I could do it and that was a big thing. The press asked me if I had the last laugh. Well, I guess I did."
USC hasn't had a Rose Bowl laugh since.
The irony of all his worrying is that Tim Green appeared to be one of the most confident, cocky quarterbacks ever to play at USC. He was the opposite of the traditional, reserved USC quarterback. This left-hander was a cowboy kind of guy.
The press loved him, because he said whatever he wanted. The school hated some of the things he said, so they banned him from talking to the media, the first ban in a decade. "Since Charles White," Green said with a smile. "They (school officials) teach you what to say to the press and it's so boring. So boring."
Ted Tollner recruited him, then couldn't control him. If Green didn't like a play that Tollner called, he'd call his own play. If it worked, he got away with it. If it didn't, he would pretend he had missed the signal. He was an independent spirit, much like Jim McMahon, whom Tollner coached at Brigham Young.
Like a student getting sent to the principal's office, Green wore a path to Tollner's office. "You could say we had a lot of office meetings," Green said.
Green was a quarterback with a defensive mentality--he hung out with the linemen. He was a junior college transfer who started at quarterback at USC--unusual in itself.
Of his ability as quarterback at Aviation High in Redondo, Green said he was a star only in his own mind. He passed on scholarship offers from schools such as Boise State and Idaho and enrolled at a local junior college.
Meanwhile, in Escondido, Sean Salisbury, the most highly recruited quarterback in the country, chose USC.
In his two years at El Camino College, Green set 12 national junior college records at quarterback, passing for 5,448 yards and 49 touchdowns.
Then as a junior at USC, he sat on the bench and watched Salisbury lead the Trojans to a 4-6-1 season. Green was miserable. He hated playing cleanup and wanted to start. He even told the press that he was a better quarterback than Salisbury. What he said he meant was that he was a better quarterback at the college level and that Salisbury would be better at the pro level. Regardless, it did not sit well with his teammates.
Green intended to redshirt during the 1984 season, his senior year, but changed his mind when Salisbury was injured in the second game of the season against Arizona State. Still, Tollner gave the ball to freshman Kevin McLean, who started the next game against LSU.
But Green didn't give up. He says he used some manipulative tactics on the young quarterback. "I'd say stuff to Kevin like, 'There are only going to be 85,000 people out there today, so don't be nervous,' " Green said. "I wanted that job, and I knew I could do it."
McLean faltered. Green entered the LSU game in the second half, and, although the Trojans lost, 23-3, Green played well enough to earn the next start. He never looked back.