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Iowa Short of Time but Not Bullets

January 02, 1991|JIM MURRAY

Well, was that worth dipping into the egg money and coming out from Keokuk, Martha?

And you wanted to go to Disneyland!

For those of you who clicked off the TV in Ottumwa and Van Meter, the Hawkeyes didn't win the 77th Rose Bowl, but they gave the ones who did fits.

Listen! Do you like fighters who, when they're hurt and bleeding and the referee is looking at them strangely and the crowd is yelling, "Stop it!" and their corner is looking for a towel to throw in, they get up and carry the fight to their opponents? Do you like guys who, when they're asked if they want to quit, reply, "Nuts!"?

You'd like the Iowa football team in Pasadena New Year's Day. These guys didn't lose. Time ran out on them.

They were lying on a slab by the middle of the second quarter. Any doctor in the country would have pulled the sheet over their faces. A pulse was undetectable.

But, reports of their death, like Mark Twain's, were greatly exaggerated. The score was 33-7 at halftime. Prognosis: terminal.

They came off the deathbed snarling and spitting.

In a way, Washington didn't win the game. The Huskies got it handed to them, so to speak.

It is the notion long held here that football coaches follow rituals like archbishops saying High Mass. It's almost as if it's Scripture.

It is written, for instance, that, on fourth down in your own territory, you have to punt no matter how short the yardage to a first down.

Iowa had the ball on its 35-yard-line Tuesday, fourth down and what appeared to be inches to go.

So, the Hawkeyes lined up in the obligatory punt formation. And that was the old ballgame. The punter was barely seven yards behind the line of scrimmage and Washington not only blocked the kick, the Huskies had an easy run to the end zone for a touchdown.

It gave them a 10-0 lead with only seven minutes gone in the game.

It was the critical play of Rose Bowl No. 77. It's tempting to say Washington never looked back, but it wouldn't be accurate. By the end of the game, the Huskies were like a guy trying to look over both shoulders at once as he walks down a dark street.

To be fair, the Iowa coach said after the game he gave some thought to going for the first down. But, he proposed to do it by pass, of all things, and he abandoned the strategy when he saw the Washington secondary shift to guard against the pass. "I would have felt like a clown if the pass fell incomplete and they got the ball on our 30," he shrugged.

It would have been infinitely preferable to what did happen. Someone wondered why a mastodonic back named Nick Bell, who appeared to have no trouble all day making considerably more than six inches, was not given the ball. Not in the coaches' manual, one guesses.

But the story was not that failed opportunity. The story was the fact Iowa trailed, 33-7, at the end of the half and 39-14 at the end of the third quarter. And kept coming on.

The end of the game was like Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. Iowa kept throwing these crazy rights. They kept wiping the blood off and coming back for more.

It wasn't your textbook game. Iowa seemed to be coming up with the kind of plays you used to draw in the dirt in the huddle in sandlot games in the schoolyard. You were pretty sure these weren't the X's and O's they drew on the blackboard all year. Iowa had tight ends throwing long pass completions, they had field goal kickers trying end zone throws. They played street corner football.

It resulted in the highest-scoring game in Rose Bowl history. It resulted in Iowa closing the gap to 39-26, then 46-34 with a series of everybody-out-for-a-long-one or flea-flicker plays. More ad-libs than a comedy store.

Those plays aren't supposed to work in big-time football, but the Huskies were so badly galleyed by the end of the game you had the feeling the Statue of Liberty would have worked against them.

They were almost helpless against the onside kick when it was evident to 100,000 people and millions on TV it was coming. Washington was in such a rattled stage of near-hysteria that Iowa once scored a touchdown from its 14 in 1:52 elapsed time. It made the score 39-26 with 5:07 left. One of the all-time miracle finishes seemed in the cards.

But, then, it was Iowa's turn to get careless. In their zeal to get an onside kick, the Hawkeyes failed to honor a rule that must be in the most obscure corner of the books, the one that permits a member of the receiving team to signal a fair catch.

Before Iowa could regroup, Washington scored the all-important insurance touchdown, for a 46-26 lead, in exactly two plays and 24 seconds.

That lapse sealed the game, spoiled the best story of the year and the greatest comeback in Rose Bowl history.

A pity. When the game started out, it had a strong odor of so-what attached to it. I mean, the public attitude seemed to be, who are these guys and what are they doing in our Rose Bowl? Rose Bowl games have USC in them, right? And Ohio State. Who were these impostors?

Well, if they have them again, don't miss it. It was football as it's supposed to be, not the roboticized, sterile, mistake-free stuff we've become accustomed to. This wasn't a take-no-chances game. This was a take-no-prisoners game.

Iowa was gallant, undiscourageable. It kept handing touchdowns to Washington--the blocked punt, an intercepted pass for a touchdown where the only receiver who could possibly have caught the football was in the purple-and-gold of Washington. They gave up for interceptions in all. They made more mistakes than a guy who stops in a disco on his way to his wife's birthday party.

But, if you like fighters who get up, if you like guys who keep fighting when they're surrounded, who keep shooting when they're wounded, you got to go for the Hawkeyes. They had their guns out and were yelling "Charge!" when the lights went out. You have to salute them.

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