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Barnes Stands Alongside Norman Dow in Bruin Lore : UCLA: Quarterback shows his timing is exceptional by playing the game of his life.

November 22, 1992|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So John Barnes, whoever you are, you've just led UCLA to an improbable 38-37 upset of USC. Now, tell us how drastically your life is about to change.

"Well, I'll probably have to go to class now."

Maybe, but in your honor, a special treat is called for. A bowl game, perhaps? If not, something else. They just might change the name of Westwood to, say, the Barnes Yard.

At UCLA, people have learned it is possible to find heroes in unusual places.

In 1966, Coach Tommy Prothro discovered Norman Dow in Gary Beban's shadow, pushed him into the spotlight and watched him beat USC.

Now consider Barnes, itinerant quarterback who didn't even know he was going to start Saturday until Terry Donahue told him to get out there and so something.

It was a terrific coaching decision, possibly one of Donahue's best.

Barnes, UCLA's fourth-string quarterback, a walk-on, a starter in only two other games and then only because everybody else was hurt, a guy who was told he wasn't good enough to quarterback an NAIA Division II school, well, he fooled almost everyone Saturday.

"I never gave up on me," Barnes said. "Other people gave up on me. They laughed when I wanted to transfer (to UCLA). Now, I really look back and say, 'hey, it was worth it.' You've got to pursue your dreams."

It was quite a dream sequence. Barnes passed for 204 of his 385 yards in the fourth quarter and brought the Bruins back from a 31-17 deficit, though victory wasn't secure until USC failed on a two-point conversion with 41 seconds to play.

"You dream about these days," Barnes said.

It wasn't all that long ago that dreaming seemed to be as close as Barnes would ever get to a big game. The last time he was involved in an important game against a rival, he was playing for NAIA Division II Western Oregon against Linfield.

Barnes never became a household name equal like the spotted owl in Oregon, where his quarterbacking career was stalled after he broke his hand when he fell riding his bike in the locker room.

Besides, the coaching staff told him he should give up playing quarterback, anyway.

"That was hard to take," Barnes said. "I said, 'I'm not a tight end.' I'd worked too hard to be a quarterback."

A year ago, Barnes was watching the USC-UCLA game from the stands after borrowing a student identification to get through the gate. But that was when he was playing at UC Santa Barbara, which dropped football after Barnes quarterbacked the team.

Of course, that wasn't his fault. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior from Mission Viejo took the first step in a long, winding journey into UCLA lore when he enrolled at Saddleback College. Barnes played his second year at Saddleback and then went to Western Oregon. From Oregon to Santa Barbara to the Rose Bowl, he might not have made much of an impact leading up to his starring role, but at least his timing is good.

Said Donahue: "He came up with the game of his life."

Barnes agreed.

"This was definitely the time, maybe my last game," he said. "This is exactly what you play for--just a couple of breaks. That's all you need.

"You look at yourself, you might doubt yourself a little bit and that's fine. Then you just go ahead and move on. I moved on."

If there's anything that can be said of Barnes' football career, it is that he has moved on.

How in the world did he get to UCLA in the first place?

"It was fate," he said. "I remember, when Tommy (Maddox) left, I told my roommate that I was gonna come here and play."

Maddox, who was at the game, said Barnes' exploits were special.

"I guarantee you, to play like he did and hang in there, he deserves a lot of credit, a lot of praise," Maddox said.

If there's anything that can be said of Barnes' football career, it is that he has moved on.

On this occasion, he moved on to a special place in UCLA history.

Next to Norman Dow? Barnes said he never heard of him.

"I guess I get to go down in those history books," he said.

Guess so.

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