So this is what it feels like?
So good that Wayne Cook's chin didn't hurt, even with the blood dripping.
So good that Paul Guidry didn't limp, even with an ice bag taped to his calf.
So good that Rod Smalley felt no pain, though there is little in his body that hasn't ached this season.
"As good as it felt last year after the SC game," Cook said. That was a victory that sent UCLA to the Rose Bowl.
Saturday's 31-30 victory over Stanford, before 42,429 at the Rose Bowl, came when Eric Abrams missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt with 20 seconds to play. It sent all but one of the Bruins off the field smiling--UCLA kicker Bjorn Merten was commiserating with his Cardinal counterpart--for the first time since Sept. 10. It broke a six-game losing streak, one short of the school season record, and it spawned a feel-good response that made players call upon childhood memories.
"I felt like a little kid in a candy store," wide receiver J.J. Stokes said of catching a two-point conversion pass from Cook to win the game.
The points came after a seven-yard touchdown run by Skip Hicks with 3:05 to play, and before a last-ditch drive by Stanford to Abrams' miss. And the points came after a timeout discussion in which Stokes let it be known that he had been eavesdropping.
When UCLA lined up to try for the extra points, Stanford had two defenders on Stokes. "I heard the safety tell the linebacker, 'You know, you aren't supposed to be out here,' " Stokes said.
Cook called time out.
"J.J. said he believed they would be covering him one on one," Cook said of the next play.
They were. Cornerback Leroy Pruitt, all 5 feet 9 of him, had Stokes, who is 6-5, alone on the right side. All that was left was for Cook to get the ball to him. He almost didn't.
"When he threw the two-point pass, I didn't see it because of the lights," Stokes said. "I just grabbed for it and it fell into my arms."
Not affording Stokes extra coverage "was our blunder," Stanford Coach Bill Walsh said. "We should have doubled him again. We didn't handle that well, let's face it."
The Cardinal didn't handle a lot of things well, including Stokes (five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown) and Kevin Jordan (eight for 146 and a score).
"Does the word star-crossed describe it?" Walsh said of the game. "Is that a word? Use that one."
Stanford lost, even though Steve Stenstrom had his most productive game: 28 for 45 for 408 yards and two touchdowns. In the first quarter, he hit Justin Armour on a 38-yard pass play to become only the 10th player in Division I-A history to pass for more than 10,000 yards.
Armour caught 11 passes for 220 yards and a 17-yard touchdown, using his 6-6 frame to get open seemingly at will against UCLA's 5-9 defensive backs.
"We went with our base defense in the first half and couldn't get any pressure on the quarterback and gave up 24 points," defensive coordinator Bob Field said. "We decided to go with our '41' package in the second half (which puts six defensive backs on the field). We figured we'd get some speed and maybe make some things happen."
The Bruins (3-6, 1-5 in the Pacific 10) got an interception by Donnie Edwards and had two goal-line stands that made Stanford settle for field goals.
"When you're inside the five and you give up three points instead of a touchdown, you feel like it's a victory," Coach Terry Donahue said.
Nothing had felt like a victory in the first half.
"It was looking like the team that had the ball last would win it," UCLA linebacker Smalley said. "Fortunately, it didn't."
Brian Manning's diving catch of a 35-yard pass from Stenstrom gave Stanford a 24-20 lead at halftime and prompted Field to go for broke in the second half.
But it was Stanford (2-5-1, 1-4) that broke.
On first and goal at the UCLA two in the third quarter, Anthony Bookman got a yard, then tried to get the other on second down. He dived, but ran into Smalley on top of the pile. "I knew he was coming," Smalley said.
On third down, left guard Mike Jerich was pushed back, stepping on Stenstrom's foot, and the quarterback fell for a three-yard loss.
Abrams' 21-yard field goal made it 27-20, but it felt like a victory.
So did a stand in the fourth quarter, when Stanford had driven from its 30 to UCLA's six, with first and goal as the quarter began. The Cardinal stalled, and Abrams' 22-yard field goal made it 30-20.
It was answered by Merten's field goal from 38 yards.
The drive to the final touchdown included a 20-yard hookup from Cook to Jordan, and one of 16 yards to the Stanford 19. But most of the work was done by Hicks, who ran on six of the 12 plays, and for 34 of the 71 yards, including the final seven.
It gave Cook (19 of 25 for 296 yards) a chance to answer critics.
"You asked what it would take to show people that I could win a game in the closing moments," Cook said. "Well, there it is. I took a team to win."
Then he had to stand by while Stenstrom went back to work with 65 yards to cover, but 3:05 to do it.
On fourth and 17 from his 28, Stenstrom found Armour for 23 yards.
"I thought it was a done deal at that point," Stenstrom said. "I didn't know if we would score a touchdown, but I assumed we would get a field goal."
He got the ball to the UCLA 15, where Abrams made his final effort.
"I saw it when it was going by the upright, and it must have missed by a foot or less," he said. "I knew for about 3 1/2 minutes that it was going to come down to me . . . and I was looking forward to it."
Abrams also missed from 22 yards in the closing moments of a 41-41 tie with Northwestern in the season opener.
"It's not a good feeling," he said.
Or a good sound.
"I thought he made it, but of course he didn't," Walsh said. "The noise didn't sound right. It should have been a quiet sound and it wasn't."
To the Bruins, it sounded as good as it felt.