YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


His Drive Is Stopped By Bad Call

September 07, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE

It was a tough, split-second call, not unlike the one UCLA Coach Bob Toledo had to make on fourth-and-goal last week against Washington State.

Stay or go?

There were seven minutes left in the third quarter at the Rose Bowl. Tennessee was leading UCLA, 27-6. Choices: Leave now and get to the Coliseum before kickoff for USC-Florida State or stick around to see if UCLA might rally and risk a major dose of Super Saturday gridiron gridlock.

The gut said "go." Beat the clock. Beat the Orange crush of Tennessee fans back to their tractors. Beat Dodger traffic.

To put it bluntly: I gagged.

It took an hour and half to get the 12 miles from Pasadena to Los Angeles.

My bad.

In the interim, UCLA mounted an incredible comeback. Guess I'll read about it in the papers.

Time line:

3:05 p.m., getting in my car at Rose Bowl: Skip Hicks scores on a seven-yard run to cut the Tennessee lead to 27-13.

3:17, driving down Orange Grove Boulevard: Bruins score on a safety to cut lead to 27-15.

3:30, stuck in traffic on the 110 Freeway: Cade McNown throws 50-yard scoring pass to skip Hicks to cut lead to 27-21.

3:40, stuck at corner of Broadway and Third as a fire truck passes.

3:42: UCLA's Chris Sailer kicks field goal to cut Tennessee lead to 27-24.

3:45, idling at Broadway and Fifth, staring at Oscar's Jewelry. Make mental note to self (get air conditioner fixed Monday).

3:55: Jeff Hall's field goal puts Tennessee up, 30-24.

In the time it took me to execute my "secret" Coliseum shortcut--right on 42nd, right on Figueroa, left on 41st, right on Hoover--UCLA had two chances to win the game in the final minutes.

4:06, a guy in the car next to mine on Hoover screams, "What's the UCLA score?" I shout back, "Tennessee just recovered a fumble with two minutes left. It's over."

It wasn't over.

4:10, still crawling up Hoover: UCLA gets ball back at own 48 with 1:38 left.

4:14, still crawling up Hoover: McNown throws an incompletion on fourth down and Tennessee runs out clock.

4:24, pull into curbside parking spot at Coliseum.

I attach my USC-Florida State press credential on my belt loop, right next to my UCLA-Tennessee press pass. Yes, I'm trying to act like a big shot. It was a long day.

Was it worth it?

Oh, yeah. Two games, one day, two hot dogs, one turkey sandwich, one large glass of bicarbonate of soda.

Don't think it was easy. Next time two top-five college football teams come to our town on the same day, I'll have a better plan.

Like others out there who took on this challenge, I woke up Saturday morning thinking like Ernie Banks: "Hey, let's see two." I grabbed all the requisite guides--UCLA, USC, Florida State, Tennessee, Thomas--and was out the door by 10 a.m.

You figure, on the biggest college football day in Southland history, the 210 freeway westbound in Pasadena should not have the three left lanes closed for road work, right?


Other than that, it's clear sailing into the Rose Bowl, which was already bustling.

For the 62,619 fans at the Rose Bowl who came to see Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, the senior Heisman Trophy candidate didn't disappoint. At least in the first half, when Manning threw for for 241 yards and two touchdowns.

In fact, when Manning's 39-yard scoring pass to Marcus Nash put Tennessee up, 24-0, late in the second quarter, most of us in the press box who were covering both games started planning our escape routes.

Some reporters chickened out and left at the half.

Tom Hansen, the Pacific 10 Conference Commissioner, also panicked and fled early. As a lifelong SoCal resident, I had warned Hansen about possible traffic congestion near Dodger Stadium and offered him some alternative routes.

Hansen's means of transportation would be different than on Sept. 23, 1989, when Ohio State and Michigan played USC and UCLA here on the same day.

Then, Hansen was escorted from the Coliseum to the Rose Bowl via helicopter.

No such aircraft Saturday, so Hansen decided to duck out--no offense, Oregon--early in the third quarter.

"I frankly thought the game was pretty much decided," he said later at the Coliseum, reflecting the general sentiment, "and I wanted to beat traffic so I could see this game."

Hansen stuck to the 110 route and made the cross-town trip quickly.

Yours truly, however, outsmarted myself, bailing off the 110 at the first sign of trouble in favor of a downtown route.

Bad mistake, especially with a bum air conditioner.

Hey, live and sweat.

All things considered--bad back, lack of comfort, headaches--the day was a winner.

The games were good and the crowds were great. A total of 181,216 fans attended three games at the Rose Bowl, Coliseum and Dodger Stadium.

The pasting the local teams were supposed to have taken on national television did not materialize.

After another bad opening half, reprising last week's effort in Pullman, UCLA held Tennessee to six second-half points and blew two great chances in the end to steal the game from the third-ranked Volunteers.

Los Angeles Times Articles