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ROSE BOWL / No. 1 Michigan 21, No. 8 Washington State

Stars Get Eclipsed by the Rising Son

January 02, 1998|JIM MURRAY

Washington State is in a rut. Every 67 years, regular as clockwork, the Cougars come to the Rose Bowl.

So, they have plenty of time to get it right.

Alas, it's back to the drawing board.

They missed the point again. They tried valiantly. They did manage to score in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 82 years.

They had the ball when the game ended and they had Michigan defenders trying to look over both shoulders at once. But time ran out.

As Rose Bowl games go, it was half-good. That is to say the second half was goose-pimple football. The first half was just more exciting than home movies, a 7-7 ho-hum, let-me-outta-here! What the fight mob calls an "agony fight."

Just as you were beginning to wonder if either one of them could win it, they took the gloves off. The final half was a slugfest, playground football. Dempsey-Firpo, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler.

It was billed as Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf vs. Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, the Heisman Trophy winner. If so, it was a draw. In the first half, Leaf completed one pass to his end in the end zone and one to Woodson there.

In the second half, they were both upstaged by a guy who wasn't supposed to be a star, just a supporting player. Who found himself in the last place he wanted to be--the limelight.

Brian Griese's father could have told him. Dad had the same trouble back in 1967. He led Purdue to its only Rose Bowl appearance in history but the game-of-the-day award went to a defensive back even though Griese's passes were the difference.

His son, Brian, was supposed to be a chip off the old block, a similar non-factor Thursday. The word on Griese, the son, was for Washington State to ignore the passing. Michigan was supposed to run the ball down their throats. "Let him pass" was the watchword on him. Griese didn't have a gun for an arm.

The hell he didn't. Young Master Griese was only the player of the game. He's supposed to put passes in motion that are little more than complicated handoffs, but some of his throws looked like moon-shots. He's supposed to run only if a bear is chasing him, he's supposed to be just faster than fourth-class mail, but he scrambled for 28 yards.

He was only supposed to throw Texas Leaguer passes, but he completed three touchdown passes--for 58, 53 and 23 yards.

He was supposed to rely on an ingenious receiver but he completed 18 passes to eight different receivers.

Leaf, Griese's opposite on Washington State, was hardly disgraced. He was a natural with the football in his hand right up till the clock was reading 0:02.

Michigan finally figured a way to put the game in the hangar late in the game. They hit on the most basic of all strategies: Don't let the other guys have the ball, except on kickoffs.

They kept it for 6 minutes 47 seconds in the final quarter when they led, 21-16. It had been so long since Washington State had the ball, the Cougars almost forgot what it looked like.

They didn't have it much. But, turned out, they didn't need it much.

Michigan turned it over to Leaf and company on WSU's seven-yard line with only 29 seconds left to play.

Ten seconds later, Leaf, who has an intercontinental missile for an arm, had the Cougars near midfield, and, one pass-and-lateral later, had a first down on the Michigan 26. With two seconds left to play.

Michigan was ready to call 911. But then Leaf tried to spike a center snap onto the ground and leave himself one second for a last pass into the end zone. But two seconds in Rose Bowls are not like two seconds in an NBA game.

It was a sad way to end a game. The rest of his life, Leaf may see himself getting off a throw for the history books, the pass that won the Rose Bowl with zero seconds on the clock.

No one wants to take a called strike with the World Series on the line or blow Wimbledon on a double-fault. You don't like to be putting the ball on the ground when the clock strikes midnight for this Cinderella.

So, Brian Griese got the glass slipper, probably much to his annoyance.

He had come into the game just as he had wished--dismissed, neglected, unnoticed. A mole. A guy you don't pay attention to till too late.

"He's tremendously underrated, he's not supposed to be able to throw the football long or run downhill. He'll fool you," his coach, Lloyd Carr, explained afterward.

Griese himself explained, "I didn't want the limelight. I just want to be part of the team. I don't like to be singled out, get attention."

Too late, young Griese. In spite of your best efforts at camouflage, someone notices. "Hey! This guy is good!" You won the Rose Bowl--with a little help from your friends. You have blown your cover. You're famous. Like Dad.

Deal with it.

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