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SPORTS WEEKEND

Marinovich Always Had Morton in His Corner

November 17, 2000|MIKE TERRY

The mission had been clear.

Todd Marinovich and the USC offense had to go 77 yards to counter the latest blow delivered by UCLA--a one-yard touchdown plunge by fullback Kevin Smith that had given the Bruins a 42-38 lead with 1:19 left in 1990, in the highest-scoring game in the cross-town rivalry.

USC now was on UCLA's 23-yard line with 26 seconds left.

Marinovich and wide receiver Johnnie Morton had one big play left.

The game was 10 years ago, but for Marinovich, the memories are crystal clear:

"The USC-UCLA series is always a great game to play well in because of its significance. Great players rise in those games; it's what they play for. I knew they would score on their last drive [to go ahead, 42-38]. I just hoped they would leave us enough time.

"The whole second half, Johnnie Morton kept saying, 'Throw me the ball.' He'd made a great play to catch a touchdown in the fourth quarter [to put USC ahead, 38-35]. But on this play--called a choice route down the middle--it was designed to go to Gary Wellman because I had already hit him twice on that final drive for big gainers.

"Johnnie lined up outside to run a corner route. I was standing back in the shotgun formation and I looked at Johnnie's side. I see the cornerback [Dion Lambert] staring me down so I point at him. He shakes his head, no. Johnnie winks at me, letting me know he can get open.

"We proceed to call the snap count, and in my mind I'm still thinking Gary. But at the snap Gary is jammed at the line of scrimmage. So I look back to Johnnie, and he is making a post move before he goes to the corner of the end zone. I see the safety bite on the post move by Johnnie, so I know the corner route is there. I just laid it up and got laid out by their defense. I can't remember who hit me, but it was almost a knockout shot.

"I never saw the pass completed. And you couldn't tell by the crowd noise in the Rose Bowl because it was loud for both sides. But I knew [the hit] didn't affect the ball; it felt right when it left my hand. And I knew it was a touchdown after I rolled over and saw a sea of red helmets all over Johnnie.

"One more thing: Walking through the parking lot, a UCLA fan congratulated me on the game. He said how happy he was to be a part of that game. I'd never had an opposing fan come up to me like that after a game. It was a huge compliment to me."

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