Hard to believe, but that really was Karl Dorrell -- the same guy who would no sooner call a trick play as UCLA's coach than he would have his Bruins sing "Fight On" in the huddle -- who took a handoff on a flanker reverse and heaved a 33-yard pass to Willie Anderson at the USC three-yard line to set up a touchdown in UCLA's 45-25 victory over the Trojans in 1986.
Dorrell feigned ignorance when asked about the gadget play at his weekly media gathering Monday, his eyes rolling upward as he jogged his memory and said, "I can't recall it."
Afterward, when most of the reporters had left, it all came back to him.
"The ball was handed to me on a flanker reverse, I set up in the pocket, threw across the field, and we connected," he said. "I used to have a pretty good arm."
Did he used to have a pretty good memory too?
"Oh, I remembered the play," he said with a grin. "I just didn't want to give up too much of our scheme for this week."
UCLA and USC will renew one of college football's greatest rivalries when the unranked Bruins, losers of three in a row, and the second-ranked Trojans, winners of six in a row, meet in the Coliseum on Saturday.
USC has everything to gain. The Trojans, three-touchdown favorites, must win to keep their national championship hopes alive, and most expect them to blow out the Bruins. UCLA has nothing to lose -- it has been reduced to a spoiler role -- and Dorrell hinted he will take that approach Saturday.
"Believe me, we're opening up the cupboards, doing whatever we can do to put ourselves in the best position to win," he said. "We will leave no stone unturned."
Whether UCLA will shed the conservative play-calling that has infuriated so many fans and -- gasp! -- try a trick play remains to be seen, but as a veteran of the USC-UCLA rivalry, Dorrell said fans shouldn't be surprised by anything that happens Saturday.
"It's always been a game where the unexpected sometimes happens, at least the ones I've been a part of," said Dorrell, a former UCLA receiver whose Bruin teams won three Rose Bowls, a Fiesta Bowl and a Freedom Bowl during his five years (1982-86) at the school.
"There were times we lost when we were favored. It's not always the team with the best record that wins this game.... Our guys are going to understand the rivalry and put it all on the line."
USC-UCLA hasn't been much of a rivalry lately. The Trojans have won the last four meetings, the previous two by a combined score of 79-21. It was a lot different when Dorrell was at UCLA. His teams won four of the five games against USC, though Dorrell sat out the 1984 USC game -- and most of that season -- because of injury.
It's not so much the results that stand out in his mind. It's the passion surrounding the games, the atmosphere created by crowds in excess of 90,000 in the Coliseum and Rose Bowl, the way the games gripped Southern California.
"What makes the rivalry so intense is we're both in the same city, we're both right here, there's no hiding from each other," he said. "We both read the same newspapers ....
"We've talked with our players about the importance of the game, what it means to our city, to our community. It's a great game, a game you always remember through the years, even after you're gone from school. It's your chance to make a mark in history, to do something special."
Dorrell may not have made a mark on the rivalry as an individual, but his teams did. In his freshman year, UCLA nose guard Karl Morgan sacked USC quarterback Scott Tinsley on a two-point conversion attempt with no time left to preserve the 11th-ranked Bruins' 20-19 victory over the 15th-ranked Trojans in 1982.
USC led, 10-6, at halftime of the 1983 game, but UCLA drove 80 yards for a touchdown early in the second half, Rick Neuheisel hitting Dorrell with a seven-yard scoring pass, en route to 21 third-quarter points and a 27-17 win. Dorrell caught five passes for 61 yards in the game.
Dorrell redshirted because of injury in 1984, the year UCLA kicker John Lee's five field goals keyed a 29-10 victory over USC, but in 1985, heavily favored UCLA, ranked eighth, committed five turnovers and lost to unranked USC, 17-13.
With UCLA leading, 13-10, Bruin tailback Eric Ball lost a fumble at the USC one-yard line early in the fourth quarter. The Trojans scored the winning touchdown on Rodney Peete's one-yard run, but UCLA backed into the Rose Bowl later that night when Arizona defeated Arizona State.
The 1986 game was a 45-25 UCLA rout, and in addition to his flanker reverse pass, Dorrell caught a 39-yard Hail Mary from quarterback Matt Stevens before halftime to give the Bruins a 31-0 lead. Gaston Green carried 39 times for 224 yards, and Stevens completed 14 of 19 passes for 190 yards.
"I was fortunate to be on some successful teams," Dorrell said.
This week, he gets his first taste of the USC-UCLA rivalry as a coach, and there is far more pressure on him to win now than there was when he played.
Losing four in a row to USC may not have cost former Bruin coach Bob Toledo his job, but it probably sealed his fate. Ditto for former USC coach John Robinson, who went 0-5 against UCLA in his second stint as Trojan coach in 1993-97.
For coaches at USC and UCLA, losing to your cross-town rival is like spilling a drink on the boss at a party. It may not cost you your job that night, but the boss never forgets.
"These games are big," Dorrell said. "They're monumental for both programs."