UCLA quarterback Bret Johnson pitches to a running back during the 1989… (Stephen Dunn / Allsport )
USC 10, UCLA 10
Nov. 18, 1989, at the Coliseum
Setup: Eighth-ranked USC (8-2) was headed to the Rose Bowl and UCLA (3-7) was bound for its worst season since finishing 2-7-1 in 1971. The Bruins, 17-point underdogs, were riding a five-game losing streak that was their longest in one season since 1963. The most intriguing matchup was at quarterback, where USC's Todd Marinovich was going up against UCLA counterpart Bret Johnson, a rival since the duo's prep days in Orange County.
What happened: Statistically speaking, it was a blowout. USC gained 387 net yards to UCLA's 202 and 20 first downs to the Bruins' 10. But one set of numbers went in the other direction: The Bruins forced six turnovers while committing only three. The most critical turnover came with 2:02 left and the score tied. USC's Leroy Holt fumbled at UCLA's 12-yard line, giving the ball back to the Bruins with a chance to drive for the winning points. Johnson then connected with Scott Miller on a 52-yard pass, moving the ball to the USC 36. UCLA was pushed back to the 37, setting up a 54-yard field goal attempt by Alfredo Velasco on the game's final play. Velasco's kick hit the crossbar, bounced up and fell back into the end zone. Bruins linemen fell to the ground in agony.
The aftermath: The tie ended USC's 19-game conference winning streak and triggered a grim expression on the face of Trojans Coach Larry Smith as he accepted roses as part of an invitation ceremony for the Rose Bowl. USC rebounded to defeat Michigan, 17-10, on New Year's Day in Pasadena.
Velasco on his memories of the fateful kick: "I was confident because I had made a 49-yard field goal to tie the game in the same direction just minutes before and it had good clearance. The prior season, I had made a 53-yarder in the rain versus the Ducks in Eugene."
Velasco said he thought he had made the kick when it left his foot. "I hit it well and it felt on line," he said. "I honestly thought it was good as it went through the air." And when the ball hit the crossbar? "I was in a state of shock," he said. "There was no overtime so it was an incomplete ending. My immediate feeling was of overwhelming disappointment that we could have beaten the Trojans. Eventually, the knowledge of how close the kick was to going over the bar -- fractions of an inch -- was somewhat agonizing to think about. That feeling did subside over time but will never completely leave me."
Velasco, 42, an executive director for the YMCA of San Diego County, said people still bring up the field goal. "It is a regular source of chiding and conversation among my rotary and chamber friends regardless if they are Bruin or Trojan alumni or fans," he said. "It obviously becomes a heightened topic of discussion during the week of the big game and probably will for the rest of my life. As a proud Bruin, I am fine with that, but I will probably always think about that one inch."
-- Ben Bolch