Rose Bowl Game

UCLA’s 1976 Rose Bowl Champs Reunite

For the past fifty years, like clockwork, Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills, has honored the two elite college football teams who have earned the right to compete in the annual Rose Bowl Game with a feast fit for royalty known as the Lawry’s Beef Bowl. The Sporting News calls it the “Best Tradition” among all the bowl games.

This summer, the 1976 Rose Bowl Champion UCLA Bruins created their own sort of time machine, turning back the clock 30 years to reunite and raise a toast to each other at Lawry’s in honor of their monumental bowl game upset over Woody Hayes’ top ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

To refresh your memory, the 1976 Rose Bowl Game pitted the 17-point underdog Bruins against an undefeated Buckeye squad that had already whipped UCLA 41-20 earlier in the season. However, behind the combination of Dick Vermeil’s coaching, near-flawless execution of his offensive strategies, and a relentless, opportunistic defense, UCLA prevailed over Ohio State in convincing fashion, 23-10, thus handing the national championship to the Oklahoma Sooners by default.

So, that was the honey-glory that attracted former Bruin players, coaches, pep squad and administrators back to the hive in Westwood where they filled up two buses before heading over to Lawry’s to celebrate the pinnacle achievement of that Cinderella season.  As the buses rolled up to the traditional red carpet “walk of champions” at Lawry’s, they were greeted by present day Bruin cheerleaders and UCLA band members heralding their arrival with the school fight song.

The improbability of that Rose Bowl victory three decades ago cannot help but draw comparisons to the current state of UCLA football. Prior to that magical season, the Bruins had posted respectable win-loss records of 8-3, 9-2, and 6-3-2, over a three-year period. Meanwhile, cross-town rival USC won the Pac-8 title and earned the right to compete in the coveted Rose Bowl Game each of those seasons, with all three games deciding or factoring into the outcome of the national championship.

Contrast that with the past three years, where UCLA fielded competitive teams that made three straight bowl appearances (Silicon Valley Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, and Sun Bowl) while the Trojans dominated the Pac-10, and played for a piece of the national championship all three years, twice in the Rose Bowl and once in the Orange Bowl.

Is it possible for the 2006 version of UCLA Bruins football to pull off the improbable this season by ending USC’s current stranglehold on the conference title and earn an appearance in the Rose Bowl Game?

John Sciarra, former Bruin quarterback and one of the stars of the 1976 Rose Bowl Game, thinks that it’s possible, but more than likely another year away.

“USC is certainly vulnerable on offense with the loss of Bush, White, Leinart, and three linemen, but their defense will be as solid as ever, and that’s one of the three keys to winning championships in football,” says Sciarra. “You have to play great defense, run the ball effectively, and create turnovers with your special teams.”

From his perspective, Sciarra feels USC still holds the edge on paper, with recent recruiting classes keeping them ahead of the pack in overall talent. Still, he doesn’t see the Trojans’ quarterback situation being a difference maker like it has the past few years with Leinart at the helm. If redshirt sophomore Ben Olson can live up to the lofty expectations placed on his shoulders, and the Bruin defense can keep USC’s big play offense off-balance and hungering for possession time, UCLA just might have a shot at the upset.

“That’s what made the difference for us back in 1975,” recalls Sciarra. “Our defense played their best two games of the year against USC and Ohio State. Without those stellar performances from our D, there wouldn’t be a conference championship or a historic Rose Bowl victory, period.”

Sciarra believes this year will be the turning point for the Bruins’ return to glory. Citing their 8-game winning streak at the start of last season, coupled with the lessons they learned in the two blow-out road losses to Arizona and USC last year, he expects a bowl appearance and a shift in the recruiting wars that will start bringing local talent back to Westwood.

“Karl [Dorrell] led UCLA over the edge last year and his players believe they can win now,” says Sciarra. “The team developed a lot of character during the course of winning five come-from-behind games last season. I’m really excited to see how they perform this year with an improved defense and new faces at the skill positions. I think the tide is turning in their favor.”

When asked to share some of his favorite gridiron recollections stemming from the 1976 Rose Bowl victory, the former Canadian Football League Rookie of the Year (B.C. Lions, 1976) and six-year NFL vet (Philadelphia Eagles) didn’t hesitate to pull a couple memories out of his bag.

The week after the Rose Bowl Game, John and fellow Bruin Randy Cross were on their way to Hawaii to play in the Hula Bowl.  When they arrived at the airport, Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer was there to personally greet them, complete with island beauties placing the traditional leis around their necks. Thanks to the windfall national title Oklahoma gained from UCLA’s win over Ohio State, Sciarra and Cross were treated like kings that week by Switzer and his staff.

“To this day, I still have the t-shirt Barry Switzer sent me the week after the Hula Bowl,” says Sciarra. “The note he sent read: ‘As promised, enclosed please find the t-shirt.  Wear it on the beaches of California and you’ll attract all the lovelies.’ The front of the t-shirt says, ‘Oklahoma Sooners, 1975 National Champions,’ and the back reads: ‘Thank you John Sciarra and the UCLA Bruins for making this possible.’”

Another powerful moment that lingers in Sciarra’s memory occurred just before the Philadelphia Eagles’ 1981 Super Bowl clash with the Oakland Raiders. Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil invited a special guest to speak to his players.

“Dick introduced [then retired] coach Woody Hayes to the team and we gave him a standing ovation,” recalls Sciarra. “Woody spoke for about an hour and he managed to toss in a few jokes about the 1976 Rose Bowl Game, too. It was a powerful example to see these two great coaches relating with each other away from the game time pressures under which you would normally see them.”

How to Prognosticate the Rose Bowl Game

Earlier this week, the Michigan and USC football teams met on separate nights at Lawry’s The Prime Rib, a posh 69-year-old Beverly Hills restaurant, to be honored in the 51st Annual Lawry’s Beef Bowl for their stellar regular season accomplishments and forthcoming participation in the 2007 Rose Bowl Game.

During the course of their respective Beef Bowl events, Michigan consumed 613 pounds of prime rib and USC downed 630 pounds, making it the first time the Wolverines had lost in the legendary event since 1988, which, incidentally, coincided with Bo Schembechler’s last Rose Bowl victory in his coaching career on Jan. 1, 1989.

Las Vegas oddsmakers have to be envious of the Lawry’s Beef Bowl track record of predicting the Rose Bowl Game winner. Thirty-five Beef Bowl winners in the previous 50 years of the event’s history have gone on to win “The Granddaddy of Them All” for a .700 winning percentage.

Will it hold true this year? Strangely, Michigan is the only Big Ten team with a winning record in the Beef Bowl and a losing record in the Rose Bowl, so it came as a bit of a shock to local Los Angeles media covering the event when their Trojans staged the improbable prime rib upset.

Of course, this tradition is just as much tongue in cheek as it is beef in mouth, even though an official tally is conducted by the restaurant’s general manager, Todd Johnson.

“The event is a celebration of champions and not one of gluttony, as the media are sometimes wont to portray it,” says Johnson. “However, it reached legendary status long ago–back in the Seventies–with the players and the media, so we play along with it enough to keep it fun for everyone.”

The event originated in 1956, prior to the 1957 Rose Bowl Game, with the intent of honoring the student athletes who had won their respective conference championships. It was made possible because the Big Ten Conference and Pac-10 (back then it was the Pacific Coast Conference) already had a 10-year existing relationship with the Tournament of Roses Association and the Rose Bowl Game, and both conferences agreed to participate in the pre-game event.

Over the years, all sorts of enhancements have been made to the event’s program. The Rose Queen and her Royal Court are special guests at every event, and the players and coaches now receive limited edition trading cards, mini-footballs and pins, that are among the rarest Rose Bowl Game collectibles each year.

The Sporting News calls the Lawry’s Beef Bowl “the best tradition” of the college bowl game season. During its 51-year history (which happens to make the event older than 28 of the 32 bowl games staged this year) 159 consensus All-Americans and 12 Heisman Trophy winners have participated in the tradition.

A “who’s who” list of college football’s greatest coaches have led their teams to Lawry’s on their road to the Rose Bowl, including Joe Paterno, Don James, Duffy Daugherty, Barry Alvarez, John McKay, John Robinson, Hayden Fry, Terry Donahue, Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll, Mack Brown, and even Woody Hayes.

However, Hayes only let his Buckeyes participate one time during his reign. That was the 1957 Beef Bowl, prior to the 1958 Rose Bowl Game. Ohio State won at both the training table and on the gridiron that season. Woody’s win-loss record in five other Rose Bowl Games when he wouldn’t let his players participate in the Lawry’s Beef Bowl? Yep, you guessed it. A dismal 1-4.

In total, 17,300 student athletes have been feted since 1956 in Beverly Hills and since 1983 at its sister Lawry’s Beef Bowl event in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl’s participating teams.

Last year, during the Golden Anniversary celebration of Lawry’s relationship with the Tournament of Roses Association and the Rose Bowl Game, Richard N. Frank, the chairman of Lawry’s and founder of the Beef Bowl event, was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

So, when you’re kicked back in front of the tube today, watching the Rose Bowl Game, keep in mind that history dictates that as winners of this year’s Beef Bowl, USC has a 70 percent chance of winning “The Granddaddy.”

Jim Harbaugh’s Keys to 2007 Rose Bowl Game

I had the opportunity yesterday to sit down with Stanford’s new head coach and former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh to get his insights on the USC-Michigan Rose Bowl Game match-up tomorrow. Here’s what he had to say …

This year’s Michigan and USC teams are mirror images of each other in many respects.  They both have dominating defenses and explosive offenses. Both team’s defensive units are among the best in college football, but hands down, there is nobody better than the Wolverines’ front seven. They only give up 1.9 yards per carry, while the Trojans yield over 3 yards per carry.

The only team that was successful this year against Michigan’s defense was Ohio State, and that’s because the Buckeyes were able to spread out UM’s front seven by running 4-receiver sets and sometimes even lined up with 5 wide receivers. The Trojans are very familiar with running empty backfield sets and will follow Ohio State’s cue in trying to spread out the Blue front seven.

Look for both teams to utilize 2-deep (aka Drop 2) defensive alignments as much as possible.  They both have great confidence in their front seven to stop the run and put enormous pressure on the opponent’s QB. Consequently, both team’s offenses will look to force the opposing defense to put more people in the box by establishing a successful running game.  Once that happens, they’ll jump at the chance of exploiting the opposing cornerbacks left on their island with man-to-man coverage situations. The tight ends can play a crucial role in the outcome and the team with the most productive tight end in this type of game will usually prevail.

Since Michigan and USC are so similar, the keys to winning the 2007 Rose Bowl Game are virtually the same for each team:

  1. The team that can run the ball the most effectively and control the clock while eating up yardage should have the upper hand in this contest. Third down conversions are a must to win the game.
  2. Big plays will be important in this game, in terms of capturing momentum and establishing a psychological advantage. Since the teams are so evenly matched, it could very well be that the special team units will be the deciding factor in this game.  The team that places the most emphasis on this facet of the game should be rewarded at some key moment of the game.
  3. Regarding big plays, the team that uses a trick play first—and is successful with it—will gain an instant advantage.
  4. As always, winning the turnover battle is a must. It can’t be emphasized enough that turnover advantages win games. Statistics bear out that if you win turnovers by +1 you have a 70% chance of winning. +2 in turnovers yields an 80% advantage, and +3 equals a 90% victory margin.
  5. Most of Michigan’s yards come from Hart and Henne. Protecting Henne is a major key for UM because a solid passing game opens up the field for Hart to start chewing up clock time [see key #1].  The same can be said of USC protecting Booty, establishing the pass, and opening up their ground attack.

Pre-Rose Bowl Game 2007

If you’re a true college football fan and you’ve never been to a Rose Bowl Game, make sure you put it on your list of things to do before you leave this world and head off into the Great Beyond. Even during what many critics consider a down year for the Rose Bowl, the feeling here is electric.

Acres and acres of tailgaters blanket the parking lots and public golf course that surround the stadium. Various strains of rock and rap music clash from competing portable sound systems, and the aroma of grilled tri-tip, burgers, and polish sausage overwhelm the senses.

Footballs fly back and forth between fans, while good-natured ribbing prevails between Michigan and USC fans. A lot of alcohol is shared amongst the revelers.  This is, after all, just a few hours removed from the New Year’s Eve bashes that many braved throughout most of the night.

These are folks who are used to visiting this venerated ground regularly; both teams have played in the Rose Bowl Game three of the last four years, and more than any other two programs over the past fifty years.

Forget what other sportswriters are saying about this game being a consolation bowl. It’s an instant classic. We’re talking tradition here. Rock-solid tradition. USC has won more Rose Bowl games than any other program in the history of the contest, and Michigan has won more games, period, than any other program in college football history.

If not for a few plays here or there, these two squads could be playing for the national title. More than 20 players in this game are projected to play in the NFL during the next few years. Both Pete Carroll and Lloyd Carr have won national titles with these programs in the past nine years, and both teams project to be highly ranked and among the favorites to play in the 2008 national championship game.

And we can’t forget the marching bands and two of the best-known school fight songs in the country. If they don’t get you revved up for some heavy hitting on the field, nothing will. I could go on, but it’s close to game time and I’ve got to pack up and race down the runway to that hallowed ground—a little piece of football real estate I like to call gridiron nirvana.

Troy Claims Victory in 93rd Rose Bowl Game

A 3-3 first half defensive stalemate between Michigan and USC turned ugly when the Trojans scored 16 unanswered points in the third quarter of the 2007 Rose Bowl Game.

Operating much of the second half with an empty backfield and four or five receiver sets, QB John David Booty picked apart the Wolverine secondary with touchdown passes to Chris McFoy and Dwayne Jarrett during the Trojans’ third quarter scoring spree. Mario Danelo added a 26-yard field goal to make it 19-3 at the close of the third quarter.

The Wolverines fought back at the start of the final frame and scored on a Chad Henne 11-yard TD toss to Adrian Arrington. Mike Hart powered in for the 2-point conversion and suddenly, with 14 minutes remaining, Michigan had gained momentum and it looked like they would make a game of it.

Booty and Jarrett would have none of that, hooking up on a 62-yard score with 11:29 showing on the clock. Danelo missed his second PAT of the night, but the scoreboard read 25-11.

Chad Henne marched Michigan right back down the field completing 6 of 8 passes, good for 61 yards, but his final completion of the drive fell two yards short of the marker on fourth down and USC took over on their own 22.

USC’s next drive was the final dagger in the heart of the Maize and Blue. Starting at the Trojan 15-yard line, Booty completed four consecutive passes—26 yards to Steve Smith, 29 yards to Jarrett, 23 yards to Fred Davis, and a seven-yarder to Smith for the score.  Just a minute and five seconds elapsed during the drive. The score stood at 32-11.

The Wolverines came up with a respectability score at the 1:19 mark of the fourth quarter when Henne connected with Steve Breaston on a 41-yard touchdown pass. The 32-18 USC advantage held up as the final score.

The two-touchdown margin was eerily reminiscent of the 2004 Rose Bowl Game won handily over Michigan by Matt Leinart & Co., 28-14.

The vaunted Wolverine run defense held USC to 42 yards on 23 carries (1.8 yard avg) but the Trojans exploited Michigan’s secondary with nearly the same game plan as Ohio State deployed in the final regular season game.

While USC had five sacks in the first half (six overall) and kept intense pressure on Henne throughout the contest, Booty frequently rolled out behind a moving pocket, and suffered only two sacks in the game. The Trojans also shut down Mike Hart (49 yards, 17 carries) forcing Michigan to pass more than planned.  Henne ended up with a line that read 27-42, 309 yards, and 2 TDs, with one interception. He also had one fumble.

Jarrett took home the game MVP trophy on the strength of his 11 receptions, 204 yards, and 2-TD performance. Steve Smith contributed seven grabs good for 108 yards and a score, and Booty ended up 27-42, 390 yards and 4 TDs.

The win gave Southern Cal a 22-9 all-time record in the Rose Bowl and a 6-2 record against Michigan in Pasadena. The Wolverines fell to 8-12 in Rose Bowl contests.

Illinois Serves Sour Juice at 94th Rose Bowl Game

Illinois’ brand of gridiron Juice went sour in Pasadena today.

After racing to a 21-point lead over Illinois in the first half of the 2008 Rose Bowl Game, USC appeared to have another BCS bowl game in the bag.

It turned out that they did.

But the Fighting Illini managed to make it interesting until the 7:24 mark of the third quarter.

Trailing 21-10 following a 79-yard touchdown run by Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois forced a Trojan punt, and then assembled another solid drive pushing deep into USC territory.

The sold out crowd of 93,923 packed into Rose Bowl Stadium could palpably feel the Illini seizing control of that elusive and all-important element called momentum.

On second and 11 from the USC 24-yard line, quarterback Juice Williams connected with senior wide receiver Jacob Willis inside the Trojan 10-yard line. Willis fought to the five-yard line when one of the three USC defenders hanging on to him knocked the ball loose.

The pigskin rolled into the end zone and was recovered by Trojan linebacker Brian Cushing for a touchback.

What might have been a 21-17 dogfight turned into runaway romp.

USC answered the momentary close call with an 80-yard TD drive, aided by an overthrown lateral toss from John David Booty to Joe McKnight that the Illinois defense mistook for an incomplete pass.

The overthrown ball bounced perfectly off the ground into McKnight’s hands as he continued swinging toward the sidelines on his route.

Illinois defenders relaxed, thinking the play was dead, but McKnight cut up field without hesitation and ripped off a 56-yard gain to the Illinois 26. Five plays later, Booty connected with tight end Fred Davis for six.

The Trojans took a 28-10 lead and never looked back.

Instead, they turned the potential dogfight into a dog pile. Cary Harris intercepted Williams on Illinois’ ensuing drive and it took the Trojans just five more plays to move the ball 68 yards for another score.

Less than two minutes would transpire before the Trojans built a 32-point margin.

Illinois again drove deep inside USC territory only to be thwarted by another turnover. Williams hit Jeff Cumberland on a quick out pass at the Trojan 33-yard line but Cumberland was hit immediately and fumbled.

Harris made the recovery and nine plays later the scoreboard read 42-10 at the 14:20 mark of the fourth quarter. The Illini were minus -4 in the turnover column and their New Year’s Day goose was effectively cooked.

USC would tack on another score eight minutes later when Hershel Dennis punched in from three yards out. The touchdown culminated an 88-yard drive that was punctuated by a Stafon Johnson 64-yard scamper.

Williams was replaced by back-up QB Eddie McGee around the five-minute mark and McGee hooked up with fellow Washington, D.C. high school star Arelious Benn on a 56-yard touchdown pass to complete the scoring at 49-17.

USC’s Booty was named the game’s MVP. He went 25 for 37, 255 yards, and tossed 3 TDs with one interception. Mendenhall led the Illini attack with 155 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, and 59 yards on five receptions.

Illinois closed out their remarkable turnaround season with a 9-4 record and head coach Ron Zook was named Coach of the Year by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

USC finished 11-2 and is most likely headed for another Top 5 ranking in the season’s final polls.