Monday, July 6, 2015

1976 Rose Bowl Game

One of my all time favorite football games, and most likely my favorite not involving the UCLA/USC rivalry was the January 1, 1976 Rose Bowl between UCLA and Ohio State.  Ohio State was the only unbeaten team in the country and had thrashed UCLA at the Coliseum earlier in the 1975 season.  The score was 41-20, but the final score was misleading because Ohio State ran out to a 41-7 lead before coasting to victory.  All Ohio State needed to win that season's national championship was to beat UCLA again, which everyone assumed they would do quite easily.  Oddsmakers installed Ohio State as a 15 point favorite.   Most of us thought that Ohio State would win by a bigger margin than that.  Indeed I'm not sure why I even bothered to go to the game.  And as the game approached things appeared to get worse.  The UCLA team almost mutinied because Coach Dick Vermeil cracked the whip so hard during the practices leading up to January 1.

Ohio State took the opening kickoff and rolled down the field with little resistance, just as everybody suspected.  But when they got inside the UCLA 30 yard line, Ohio State stalled (aided by some questionable play calling) and had to settle for a long field goal to go up 3-0.  Meanwhile, whenever UCLA got the ball they couldn't do a thing.  They didn't get their first first down until the end of the first half and only had about 40 yards total for the half.  But after the initial drive, the UCLA defense stiffened and the half ended 3-0, in what seemed like an unbelievable moral victory.

But then more unbelievably, UCLA's offense caught fire in the third quarter.  What didn't work in the first half, running and passing, started to work, even though UCLA's best offensive lineman, Randy Cross, was lost for the game at the end of the first half.   UCLA took the opening kickoff, marched down the field, though having to settle for a tying field goal.  Two subsequent Bruin touchdown drives and it was 16-3 UCLA in the third quarter, and UCLA was on its way to a 23-10 win with highlight plays by John Sciarra, Wally Henry and Wendell Tyler, and Coach Woody Hayes memorably trudging over to the UCLA sideline before the game ended.   

But as the years went by my memory of the game started to grow dim, since it predated the introduction of home VHS machines in the United States in 1977.  Consequently I wasn't able to re-watch this game like some of my other later favorites.  I had resigned myself to never reliving that game until I met the star of the game,  John Sciarra, sometime in the 1990s at a presentation he gave on pensions and retirement plans.  He said that after a great deal of effort, he and other members of the team were able to obtain copies of the videotape of that game directly from NBC, which gave me hope that the game tape might some day be made available to the public.  Sure enough, a few years later a collector friend came across a copy and made a duplicate for me.  Unfortunately my copy was a third or fourth generation copy and wasn't conducive to watching on a recurring basis, though it was better than nothing.  Then about 10 years ago ESPN Classics showed the game, and while I didn't get that cable channel, a relative did and taped it for me.  But while it was a good quality picture, it was highly abridged, so I never watched it too often.

However it is now the age of YouTube, and ever since they got rid of their relatively small maximum file size limits, all kinds of older sporting events have been uploaded, including decent copies of both halves of the 1976 Rose Bowl game.  Now I can finally watch the game in its entirety and relive the magic moments that I thought would someday fade away.

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