UCLA is 8-8 in bowl games the last 25 years, with eight seasons ending without a bowl game. Tuesday's game against Temple in the EagleBank Bowl will either put them above .500 or below it for the past 25 seasons.
For the Bruins, the 80's were the pinnacle of bowl games, with seven straight wins in the decade, including three Rose Bowl wins. But they haven't won a January game in Pasadena since the 1986 Rose Bowl against Iowa, and only have two wins in January bowls at all, the 1989 and 1998 Cotton Bowls.
Included in the past 25 years are some of the worst bowl losses and performances in UCLA history (the Silicon Valley Football "Classic", the 2004 Las Vegas Bowl, the 1995 Aloha Bowl...you get the point) but there are a few highlights, believe it or not (we just had to stretch it to 25 years to find them).
Today, BRO looks at the top five best UCLA bowl moments in the last 25 years, as well as the top five worst bowl moments in that same span. Some will include whole games, others will include a particular play.
Top Bowl Moments: #1-#5
#5- Freddie Comes Back. After suffering from one of the worst injuries by a UCLA player ever, a gruesome leg break on the field at Houston, it looked like Freddie Mitchell's stellar freshman season would be done before it could really get going. He was a star in the opener against Texas, but his injury against Houston was awful to see. The feeling wasn't so much, if Freddie would come back, it would be if he could walk normally again. At the Beat SC Rally that year, though, he announced to the crowd "Freddie Mitchell is going to be back." And he did come back. He marked his triumphant return in the 1999 Rose Bowl when he threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Durell Price on a trick play that would tie the game at 14-14.
#4- Go Gaston Go. In Anaheim for the 1986 Freedom Bowl, UCLA would take on BYU for the second straight season, and after spotting the Cougars a 3-0 lead, UCLA would storm to an easy, 31-10 victory, and Gaston Green was the man to thank. Green ran for 266 yards on 33 carries and scored three touchdowns then for good measure, threw a touchdown pass to Karl Dorrell to give the Bruins a 31-3 lead.
#3- Breazell Is Special. The 2005 Sun Bowl was already on the strange side, with the first quarter nightmare that Drew Olson had to endure, the fourth quarter was just as crazy, thanks mainly to Brandon Breazell. The lanky sophomore had a pedestrian game as a receiver, with only a pair of catches. But he had two kickoff returns for scores that sealed the game, twice, for the Bruins. And they weren't your conventional kickoff returns. With 2:29 left, and Northwestern having cut the Bruins lead to 36-31, the Wildcats lined up for an onside kick. The sure-handed Breazell was on the hands team, and he took the onside kick 42-yards for a score. Northwestern would score again with 24 seconds left, to cut it to 43-38. And they again would attempt an onside kick. And they would again see Breazell field it, and take it back, this one for 45 yards. He would end up being named Special Teams MVP and join elite company in returning two kickoffs for a score.
#2- Cotton Bowl Comeback. The Bruins were considered by many as the "hottest" team in the country, heading into the 1998 Cotton Bowl. Their lone losses were to a Washington State team who'd go on to play in the Rose Bowl and a Tennessee team playing for the Bowl Coalition title in the Orange Bowl. Having won nine games in a row, many in blowout fashion, the Bruins were expected to roll against Texas A&M. But the Aggies, sparked by a very pro-A&M crowd in Dallas, ran out to a 16-0 lead, and it looked like the Bruins were fools gold. The key play was a Cade McNown pass to Jimmy McElroy just before the half, a 22-yard touchdown that gave the Bruins life heading into the locker room. On its first possession of the second half, McNown would hit Skip Hicks for a 41-yard score and the lead was 16-14. A&M would extend the lead to 23-14, but McNown would run it in from 20-yards to narrow it to 23-21. In the fourth quarter, Ryan Neufeld would take an end-around and score, then McNown would score a 2-point conversion for a 29-23 lead. McNown would be named MVP of the game, launching his Heisman Trophy candidacy for the following year, Bob Toledo would get a measure of revenge over R.C. Slocum, who had fired him after the 1993 season, and UCLA would sport "Texas State Champs" shirts, after the Aggies became their third Lone Star State victim in 1997, along with Houston and Texas.
#1- The Freshman Runs. With David Norrie sidelined because of an injury, UCLA went to Matt Stevens to run the offense at quarterback in the 1986 Rose Bowl. Stevens was named the starter at the last minute. To make matters worse, the Bruins were already without Gaston Green for the game. No worries. Stevens managed the game well and freshman Eric Ball was the star of the day, setting Rose Bowl records on the afternoon. Ball ran for 227 yards and tied a Rose Bowl record by scoring four touchdowns in the 45-28 win over Iowa. Ronnie Harmon came in with all the accolades for the Hawkeyes, but he fumbled four times in the first half, while Ball would score that many touchdowns in the game en route to MVP honors.
The Lowlights: #1-#5
#5- The End of the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl. It was all set for a storybook ending: interim coach DeWayne Walker leading the Bruins to win, thanks to a valiant last-minute drive by walk-on and much maligned McLeod Bethel-Thompson. But Kai Forbath, who had already nailed a pair of 50+ yard field goals, missed a chip shot from 28 yards out, that BYU partially blocked, to give the frustrating 2007 season the appropriate ending.
#4- Cook Keeps It. The whole 1994 Rose Bowl could have been included- the 150,000 Wisconsin fans in the Rose Bowl (or at least it seemed), the brawl during the game that got players ejected, and the millions of Badger fans inside the Arroyo Seco. But it was one play that was the difference in UCLA winning a Rose Bowl in the last 25 years, and not. Wayne Cook drove the Bruins inside the Badgers 20 in the final seconds of the game, and it seemed like a sure-bet that Cook would be looking for his All-American receiver, J.J. Stokes, who already had 14 receptions. UCLA didn't have any timeouts but Cook took off on a QB run in the final 15 seconds, and with the clock not able to stop, Wisconsin saw the clock hit 0:00 and the win was Wisconsin's/
#3- 1999 Rose Bowl. The 1999 Heisman Trophy winner got his candidacy going by running all over a punchdrunk Bruin defense, still smarting from their season-ending loss to Miami. From Dayne's record setting day to Jamar Fletcher's pick-six of Cade McNown, this was a classic case of a team who didn't want to be there (UCLA) getting beat by one who did (Wisconsin). Never did a 10-2 season feel so empty.
#2- Craig Bragg's Facemask. Craig Bragg is one of the finest and most productive receivers in UCLA history. He was one of the true bright-spots of the early years of Karl Dorrell's WCO. And Bragg was one of the nicest guys to ever wear a Bruin uniform. But his final game as a Bruin, which was a quarter away from ending with him winning his second Las Vegas Bowl MVP award, instead took a turn for the worst. After UCLA opted to make Wyoming repunt after a penalty, the worst possible scenario happened- Bragg fielded the punt with his facemask, instead of his hands. Wyoming would end up scoring on that drive to cut the lead to 21-17, then would score in the final minute to beat the Bruins, 24-21, and end the 2004 Las Vegas Bowl.
#1- The 2003 Silicon Valley Football Classic. It's the holiday season, so we'll spare you the details. But this may have been the worst bowl performance in UCLA history, a loss to Fresno State in San Jose, to end the first season of Karl Dorrell. An ugly game all around. Take our word for it.