Ohio State vs LSU: More intimidating venue?

Kirk Herbstreit, ace college football analyst for ESPN and the ABC network, shook his head in awe as he and play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger listened to a record Ohio Stadium crowd of 106,033 fans swing and sway and give their lungs a beating such as they had never before taken.

``I've lived here all my life and I've never seen anything like this,'' said the former Buckeyes quarterback, the thunder of the crowd shaking the hallowed Horseshoe as football teams from USC and Ohio State battled it out on the field below.

It was obvious Herbstreit believed this was the Decibel Dance of All-Time for college football and that USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley had exhibited the poise of a professional.

But was this the ultimate Noise Festival? Not for those of us who were present for the Battle of the Bayou between USC and Louisiana State on Sept. 29, 1979, a game won by the Trojans in the final 32 seconds when All-America quarterback Paul McDonald threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kevin Williams for a 17-12 triumph.

McDonald, who is an analyst for 710 Radio on USC games, was in the press box for the USC-Ohio State game and was asked to compare the insanity of Baton Rouge with the madness of Columbus.

``I vote for Baton Rouge,'' said McDonald. ``It was crazy.''

But, it should be noted, McDonald quickly pointed out a difference in viewing positions.

``I was on the field in Baton Rouge,'' he said. ``Maybe if I had been on the field in Columbus, I might feel differently.''

As a writer covering the USC-LSU game, I was in the press box, although, except for halftime, I heard nothing for nearly three hours. My wife, Lois, and a son, Scott, then 10 but now Senior Recruiting Editor for Scout.com, were seated in the stands among some of the nuttiest people on Earth. At one point, Lois and Scott were so intimidated by the hostile LSU crowd that they considered leaving the game and going to our rental car just outside Tiger Stadium, which also is appropriately known as Death Valley.

The press box had an intercom system, but the crowd was so loud, many from over-imbibing, that I did not hear a single press-box announcement during the game. Nor could I hear the LSU band or announcements over the stadium P.A. system.

McDonald said he realized early in the game that he faced a difficult evening.

``In those days, there were rules controlling crowd noise,'' the former USC quarterback said. ``If a quarterback couldn't be heard when he was calling signals, he turned to the referee and gave him a signal. The referee then was supposed to warn the crowd to be quiet enough for signals to be called, and, if the crowd didn't quiet down on the next attempt, a five-yard penalty would be assessed.''

McDonald laughed as he recalled the opening minute of offense for the Trojans.

``No one could hear anything I was saying, so I turned to the referee for help. He looked at me and pointed his finger downfield. That meant, `Run your play, run your play' He ignored the rules, and that's the way we played the game – pure pandemonium.

``What made it difficult for us was that we were used to calling two plays in the huddle, and then shouting an audible at the line of scrimmage to designate which of the two plays was going to be run. But we couldn't do that because no one could hear me.''

McDonald didn't recall the precise number of illegal procedure (motion) penalties the Trojans were assessed. I guessed eight, but USC sports information director Tim Tessalone went into the files and came up with official figures – three illegal procedure penalties and three delays of game.

Needless to say, it was almost impossible for McDonald and the Trojans to generate any offense, given the conditions they faced. But somehow, they did it, putting it all together in a drive that began with 4:19 remaining.

Quite similar, in fact, to what Barkley faced at Ohio Stadium, which actually was a 95-yard drive after a sack and a penalty pushed the Trojans back to their 5. But the freshman from Mater Dei guided his team to a winning touchdown, earning plaudits from McDonald.

``We never really got into the rhythm of our offense at Baton Rouge and neither the did the Trojans at Ohio State,'' said McDonald, who spent eight years in the National Football League after concluding his USC career. ``On the touchdown play at Baton Rouge, we came out of the huddle and lined up quickly. We had Williams (5-9, 165) lined up at tight end and snapped the ball right away. That left an LSU linebacker trying to cover Kevin, and there was no way he could cover Kevin and his quickness.''

Asked if he thought the Trojans were going to lose at Ohio State when they faced a situation in which they would need 95 yards to achieve a victory, McDonald paused and said: ``Well, it was not looking good.''

But, he said, ``Barkley was sensational on that last drive. He had hurt his shoulder, and yet, to remain calm in that environment was extremely impressive. A bone bruise is not a serious injury, but let me tell you, those bone bruises can be very painful. I had a leg bone bruise one time and it really hurt.''

But the tumult and the shouting are over for this one, and McDonald summed it up succinctly:

``Great victory.''

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