WHEN THE COUGARS and Bruins square off Saturday, they'll be renewing a rivalry that dates back to 1928. But none of their 49 contests in that period -- not even 1997's fateful season opener --can come close to the drama of the one played 15 years ago.

On a bright and temperate October 29 in Pasadena, WSU pulled off one of the great victories of the 1988 college football season -- and one of the most improbable in Cougar football history.

UCLA, led by All-American quarterback Troy Aikman, came into the game undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation. They were a 19-point favorite against a Cougar team that had started the season well but was coming off two disappointing losses to the Arizona schools.

For 2 1/2 quarters, the script unfolded as expected. The Bruins jumped to a 27-6 third quarter lead, prompting ABC-TV color commentator Bob Griese to opine that WSU didn't deserve to be on the same field as the powder-blue juggernaut.

But then, Timm Rosenbach fired a short pass over the middle to a crossing Tim Stallworth who turned the catch into an electrifying 81-yard touchdown. Suddenly, one of the most nail-biting, upset comebacks in Pac-10 history was underway.

When Rich Swinton, subbing for the injured Steve Broussard, capped an 80 yard, 13-play drive with a 1-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter, the Cougs led for the first time, 34-30.

But Aikman marched the Bruins to first-and-goal at the Cougar five with a minute to go. Four times, the Cougar defense thwarted him, as Artie Holmes, Ron Lee and Vernon Todd each knocked down passes. Holmes had killed an earlier fourth quarter Bruin drive with a diving interception. Alas, when Aikman's last pass failed to connect in the waning seconds, the roar emanating out of Pullman could be heard nearly to Colfax. A KQQQ radio announcer said the din was louder than a home game in a packed Martin Stadium.

Keith Jackson, Griese's broadcast partner that day, captured the moment well when he signed off by saying, "Ah, the old bell will ring in (College Hall) all night long, I would think."

Indeed, most observers said the euphoria that evening rivaled the catharsis following WSU's 1982 Apple Cup victory in Pullman that denied the Huskies a Rose Bowl berth.

So just how tense was the game?

"I was at Husky Stadium with friends watching the Dawgs play Stanford, and the PA announcer kept coming on with updates on the Cougars and UCLA," remembered one WSU fan. "Husky fans were actually cheering for the Cougs as the score got closer and closer. At any rate, the Husky game ended a few minutes before the Cougar game, but half the crowd stayed put -- they were all dying to hear what happened with the Cougars. When they announced the final score, you'd have thought you were in Martin Stadium. That's how loud the cheering was."

"That UCLA game was really special," play-by-play announcer Bob Robertson remembered in a 1993 interview. "It took a great comeback and a last-second goal-line stand to pull it out in front of a national TV audience -- on the road -- against the No. 1 team in the nation. The Cougars stunned us all. I remembering coming back to the hotel afterward, and a group of still-disbelieving Cougar fans gave me a standing ovation. ‘I didn't do anything,' I told them, but they were so overjoyed they were looking for any excuse to cheer."

So improbable, so dramatic was the victory that a group of long-time Cougar watchers in a 1993 poll rated it the greatest WSU victory of the modern era. It was the first Cougar win in Los Angeles since the 1958 defeat of UCLA, and it catapulted the Cougars to the Aloha Bowl and a 9-3 record.

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