How USC Bolstered UW's Return to Prominence

There were two games as responsible as any for the rise of the University of Washington football program under Don James. Rose Bowl wins over Michigan and Iowa after the 1977 and 1981 seasons? Important, certainly, but those came only because of vital wins during the regular season.

The games referenced here were not even victories by Washington.

How might history have been different if Warren Moon and Jacque Robinson never got a chance to play in the Rose Bowl, let alone win player-of-the-game honors? The Huskies needed help in both 1977 and 1981 to win the Pac-8 and Pac-10 titles, respectively. (Just as they needed help in 2000.)

The help came from the same team 23 and 27 years ago. The parallels between those seasons are pure Twilight Zone.

In 1977, Washington's Rose Bowl express was derailed by a late-season 20-12 loss to UCLA in Los Angeles. The Huskies fought back by beating USC and Washington State at home, putting them in position to go to the Rose Bowl if USC beat UCLA at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

In 1981, Washington's Rose Bowl express was derailed by a late-season 31-0 loss to UCLA in Los Angeles. The Huskies fought back by beating USC and Washington State at home, putting them in position to go to the Rose Bowl if USC beat UCLA at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

There were two main differences between 1977 and 1981:

· In ‘77, the USC-UCLA game was played the Friday after Thanksgiving, six days after the UW finished its season, while in '81 the USC-UCLA and UW-WSU games started within a half-hour of each other.
· In ‘81, the Cougars would have gone to their first Rose Bowl in 49 years if they had beaten the Huskies, regardless of the result in Los Angeles.

The parallels between the 1977 and 1981 USC-UCLA games are also eerie.

In 1977, UCLA scored late to take a one-point lead, 27-26, in a wild game where the lead changed hands several times. USC, which had no chance to go to the Rose Bowl, then mounted a last-minute drive to get in field-goal range. The Trojans moved to the UCLA 21 and put the game on the foot of their kicker, Frank Jordan. His 38-yard field goal split the uprights, setting off wild celebrations on the floor of the Coliseum and in the homes of Husky fans everywhere glued to their TVs. Washington coach Don James later joked he was giving Jordan a letter.

In 1981, USC, which had trailed most of the game and could have gone to the Rose Bowl only if Washington and WSU tied, scored late to take a one-point lead, 22-21. The Trojans' comeback was aided by field goals from Steve Jordan, Frank's brother. UCLA mounted a last-minute drive and moved the ball to the USC 30. They put the game on the foot of their kicker, future Seahawk Norm Johnson.

In Husky Stadium, thousands of fans had been glued to their radios listening to a broadcast of the game in Los Angeles that was carried by a local station. As the Huskies, ahead 20-10, huddled early in the fourth quarter, the voice of USC broadcaster Tom Kelly could be heard throughout the stadium: ". . . it's up, it's BLOCKED!!!" Pandemonium in two stadiums. As the Huskies came out of the huddle, quarterback Steve Pelluer had to plead (unsuccessfully) for quiet.

Two games. Two USC victories. Two last-second field goals. One made (by Frank Jordan), one blocked (by defensive lineman George Achica). And, later, two Rose Bowl triumphs by the Huskies.

Two seasons eerily bound by so many similarities.

How might history have been different . . .

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