I took my own advice stated on here last night and watched the ESPN Classic replay of the 1978 Rose Bowl (or at least the two hours that fit into the allotted time slot — there are sizeable chunks they skip past to cut it down to 120 minutes).
And I made a few notes along the way of things that stood out from UW’s 27-20 win over Michigan, the first bowl game of any type for the Huskies since 1964 and the game that concluded the season that has gone down in history as kickstarting the Don James Era:
— Steve Robbins has to be the answer to the trivia question: Who was the last straight-on kicker in UW history? In fact, since that was his last game, his kicks in that game also, I assume, have to be the last straight-on kicks in Husky history. Mike Lansford, a soccer-style kicker, took over the next year, followed by Chuck Nelson, and even seeing someone kick straight-on in a replay now seems a little odd. It also begs the question of who the last straight-on kicker was in Pac-10 and NCAA history? By 1982, Mark Moseley was the only one left in the NFL.
— Fullback Ron Gipson seems like one whose performance in that game has been a little lost to history. Not only did he have 48 yards on 15 carries, but on UW’s first TD — a 2-yard run by Warren Moon — he took out two Michigan defenders. First came his lead block, helping clear a path for Moon. Then, while on the ground, he reached up just enough to knock off another Michigan defender coming from the back side to chase Moon, who scored on a roll out.
— And speaking of Moon, he is obviously the one whose play that day may be most remembered. He was 12-23 for 188 yards and a TD and also ran for two more on his way to game MVP honors, all of which seems to foreshadow the Hall of Fame pro career that was to follow. Of course, he had to spend six years in Canada first before getting a chance in the NFL after going undrafted. But maybe that could have been avoided had everyone just listened to former NFL QB John Brodie, who was the analyst for the game along with the legendary Curt Gowdy. On one of Moon’s first passes, Brodie just about screams about how much he likes Moon’s passing motion and continues further to say that while a lot of people regard Moon as just a good athlete, that he’s a much better passer than is thought.
— It’s not quite as bad as Brent Musberger’s infamous “for all the Tostitos” line from the Oregon-Auburn game. But Gowdy showed he wasn’t above a corny reference when he said, after one of Moon’s TDs, that Moon “Lights up Washington’s Life,” an obvious nod to what is not only one of the worst songs to ever become No. 1 but also ever to have been perpetrated on the American public.
— Washington’s 97-yard drive to start the third quarter and put the Huskies ahead 24-0 has to be one of the best in UW history given the situation and opponent. UW picked up three third-downs en route, two on runs by Joe Steele, each on third-and-four (here’s the play-by-play). Probably nothing better encapsulates what the James era was to become — and be remembered by — than that drive, which came after UW stopped Michigan at the three.
— That said, there’s a play on that drive I’ve never heard anyone talk about since — a drop of a potential interception by Michigan’s Dwight Hicks on a second-and-four play at UW’s own 28 that he almost certainly would have run in for a touchdown. Moon threw the ball right to Hicks, who would go on to win a couple of Super Bowls with the 49ers, and Hicks simply drops it, with no one other than Moon in between (and on the replay, probably unlikely to make the stop). Had Hicks converted that play and made the score 17-7 midway through the third quarter, obviously it’s a different ball game, and who knows how different history would have played out, as well. (You also have to love that Hicks’ position was officially referred to as the Wolf Man — basically a roverback).
— Watching the end, I wondered what the instant message board reaction would have been today to Washington’s playcalling on its second-to-last drive. After Michigan scored to make it 27-20 (simply botching the extra point on a bad snap and hold), the Huskies got the ball back with 3:44 left. After a first-down run, UW then called two passes — one of which was to the sidelines and led the receiver out of bounds to stop the clock, and the other falling incomplete. That allowed Michigan to get the ball back at its own 42 with 2:46 left and all three of its time outs. Brodie felt compelled to defend the playcalling, noting that the Huskies — big underdogs who took the lead early and never trailed — had gotten into the position they were by being aggressive and throwing often in non-obvious passing situations all game. But I can only imagine the Internet meltdown that might have occurred in a similar situation today.
— Michigan then drove easily to the UW 8, where on a first down play, fate and UW LB Michael Jackson saved the day (and the Husky coaches from a potential history of second guessing) as a pass by Wolverine QB Rick Leach went off the hands of RB Stanley Edwards (who would, interestingly enough, go on to become one of Moon’s teammates with the Oilers) and up his back and helmet before Jackson then corralled the ball as they fell together to the turf. It’s really one of the most amazing plays in Husky football history given its significance to the game and the athleticism required to pull it off. I included that play last month when I wrote a story on the top 10 plays in Seattle sports history, and seeing the entire sequence again as it happened only reinforced to me that it belongs on such a list, if not a little higher, for all that that season and game represent. (By the way, the play-by-play linked above includes the Michigan radio call of Jackson’s interception).
— What I’d kind of forgotten, however, is that Michigan then used two of the timeouts it hadn’t had to call on the earlier UW possession and stopped the Huskies three-and-out to get the ball back at its own 48 with 44 seconds left and one time out remaining. But Leach threw deep down the sidelines and UW’s Nesby Glasgow picked it off at the 7 and that was that. (Though interesting to note the raucous celebration that ensued as seemingly the entire UW team ran onto the field, with James rushing out to furiously try to push them all back. These days, there’d have been 38 flags thrown for unsportsmanlike behavior. But in that game, they just quickly cleared the field and resumed play).
— The passage of time may be softening the memory of just how great a year Jackson had in 1977 — watching that game reinforces that it’s hard to imagine any UW linebacker has ever been better. He had 219 tackles that season, which remains a school record. And while it’s tempting to wonder if maybe there wasn’t a little more relaxed method of counting tackles in those days might have led to some higher numbers (Mason Foster had 163 this year, for instance, the most for any Husky since 1989 but only 10th on the all-time UW list), watching that game makes you think he really did get all 219.
— That game was actually the last in the history of the old Pac-8, and it’s interesting to hear Gowdy and Brodie talk about the pending expansion of Arizona and Arizona State. Nothing earthshattering said, but more a reminder of how much has changed.
Okay, I promise a return to the present later today, answering a few questions and maybe getting another position preview entry up, as well.