January 2, 1984 - UCLA vs. Illinois - With New Year's Day falling on a Sunday, the Rose Bowl, as was its long-standing custom, took place on a Monday. The reason for this was actually because the Rose Parade made church attendance in Pasadena too difficult. This policy dates back to 1893. It actually would have been in place for the 2006 game except it was played on January 4 because it was the BCS championship game. The 2006 parade was on January 2 and it took place in a rainstorm. If you're Catholic, you might know that January 1 is a holy day of obligation anyway and you're supposed to go to church, but Pasadena Catholic churches generally tell you to only come to Mass if you can make it easily. However in 2007, you don't have to go regardless of where you live. I'm sure you were all glad to know that.
But in 1984, it was another picture perfect day. Over 101,000 made their way into the Rose Bowl that day to see an apparent mismatch between a 10-1 Illinois team and a 6-4-1 UCLA squad. The Illini were making their first appearance in Pasadena since 1964. They had won their three previous Rose Bowls, including a 45-14 rout of UCLA in 1947, the first year of the Pac-10 (then called the Pacific Coast Conference) vs. Big 10 (then called the Big 9) contract.
Illinois, coached by Mike White, had lost its season opener at Missouri and then rolled off 10 straight wins. The Illini were led by quarterback Jack Trudeau, who directed an offense that put up some gaudy point totals. Illinois had not won 10 games in a season since 1902, when they had a Milwaukee high school and the Kirksville Osteopathic school on the schedule.
UCLA had started the season 0-3-1, but rallied to win six of its last seven games and got into the Rose Bowl again by beating USC in the last regular season game while Washington was upset by Washington State in the Apple Cup.
The rare appearance of Illinois in Pasadena seemed to bring out every Illinois alum in a 3000 mile radius of the Rose Bowl. Well, except people 3000 miles west of Pasadena because it's really hard to drive across the Pacific Ocean. The cars parked on Brookside Golf Course all seemed to be sporting the blue and orange flags of Illinois. The UCLA fans were, for the lack of a better term, just there. I can't even say they were happy to be there.
Illinois got off to a bad start when Don Rogers intercepted a Trudeau pass on the third play of the game. UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel (whom I hear is really good at filling out NCAA tournament brackets) drove the Bruins down to the Illinois 26 to set up a field goal attempt.
The normally reliable John Lee had his kick blocked. But an Illini player tried to pick it up and run with it, only to be hit and fumble and UCLA recovered and got a fresh set of downs. Neuheisel threw his first of four touchdown passes on the day, a 3-yard toss to tight end Paul Bergmann to put UCLA up 7-0.
Illinois managed a field goal on its next drive, but then were soon buried by the Bruins. Kevin Nelson ran 28 yards for a score.
On the next drive, Rogers intercepted Trudeau again and that set up a TD pass from Neuheisel to Karl Dorrell. UCLA scored again on its next drive, this time on a 53-yard pass from Neuheisel to Michael Young. It was 28-3 UCLA at halftime and the Illini fans seemed to be in an emotional state that transcended being stunned.
I sat in the UCLA student section with my mom, one of my brothers and his roommate. Either my brother or his roommate left to go to the bathroom at halftime (an expedition that often requires a compass and two Sherpas for guidance) and that left an empty seat. However, we were in the card stunt section. My mother felt duty bound to perform not only her assignments, but also the assignment for the empty seat. I figured that she would never be able to handle this, but much to my amazement, she pulled it off. In recent years, I have been seated on the opposite side of the Rose Bowl and can watch the card stunts. And I can say with some degree of certainty, that they invariably look like crap. They never resemble anything. I keep thinking that they are really just some giant Rorschach test.
"Is that a bear?"
"No, it's a basketball."
"No, I think it's a man and woman sharing an ice cream sundae."
"Yes, very much like a whale."
The second half didn't get much better for Illinois. Neuheisel threw another touchdown pass to Dorrell, tying the Rose Bowl record for TD passes in a game. Neuheisel completed 22 of 31 passes for 298 yards. The Bruins outgained Illinois by a margin of 511 to 205 and the Illini ended up with zero yards rushing.
The real highlight in the second half came with about about nine minutes left in the game when a dedicated band of Caltech students changed the scoreboard to show Caltech beating MIT 38-9. Later, a beaver (Caltech's mascot) appeared on the message board portion of the scoreboard. Rose Bowl officials couldn't correct the problem, so they just turned off the scoreboard for the last few minutes of the game. It was likely that the Illinois fans didn't mind.
Illinois has not been back to the Rose Bowl since. The Illini did win the Big 10 in 2001, but because of BCS obligations, the Rose Bowl had to match up Miami and Nebraska in a dreary affair and Illinois went off to the Sugar Bowl.
The next year UCLA went to the Fiesta Bowl. And then UCLA made the Rose Bowl again in 1986. For some reason, I decided that the increased ticket price (I believe it was up to $45 from $30) was too much to pay. And I figured that UCLA would go to the Rose Bowl again soon enough.
Oh, I was so foolish then. So foolish. So full of hubris. In my senior of college, I got to enjoy the Bruins against BYU in the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim Stadium. They did win 31-10, but it wasn't Pasadena on New Year's Day. I actually went to the Freedom Bowl TWICE and also saw Larry Smith's swan song as USC coach in a 1993 Trojan loss to Fresno State. I wouldn't be back to the Arroyo Seco on New Year's Day for ten years.
Coming up next: Maniacally friendly dairy product aficionados descend on Pasadena.