January 1, 1996 - USC vs. Northwestern - For the first time in my life, I went to the Rose Bowl where I didn't have a strong rooting interest, but I was able to get tickets again through the same coworker who got me the 1994 tickets. However, the tickets that the Pasadena city council members got to sell to constituents were in the end zone, not at midfield. And the price for tickets was now $75.
I expected that I would go to the Rose Bowl and end up rooting for Northwestern. After all, the Wildcats were such a good story. They were a historically bad program that somehow managed to go 10-1 and win the Big 10 when Ohio State lost to Michigan in its last game. And USC was the opponent. USC was not a good story. They had lost two games (Notre Dame, UCLA) and had a tie (Washington). The Trojans star was Keyshawn Johnson. He was pretty much the same then as he is now.
But when I walked around the park outside the Rose Bowl with my friend, I thought I would run into some friendly Northwestern fans, who would be happy to be making the trip out to Pasadena for the first time since 1949. But that was not the case. The Northwestern fans lacked a lot of qualities that make for good football fans. One of them was manners. You could try to say hello to them, but they wouldn't even look up from their tailgate parties. Their attitude was "Who are you? Do I know you? If I close my eyes, will you go away?" They seemed a very unhappy bunch.
Inside the stadium, the Wildcat fans were worse. They seemed to hate the Rose Bowl facility. They hated the toilets. They didn't like the way the water was served. They didn't like the food. The seats weren't comfortable. The weather was too warm. The San Gabriel Mountains were not shaped correctly.
Yes, the Rose Bowl is an old stadium. But I really doubt that Dyche Stadium (which is now Ryan Field) was a state of the art facility with gourmet food. But the Rose Bowl has had a long history of great teams playing in it. With fans that have been happy to put up with the cramped seating and figured out how to space their fluid intake to avoid getting stuck in lines for the bathroom. But most of it all, it's THE ROSE BOWL.
By the time kickoff rolled around, I had put Northwestern and its fans on an early version of my "Dead to Me" list. Never had so many squandered so much goodwill so quickly. The Northwestern fans had made USC, a team playing in its 29th Rose Bowl, seem a lot more appealling. Go Pac-10! (In the interests of full disclosure, I based my conclusions on the actions of about 10 Northwewstern fans, but I felt it was a good sample size and I just extrapolated everything out.)
Fortunately, it was apparent from the outset that USC had a lot more talent than Northwestern. Johnson roamed through the secondary at ease, catching 12 passes for 216 yards. USC quarterback Brad Otton threw for 391 yards as USC coach decided to not go with his extremely puzzling system of alternating Otton with Kyle Wachholtz.
The Trojans led 24-7 after Daylon McCutcheon picked up a fumble by Brian Musso and ran it back 53 yards for a score. Northwestern got a field goal right before halftime to make it 24-10.
In the second half, Northwestern got its offense going. Running back Darnell Autry started to break off big gains and quarterback Steve Schnur started to find openings in USC's secondary. After a field goal by Northwestern made it 24-13, the Wildcats coach, the always open-minded Gary Barnett, tried an onside kick, recovered it and went down the field for a touchdown and trailed just 24-19. But USC got back on track after Otton threw a 56-yard TD pass to Johnson.
But Northwestern still kept at it, going the length of the field for a touchdown on a one-yard sneak by Schnur set up by a long pass from Schnur to D'Wayne Bates. That made the score 31-26. Northwestern got the ball back and went ahead on Autry's third rushing touchdown of the game. He finished with 110 yards.
USC went back ahead on a field goal to make it 34-32 and then parlayed an interception into a short touchdown run by Delon Washington to make it 41-32 with about two minutes left and held on for the win.
The Northwestern fans gloomily marched out into the night. One hopes that their kind will never have to put up with the horrible inconveniences of the Rose Bowl again. I'm sorry that Pasadena on New Year's Day is not Chicago. For my sake and the sake of all football fans, just stay there. OK?
Coming up next: The underdogs whom nobody seemed to like try to spoil the national championship hopes of the favorite.