December 07, 2003

Regarding the BCS mess, there is a story my late father used to tell me about Jesse Unruh, the California State Assembly leader during the Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan administrations, and the person who basically ran the state from 1958 to the day he died, in 1987. Unruh had some of his cronies over for a party to watch the 1964 Notre Dame-USC game. The Fighting Irish were undefeated in Ara Parseghian's first season as coach, ranked first in all the polls, and were generally thought to be the best football team in America, especially with Bart Starr injured in Green Bay. SC had finished tied for the conference title with Oregon State, but were clearly the class of the West Coast, and were expected to be selected for the Rose Bowl (the Trojans and Beavers hadn't played that season). Notre Dame was led by that season's Heisman Trophy winner, John Huarte, while the Trojans were carried by junior sensation Mike Garrett.

Notre Dame gets off to a 17-0 halftime lead at the Colliseum, dominating both sides of the line of scrimmage. If Notre Dame won, they would be crowned national champion, as the Irish did not play bowl games back then. However, in the second half, USC scores 20 unanswered points, the final coming on a touchdown pass from Craig Fertig to Rod Sherman with a 1:33 remaining, to upset the Irish. Along with many of his political associates, including my dad, Unruh had attended USC, and after beating the number one team in the country, he assumed that SC would be awarded the conference berth in the Rose Bowl.

It was not to be. When the announcement came that Oregon State had been selected to face Michigan on January 1, an explosion could be heard at the party, where there had apparently been a lot of drinking. Unruh, at the full height of his power after LBJ's landslide victory in the state, as well as after the humiliating defeat of his arch-enemy Pat Brown's hand-picked Senatorial candidate, Pierre Salinger, proclaimed that he would personally bring down the Pac-8 conference and the NCAA, and SC would secede from the rest of the college football after this outrage. Unfortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and it would be left to another generation to bring down that ridiculously self-important organization.

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