(Disclaimer: In case I have to establish my anti-USC bona fides, several years ago, my son participated in the California State Science Fair on the USC campus. Talking to him during the Fair, I asked him if he was looking around (since he would be preparing for college soon). He replied, "Come on Dad, I know that USC is the only place where you would not pay for college.")
OK, so before I explain the title, a quiz:
Name the year where,
1. For the first time in history, a Bear running back gained over 1,100 yards rushing in a season;
2. Where the Bears had both a consensus All-American running back and receiver, and an All-American tackle;
3. Where the Bears lead the nation in total offense (5,044 yards in 11 games), and even more amazing gained exactly the same number yards rushing (2,522 yards) as passing (2,522 yards), and became (and still are) the most balanced offense in the history of college footb<all;
4. Where a Bear finished 2nd in the Heisman voting (and should have won it, except for the existing Big-10 bias (which has been replaced by the current SEC bias));
5. Where (excepting the 2003 triple overtime game when the Bears defeated then number 3 USC), the Bears last beat a top 5 team; and
6. Where (excepting the 2006 year), the Bears finished in a tie for the league championship.
If you answered 1975, you are either a true Bear aficionado, or a fair bit older than, I suspect, many on this blog.
Despite their recent success, my view is that this was the best Bears team that I have ever seen play.
The team featured Chuck Muncie, a 6'2", 240 pound, consensus All-American running back who ran a 9.7 one hundred yard dash (yes, we measured the dashes in yards back then), was a 6 foot, 8 inch high jumper, which he used at the goal line to dive the goal line pile for 13 touch downs, and who seemingly was never stopped for a loss. He wore glasses under his helmet, which we could only believe he used to shoot laser beams at opposing tacklers. He combined breakaway speed, with the ability to gain additional yards, even while dragging defenders with him.
The receivers included speedster Wesley Walker (9.4 speed, yes, again in the 100 yard dash) who averaged more than 25 yards a catch, and had one touchdown for every 4 catches he made. He was legally blind in one eye, but I never remember him dropping a bomb thrown in his direction. Walker was later an all-pro with the New York Jets.
However, my personal favorite was consensus All-American receiver Steve Rivera, who later played with the 49ers. What was so special about Rivera? Well he attended class for one (both Rivera and Muncie were in my English 1A and 1B classes, although I did not know about Muncie until later). More importantly(?), he was always open a yard past the first down marker. Third and seven, Rivera caught an 8 yard pass; third and 12, Rivera caught a 13 yard pass. On third down every player, fan and coach knew what was coming, but seemingly, no one stopped him. He caught 57 passes that year, and it would not surprise me if 47 of them were for first downs. (I digress for a moment, but I think that the "possession receiver" is one of the most under-rated players on any team - think Fred Biletnikoff.)
The offensive line lead the way for these gaudy offensive numbers (they always do - bet you can't tell I was an offensive lineman). All-American Ted Albrecht from Vallejo, and center Duane Williams who was first team all Pac -8 anchored one of the great Bear lines. Albrecht later played for the Chicago Bears, until a neck injury cut short his NFL career. The Pac-8 became the Pac-10 in 1978 when the league added Arizona and Arizona State.
Mike White (later of Illinois, the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, and other places) coached the team. Interestingly, one measure of Cal's success in the 1975 season was that Joe Paterno attended at least one of the Spring Practices leading up to the 1976 season. This impressed me, because even at that time, he was a legend in College Football, and he had come to watch us.
Many other players contributed to the success of this team, that featured a defense that improved week by week led by Phil Heck (middle linebacker), Jeff Barnes (I believe the second or third fastest player on the team playing defensive line, and later in the NFL), James Reed and Daryle Skaugstad (both later playing in the NFL).
(Ok so Arnold did not play on the Bears in 1975, but they told me to add some pictures to spice up this post, and there aren't that many from that long ago. Arnold was in fact Mr. Olympia in 1975.)
Despite the talent, the start of the season did not go smoothly. All-American Steve Bartkowski had graduated to the NFL, and Joe Roth, transferring from Junior College did not start the first three games - a 34-27 loss to Colorado, a 28-10 loss to West Virginia, and a 33-21 victory over Washington State. Roth drew his first start in the fourth game against San Jose State, a team that would eventually end the season 9-2 (losing only to the Bears, and a late season upset at Hawaii). The Bears trailed San Jose 24-20 with three minutes left in the game, and Joe Roth lead a game-winning drive, converting a third and 22 on the Bears own ten yard line, and finally capping the drive by hitting Wesley Walker streaking down the right sideline for a 46 yard touchdown to win the game.
In the next two weeks, the Bears rolled over Oregon (34-7) and Oregon State (51-24) to sit at 3-0 in Pac-8 play. The Bears then traveled south to take on then number 19 UCLA, and despite over 440 yards in total offense came out on the short end of a 28-14 score. This would be the Bears only Pac-8 loss.
The next week then number 4 USC visited Memorial Stadium, and the place was rocking. It was a sellout crowd, and a big ABC-TV audience. (To anticipate a question, there was no ESPN in those days, and hence no "Game Day". ABC was the King of College Football, and carried the equivalent of the Game of the Week. If you were not on ABC, it is likely that your game was not televised anywhere.)
The Bears beat the Trojans in a way few teams did in those days, amassing 477 yards in total offense, and harassing USC quarterback Vince Evans. My recollection is that Evans, who was later to be the MVP of the 1977 Rose Bowl, and to spend 15 seasons in the NFL completed fewer than 30% of his passes. That USC team featured future NFL greats like Ricky Bell, Dennis Thurman, Gary Jeter, Clay Matthews (the senior) and Marvin Powell, but they were no match for the Bears that day. Students pelted the USC band with oranges as the afternoon wore on (not endorsing it, just reporting it), and rushed the field at the conclusion of the game. We all sensed Rose Bowl after a long drought. (I remember calling my Dad after the game terribly excited, and he, in fairly typical fashion, gently reminded me that we were still not completely in control of our own fate. His words turned out to be prophetic.)
The Bears went on to defeat Washington (27-24) and Air Force (31-14), and to pummel Stanford 48-15. But although we were tied with UCLA for the Pac-8 title, we would not be going to the Rose Bowl without a USC victory, or tie, over UCLA a week later. Seemingly all of Berkeley tuned in to what would be, and remains the most frustrating football game I have ever watched. That was the day we rooted for USC.
In front of a crowd of more than 80,000, and a national television audience, UCLA handed the ball to USC at least 9 times, on one John Sciarra interception, and 8 lost fumbles (that is not a miss-print, they actually fumbled 11 times during the game, but recovered 3 of them). Despite the turnovers, including one on the UCLA 28, one on the UCLA 23, one on the UCLA 18, and one on the UCLA 35, USC only scored 22 points. The last fumble came with just a little over a minute to play, but USC was unable to get in position for a field goal try, and the score ended 25-22 UCLA.
Symbolic of the day's frustration, UCLA's winning score was proceeded by a fumble by UCLA running back, Wendell Tyler (his third, but he would eventually have 4), and on the very next play a give-back by Mosi Tatupi, USC's fullback. John Sciarra then hit Don Pederson with a pass for a touchdown (I mention Don because he and I played high school football together).
UCLA went on to play in the 1976 Rose Bowl where the Bruins, despite having lost to the Woody Hayes coached, undefeated, Ohio State Buckeyes 41-20 in the regular season, defeated Ohio State in an upset.
USC's coach John McKay left USC to coach the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers having guided USC to 8 Rose Bowls, and having won four national championships in his 16 years at USC. And despite having the finest offense in the country, finishing 6-1 in the Pac-8, 14th in the AP poll, and 15th in the UPI poll, the Golden Bears stayed home. But for three and a half frustrating hours, I was a USC fan.