LOS ANGELES — This is the city. Los Angeles, California.
More than 3.8 million people reside here. Countless others arrive by the day, on bus fare and a dream. They come from big cities and small towns. They're all usually looking for the same thing.
Recording deal. A part in a movie. Maybe even a victory in the Rose Bowl.
The majority of them flame out. They end up waiting tables, going broke and going home. When they do, I'm here to pick up the pieces. I carry a laptop.
Sorry about that. I'm an old fan of the show “Dragnet.” Don't get me started on “Adam 12.”
As Joe Friday would have said, just the facts, ma'am. Nebraska is here to play UCLA at the Rose Bowl, just down the freeway from Tinsel Town.
The fact is, L.A. has been anything but the Huskers' town.
The following stories are true. The scores were not changed to protect the innocent.
Nebraska has played in two Rose Bowl games and lost both — 21-13 to Stanford in 1941 and the forgettable 37-14 national title game in 2002.
The Huskers played USC in the Coliseum twice. In 1970, Bob Devaney's first national championship squad came out here and tied John McKay's Trojans, 21-21.
In 2006, Pete Carroll's Trojans methodically put down Bill Callahan's Big 12 North champs, 28-10.
Then there's the UCLA series, which began with an 18-0 Husker loss in 1946 and a painful defeat 40 years ago on Sunday.
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In Devaney's opening game of his last season at NU, UCLA handed Nebraska its first loss since Oct. 11, 1969. The Huskers were No. 1 entering the game. They fell to No. 10 after it.
Then came 1984 and a surprise start. The Huskers, who had lost a lion's share of stars from the team that went 12-1 in 1983, thumped the Bruins, 42-3, in the Rose Bowl. But the West Coast vibe didn't last long. The following week, running back Jeff Smith was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And the Huskers went out to Syracuse and lost.
Steve Taylor and Broderick Thomas led the charge to the left coast in 1988. Nebraska was No. 2 and had national title hopes. Troy Aikman and the Bruins had other ideas. It was 41-28, UCLA.
In 1993, its last regular-season trip to the Rose Bowl, Nebraska won a tight 14-13 duel. Trev Alberts was the ABC defensive player of the game, sophomore Tommie Frazier had a career-best passing day (13 of 19, 145 yards), but the story of the day was the introduction to the kid from the streets of L.A. Freshman running back Lawrence Phillips rushed 28 times for 137 yards and a touchdown. And more than one Husker fan would think, “Man, this kid is going to have some career.”
Now let's review. Nine trips to the land of milk and honey. Two wins. And a lot of sour milk.
To paraphrase a line from “L.A. Confidential,” go back to Nebraska, sonny. This is the City of Angels, and you haven't got any wings.
But Taylor Martinez might.
The kid from nearby Corona is back in town, holding a Hollywood script on center stage at the Rose Bowl.
The Nebraska junior quarterback grew up a UCLA fan and envisioned himself in light blue and gold. Coach Rick Neuheisel didn't want him as a quarterback. The “T-Magic” man got himself a tutor and has never looked better as a quarterback. He's back to show the Bruins the mistake they made.
Can he do it?
We'll find out in a hurry because Saturday's game will be all about how many plays Martinez can make.
Rex Burkhead is doubtful but could dress. But King Rex taking the field has to be a long shot; he didn't practice all week. There's no reason to risk it Saturday. You want to win them all, yes, but Nebraska's season will be defined by the Big Ten wars. You want Rex in full health and armor for those.
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So Martinez will be the centerpiece, again, surrounded by a willing and lively cast of best supporting actors. There's the new edition of “we backs,” led by Ameer Abdullah. But perhaps more important Saturday will be the “we receivers,” the 10 fellows who caught at least one pass against Southern Miss.
The hunch here is that UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. will try to take away the run and put the onus on Martinez's arm. Teams will make the “new” Taylor show his wares week after week until it becomes apparent that he's not going away. Mora might even hope that Martinez, with his army of family and friends in the bleachers, will be too hyped up and play distracted.
Then again, Martinez might rise to the occasion to prove his point. Bo Pelini and Tim Beck are counting on it.
Meanwhile, this is Mora's home opener, and the laid-back UCLA family figures to show up 55,000 strong. Mora inherited talent, especially on defense. The Bruins throttled Rice last week, but Nebraska isn't Rice. That said, this could be a shootout and should be an emotionally charged, close game of quarterbacks making plays.
It won't be easy for Big Red, but then, it never is out here, in the shadow of the San Gabriel mountains. But now with NU in the Big Ten, this could be a regular stop in future Januarys. All the more reason for the Huskers to change their tune here and show that, in the words of Randy Newman, they love L.A.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1025, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/tomshatelOWH
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