USC Football Won Payback In 1990 Rose Bowl

Jan 1, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; General view of the Rose Bowl before the game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Stanford Cardinal in the 2016 Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; General view of the Rose Bowl before the game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Stanford Cardinal in the 2016 Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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USC football’s win in the 1990 Rose Bowl was Bo Schembechler’s curtain call and Junior Seau’s Trojan sendoff.

The 1990 Rose Bowl was a big time game between the winners of the Big Ten and the Pac-10. It was a rematch of the previous year’s contest, one in which the Michigan Wolverines bested USC football, 22-14.

The Trojans were looking for some payback.

Michigan arrived in Pasadena ranked No. 3 in both polls with a 10-1 record.  They also had an outside chance at a National Championship if they won the game and got some help from other bowl outcomes.

The Trojans were having a very good year at 8-2-1 and were ranked No. 12 in the polls.

This was also legendary head coach Bo Schembechler’s last game on the Michigan sidelines after 21 years.  Meanwhile USC was led by head coach Larry Smith, much hyped freshman quarterback Todd Marinovich and Junior Seau, the No. 55, at linebacker.

The weather was football perfect, sunny and warm to start but cooler as the game reached the third and fourth quarters.

So the stage was definitely set for this nationally-televised spectacle, with Keith Jackson on play-by-play for “Granddaddy of them All.”

The only problem was finding a couple of tickets because everyone knows how well Michigan travels, especially to California in January.  But if you happened to be a season ticket holder of, let’s say four USC tickets, then viola you just got four Rose Bowl tickets.  Life was good.

The weather was football perfect, sunny and warm to start but cooler as the game reached the third and fourth quarters.

On the field were two schools that ran the football and then ran the ball some more.

Michigan had a huge offensive line that sent multiple players to the NFL.  Who could forget Matt Elliott and Steve Everitt shoring up their offensive front?

They also had a very hard running half back named Leroy Hoard, who had his visor blacked out like Darth Vader. He was intimidating. When last year’s Rose Bowl’s MVP happened to run by at halftime, you could feel his presence and power.

The Michigan team was loaded with talent and a skill player iconic in nature — the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard, who was just a sophomore and about to explode on the College Football scene. Strike a pose?

Chris Calloway, yes that Chris Calloway, was the Wolverines other senior flanker.

You start to understand why this team was ranked a legitimate preseason No. 1.  Adding to that, the Wolverines finished the year as Big 10 Champions and were on their way to five Big 10 titles in a row.

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USC had just finished the Rodney Peete era at quarterback and were now breaking in freshman freak Todd Marinovich, who did set the NCAA completion percentage record at 61.5% as a freshman.

As good as Peete was, he didn’t beat Michigan in the 1989 Rose Bowl.  Fortunately, the Trojans had one of their better defenses in recent memory led by Seau, Mark Carrier at safety and Dan Owens and Tim Ryan at defense tackle.

All four of those players were gone by the third round of the NFL Draft; Seau and Carrier were picks No. 5 and 6 in the first round.

It was a coming out party of sorts for the late great Seau and his last game in cardinal and gold.

Seau was one of the most physically gifted players in Trojan history. He was the leader on defensive and had 18 sacks, second only to Tim Ryan’s 19.

On the afternoon of January 1, 1990, Seau was all over the field racking up eight tackles, recovering fumbles and just wreaking havoc.

On one play late in the fourth quarter, Seau rushed the quarterback, Elvis Grbac and met Steve Everitt, who was 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, in the backfield.  The crash echoed through the stands as Seau nearly lifted him off his feet.

Some friends in San Diego were very nervous about selecting Seau so high in April’s NFL draft.  You heard comments like “he’s only a sophomore,” “he’s untested, over-hyped and unproven.”

Those who saw Seau’s Rose Bowl performance knew he’d be a force in football for many years to come.

SEE ALSO: The 50 Best Draft Picks In USC History

The game started with a sonic boom as the stealth fighters soared over the Rose Bowl.

It all unfolded as most expected — very physical and low scoring.

USC drop deep down the field mainly with Ricky Ervins running the ball. Unfortunately Marinovich threw a red zone interception.

However, with the Trojan defense ranked No. 1 in the country against the run, Michigan could not move the ball.

On offense, coach Smith continued to call Ervins number and before long the Trojans drove deep into Michigan territory again.

On a critical fourth and inches from the three-yard line, USC went for it.

Instead of handing off to Evins, Smith called for the quarterback sneak and Marinovich picked up the first down…first and goal. Then the young QB missed the hand off only to recover it to run in for the touchdown himself.

A couple of field goals later, the first half ended with the Trojans leading leading 10-3.

In the second half, Schembechler made a fourth down call that stunned the Trojan faithful.

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The score was all tied up at 10-10 and the clock was winding deep into the fourth quarter. Faced with a fourth and two around midfield, Michigan called a fake punt. It gain 26 yards.

Luckily for USC, flags also flew as a Wolverine had a fistful of Trojan jersey.

The men of Troy got the ball back with a minute or so left on the clock.

Wouldn’t it be nice to run the ball down the field and score the game-winning touchdown? Ervins did just that, romping in from 14 yards out to score the touchdown and win Rose Bowl MVP honors.

Schembechler decided to exit stage right and left the field without doing post game interviews. The Trojans celebrated by lifting Smith onto their shoulders.

And so it was New Years Day, 1990: USC 17, Michigan 10.