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In addition to our ongoing series of the centennial celebration of the 1914 Hall of Fame football team, this site will publish the Top 50 games in Arizona football history in the 50 days leading up to the season-opener against UNLV on Aug. 29 at Arizona Stadium. We are only one day from kickoff. If you have missed any of the series, here is a link to catch up.
SCORE: Arizona Wildcats 13, No. 1 Southern Cal Trojans 10
DATE: October 10, 1981
SITE: Los Angeles Coliseum, 56,315 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Arizona coach Larry Smith placed his thumb and forefinger an inch apart while standing before his Wildcats in practice leading up to the Wildcats’ first game in school history against a No. 1-ranked team.
“There’s just that much difference between the No. 1 team and, say, the No. 56 team,” Smith told them.
Historically, the gap was as wide as the Grand Canyon between Arizona and USC when they faced each other in 1981.
The Wildcats, in only their fourth year in the Pac-10, traveled to Los Angeles to face No. 1 USC, a school it had never beaten in nine tries. The Trojans by that time had won nine national titles and eight Rose Bowls. The Wildcats, 24-point underdogs, lost 34-7 to USC in their previous trip to Los Angeles in 1979. Arizona was 0-7 there, with most of the games taking place in the 1920s.
The Trojans, featuring Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Allen and All-American defensive back Ronnie Lott, was on a 22-game unbeaten streak at the L.A. Coliseum going back to 1977. They were on a 37-3-2 stretch over a four-year period. Arizona did not win more than six games in a season in the same four-year period.
The Wildcats were 2-2, having played their first four games at home. USC was 4-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country with wins over Tennessee and Oklahoma at the Coliseum.
Despite all the odds against them, the Wildcats believed in their opportunity because of how the late Smith, who passed away in 2008, motivated them.
“I remember Coach Smith saying, ‘Sixty men together on the same page can’t lose,’” Julius Holt, a junior defensive tackle in 1981, told me.
Holt danced about and yelled loud enough for everyone to hear near the Arizona locker room after the upset: “We came to play! They came to sleep!”
Randy Robbins, a defensive back who played nine years in the NFL, told me that Arizona used its underdog role and inexperience in such contests to their benefit.
“Sixty men together can’t lose”
From the Field — Julius Holt
During our countdown series, some media members and former players will offer their insight to a few of the games. Former Arizona defensive tackle/linebacker Julius Holt offers his memory of Arizona’s classic victory over No. 1 USC in 1981. Holt is a longtime educator and counselor who was recently chosen as the commissioner of the Tucson Youth Football League.
“I remember the team and I leaving the Bonaventure Hotel in L.A. for our game against USC and the Hell’s Angels were driving right next to our bus. The bus driver failed to signal and they were knocking on the side of our bus and we had to move over to the right.
They were pretty cool and helped us get through some difficult L.A. traffic. We knew if we could force USC to throw the ball we could win the game because they were better at running the ball than throwing the ball and we had speed on defense. As a team, we were so focused and prepared to play to win. The game plan on offense and defense was a simple and straight forward play assignment football, stay together and play together. As far as our defense goes, we felt their linemen were too slow to block us if they had to pass. We ran stunts against the run because we were quicker and new we had to prepare for Marcus Allen cutback ability so we always try stay home on the backside. He had one good run all day but that was not good enough and the rest was history. The best quote (by head coach Larry Smith) was ‘Sixty men together can’t lose’.”