It's true, the rivalry between Washington and USC lost much of its luster about a decade ago. But historically, the Huskies and Trojans have had many hard-hitting, epic battles. There was a stretch from 1977-1997, that the winner of the Washington-USC game won the berth to the Rose Bowl 13 times.
In this excerpt from The Husky Hitman, follow along with All-American linebacker Dave Hoffmann as he describes walking into the LA Coliseum to do battle with the Trojans.
With news that Florida
State fell to Miami, the Huskies moved up to the #2 spot in the national
rankings to go along with their 8-0 record. Up next: The USC Trojans in the Los
Angeles Coliseum. One year had passed since the 31-0 thrashing in Seattle. Quarterback
Todd Marinovich had bolted early for the NFL, but remaining Trojans were
talking revenge. It was sure to be an intense battle. Dave Hoffmann's fondest
memories of that week revolve around the late Jaime Fields (1970-1999).
"Jaime played linebacker alongside me and was somebody I respected and liked from the first day we met," Hoff says. "He was just real. We had lots of good talks about family, faith and football. He was from Compton, California. When we were both homesick freshmen we counted down the days before we could head down to Thanksgiving. Returning to Los Angeles to play USC in front of family and friends got Jaime very excited. We talked about it several times that week."
"The most intimidating member of Washington’s defense was weakside linebacker Jaime Fields, whose light blue, wolf like eyes played off his coffee skin," wrote Sam Farmer in the book Bitter Roses. "He was listed in the press guide at 6 feet, but his compact 230-pound frame made him appear an inch or two shorter. The thick knot of muscles in his upper back almost reached his earlobes, giving him the look of a snarling pit bull."
"Jaime laid shots on guys and he always had my back and I had his," Hoff says. "He was always in on the action. Playing side-by-side as the weak side/outside linebacker, he was right next to me. We worked together with communicating as far as changing assignments as we were checking our calls, or if we were going into a combo coverage and going to be teaming up on guys in man-to-man coverage. By the time we were juniors in 1991, our communication had become finely honed. All we needed was to give each other a look and a nod. We knew what the other was thinking. It was a really good feeling."
The media reminded everyone all week about how Washington hadn’t won at the Los Angeles Coliseum since 1980, but most Husky players weren't mindful of the chirping. As they boarded the plane, Hoffmann and Fields talked about wreaking havoc and doing big things. "Some people talk about playing a `bend but don’t break' defense," says Hoffmann. "But we weren’t even going to bend. We had made up our minds to fully impose our will on USC’s offense."
Coming out of the tunnel, Dave and Jaime were fired up and gave each other a piece of their helmets. Once out onto the Coliseum’s grass surface and amid the heat, they got after it. "USC has always been known for being physical but we had become the Kings of the Pac-10," Hoff says. "It was good to let them know again what the pecking order was. We were reminding USC who carried the bigger stick. We were tuning guys up!"
It would be a low-scoring affair. UW struck first when Beno Bryant took a deep handoff from Billy Joe Hobert, found a hole at right tackle, cut to his left and sprinted untouched up the middle for a 55-yard touchdown. In the second quarter, Washington's lead expanded to 14-0 when Bryant scored again on a seven-yard run.
That was the end of UW's scoring. Bryant had a big day with 158 yards rushing, but the offense struggled to get on track. By late in the fourth quarter, Washington led 14-3. "I know that score wasn’t impressive, but their offense couldn’t move the ball on us and we were bringing it," Hoffmann says. "I was having a good day. I made a tackle for loss when USC threw a swing pass on fourth down—and I really blasted the guy and drove him into the turf. On another play I sacked quarterback Reggie Perry at the USC 1-yard line. Still another time, I pursued a toss sweep play and wrapped up the running back and twisted his head as I dragged him to the ground.
"Jaime and I had been unloading on their fullbacks, linemen and tight ends all game long. I remember just looking over at him. When you play together that long with someone you almost don’t have to speak at times, you could just look at each other and know what the other guy was thinking. Late in the game, USC tried a running play on third down and short. Jaime and I just engulfed it. We hammered the full back and blasted the ball carrier for a tackle for loss. We were high-fiving and jumping up and down like we always did, running off the field. We plopped down on the bench together, talking about the play we had just made. Jaime and I couldn’t stop laughing because we had been absolutely destroying their fullback who previously thought he was the cock of the walk. It was just the joy and excitement. We were only up by 11, so it wasn’t like we were blowing them out of the water like the previous year. But we knew that USC couldn’t move the ball on us. We were just having fun and enjoying life together. I mean, that was living! There was nothing more enjoyable than to be out there together playing the game of football and doing well. We were just in the moment together.
"So Jaime and I are over there laughing like a couple of kids, and assistant coach Randy Hart, whom I have a good relationship with, comes over to us with his headset on. He screams, HOFFMANN! FIELDS! GET THOSE SMILES OFF YOUR FACES! CAN'T YOU SEE THE SCOREBOARD? THERE'S STILL TWO MINUTES LEFT! THIS THING ISN'T OVER! Well, Jaime and I started laughing with everything we had. Coach Hart gave me a look, and then slapped me in the face. Jaime and I stopped and looked at each other, then started laughing even harder. And I reached up and slapped Coach Hart, and knocked his headset off!
"Coach Hart shook his head and walked away. He knew we had our heads in the game and that the defense had control of things. But he was just doing what a good coach does and playing the part. He sees a couple of guys acting crazy on the sideline and he came over just to keep them in line."
When the clock ran out, Washington had beaten USC for the second year in a row. The Dawgs improved their record to 9-0 and needed one more win to clinch a second straight trip to the Rose Bowl. Afterwards, friends and family waited outside the LA Coliseum as the players emerged on their way to the team busses. Dave's little brother Matt was wearing a Husky jersey with HOFFMANN on the back. All of sudden behind him he hears a big voice shout “HEY FIFTY-FOUR!” He turned to look and it was Dick Butkus, the Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker. Butkus now had a son on USC’s team and was waiting for him. He shouted, “Tell your brother NICE GAME!”
On the plane ride back home, Dave and Jaime celebrated Jaime's victorious homecoming with high-fives and smiles. Little did either of them know that eight years later Jaime would be killed in a hit-and-run collision when a driver T-boned his car at a California intersection.
"To this day, I think about Jaime all the time," Dave says.