Wendell Tyler didn’t fumble this one
In the fall of 1975, Wendell Tyler became my first UCLA Bruin football hero. The speedy slashing runner would make your jaw drop with his game-changing runs, while also making you wince with his propensity to fumble.
In a ghastly giveaway show before 80,927 people in the stands and a national television audience, UCLA fumbled 11 times, tying the conference record for butterfingers, one game, and lost eight of those fumbles, breaking the conference record in that category. The errors almost overshadowed the other statistics, specifically that UCLA, led by its fine option quarterback, John Sciarra, managed to hang on to the football long enough to gain 414 yards against one of the nation’s toughest defenses and win the game 25-22.
Even though Tyler fumbled his way through the USC game, the Bruins won, and that win gave them the right to face undefeated Ohio State in the 1976 Rose Bowl. Ohio State had crushed UCLA earlier in the season 41 – 20 and was ranked number one headed into the Rose Bowl.
Somehow my Dad got us tickets to this game and sitting in the Ohio State section it was evident they expected to crush the Bruins. Ohio State featured two-time Heisman award winner Archie Griffin while the Bruins featured fumble prone Wendell Tyler. Wendell had amassed 1388 yards during the year compared to Griffin’s 1450. Wendell averaged 6.7 yards a carry to Griffin’s 5.5, but all you heard before the game was how great Archie Griffin was.
But January 1st, 1976 was not Archie Griffin’s day, it was Wendell Tylers. The Bruin defense held the Ohio State offense in check and at half time only trailed 3 – 0. Rose Bowl MVP John Sciarra got things going and gave the Bruins a 16 – 10 lead before Wendell Tyler broke the game open with this electrifying run.
Here is the full second half. Ross Porter starts the broadcast as a sideline reporter. Great to see Ross Porter here.
Tyler had only eight rushing yards in the first half but would end up with over 160 yards.
Tyler would end his UCLA career and get drafted by my Rams. Tyler kept up his fumbling ways, but also his game breaking runs for the Rams. Wendell didn’t play much but was part of the only Los Angeles Rams super bowl team and after coming back from a brutal car accident had his breakout season in 1981. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and caught another 400 yards, but he still fumbled 10 times. In 1982 he led the league in fumbles with 11 while only carrying the ball 137 times and that would be his last year with the Rams.
All of this is long hand for the real Wendell Tyler story. Years later one of his sons would end up being a USC running back. Even though Marc Tyler was the 2nd best running back recruit out of high school he didn’t have the impact on the USC program as Wendell did with the Bruins.
He’s on the clock starting at 6 a.m. when his eldest son, Wendell Jr., wakes up and is ready for his bath. Wendell Jr. is 28, but has special needs. When he was an infant, an extremely high fever damaged his brain and left him with the mental capacity of a 4- or 5-year-old.
He’s spent most of his life in a group home, but his condition deteriorated this April, leaving him unable to walk, and he’s been living at home with Wendell Sr. and his wife Carmen ever since. Every morning, they must bathe him, feed him, dress him and stretch out his legs so that he might one day walk again.
You can imagine the difference between caring for a child 24/7 and caring for a full grown man. This story is old, I don’t know the situation with Wendell Junior anymore, but I came across it while doing some minor Wendell Tyler research. I’d always respected Wendell as a football player, after reading this story I respect him as a man.