TWISH: Stanford 21, UCLA 20 (1953)

Timely passing and clutch comeback: These are the ingredients that went into Stanford’s football’s first all-time win against a top five team.

Oct. 17, 1953: Stanford 21, UCLA 20

Chuck Taylor knew he beat the odds. After stealing victory against the country’s fourth-ranked team by the margin of a missed extra point, Stanford’s affable head coach was asked about facing UCLA again the following week.

“We wouldn’t show up,” he laughed.

Bobby Garrett showed up against the powerful Bruins. Months away from becoming the first Stanford quarterback picked first in the NFL Draft, Garrett compiled a performance that only gets better with age: 18 completions, 37 attempts, 196 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, along with three converted PAT’s.

UCLA looked firmly in charge with a 20-7 lead well into the third quarter. Paul Cameron, the Bruins’ all-purpose back extraordinaire, ran two yards for a touchdown after Stanford lost a fumble on its first possession of the second half. It was the Bruins’ third touchdown in succession after the Indians scored in the opening minutes.

History at that point sat firmly on head coach Red Sanders’ side.

After losing in its last visit to Stanford Stadium, UCLA had reeled off a 16-1-1 run. On the flip side, Stanford was 0-5-1 against top-five teams since the Associated Press poll’s 1936 debut. A 7-7 tie against No. 3 Cal in 1950 – the second of three straight Big Games the Golden Bears entered with an undefeated record – stood out as the lone bright spot.

But behind the passing of Garrett and the handiwork of receivers like future Stanford Law Review editor Sam Morley, the Indians rendered Sanders at a loss for words.

“I'm not in a talking mood,” the UCLA head coach said. “I’ve never seen one man dominate a game as much as Garrett did today. His performance beat us. I didn't see him throw one poor pass.”

Trailing 20-7, Morley threw a touchdown pass to from nine yards away to slice into the UCLA advantage. Early in the fourth quarter, things got better yet for Stanford. With the Indians stationed at the Bruin six, Garrett hit junior varsity call-up Al Napoleon for the touchdown. The 21-20 score held up behind the calm guidance of the man under center.

“Garrett was the guy that kept us cool,” said Morley, who passed away in March of last year. “We were awfully excited before and during the game, but he calmed us down.”

The Indians welcomed a burgeoning powerhouse for the 2 p.m. kickoff. Sanders essentially began UCLA’s reputation as a football destination: Revenge for Stanford’s heroics came in the form of an 82-0 shellacking, with Bruins well en route to a share of the 1954 national championship

Cameron, a passing and rushing threat who earned consensus All-American honors, placed third in the Heisman voting in 1953 behind Johnny Lattner of Notre Dame.

Garrett came in fifth in the Heisman after becoming by far the country’s most accomplished passer. He led the country in completions (118) and passing yards (1,637) in 1953. His .576 completion percentage and 17 touchdown passes lapped his peers. Just two others completed as many as nine TD throws.

He threw it 205 times, or 85 more than Kevin Hogan’s season total to-date. Only Zeke Bratkowski of Georgia, Bart Starr’s longtime backup in Green Bay, had more attempts (224, of which 23 were intercepted) that season.

Stanford (2-2) sandwiched a win over Oregon around road losses to Pacific and Illinois. The Tribe then squared their record with a shutout of Oregon State in Portland. The night before the UCLA showdown, a parade featuring fraternity-sponsored floats rolled down University Avenue towards campus.

The Chi Psi entry sought to capture Stanford’s hopes of downing their Los Angeles visitors. “Setback the Wetback” proclaimed the float, which won honors for most original. Phi Sigma Kappa’s effort – an Indian gulping moonshine – took home the most humorous award.

Humor of a bygone era gave way to a timeless football notion: Stanford turned a turnover into points. Cameron fumbled the opening kickoff and Garrett (who else?) recovered at the UCLA 35. A few plays later it was 7-0 Indians, following a six-yard touchdown pass to Ron Cook.

Cameron recovered, throwing a 47-yard touchdown pass late in the first before going over from four yards out to put UCLA ahead by six points at halftime, 13-7. Coming after the Bruins’ first score, Pete Dailey’s missed extra point proved costly, but not enough to ultimately send Stanford to Pasadena.

Two November gut-punches kept Stanford (6-3-1, 5-1-1) home. First, USC earned a 23-20 victory on a -- stop me if you’ve heard this before – field goal in the final seconds. Then, the Big Game ended in a 21-21 deadlock after Cal trailed 21-7. For one memorable afternoon, however, this Stanford edition survived after living on the edge.

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